What My Wife Says When I Apologize Like Rick Warren

rick warren apology asian american evangelicals cartoon by nakedpastor david hayward

“Rick Warren’s Apology” (by nakedpastor David Hayward)

Apologizing is agonizing work. I know because I do it a lot.

My wife Lisa is an amazing person. She has taught me how to apologize. (No, this is not a wife joke.) I’m serious! When I first started needing to apologize to Lisa, she made it clear that she wanted me to actually feel sorry for what I did, which meant that I had to be aware of what I actually did, then make amends and promise to not do it again. Easy: own it; admit it; change it.

It seems that half-apologies are becoming more popular. Just this last May Mark Driscoll gave a similar half-apology. Bad apologies abound. I used to be good at it. I’m still learning how to do good apologies.

Rick Warren, you might remember from a previous post, Rick Warren, Saddleback Church and Propaganda Posters, that he half-apologized for using a Red Army poster to inspire his troops. However, since then Warren has committed other culturally insensitive offenses that have raised the valid concerns of the Asian-American evangelical community. Especially since he’s planting a Saddleback Church in Hong Kong. The Asian-American evangelical community has composed a letter for the evangelical church asking for cultural awareness and racial harmony. Here’s a portion:

“Over the past decade Christian evangelicalism has been the source of repeated and offensive racial stereotyping, and Asian Americans have been inordinately affected… Asians have been caricatured, mocked or otherwise treated as foreigners outside the typical accepted realm of white [evangelicals]. And the situation has not improved over time.”

Let me get personal. If I said something that hurt Lisa and I apologized with Warren’s exact words…

“If you were hurt, upset, offended or distressed by my insensitivity I am truly sorry. May God richly bless you.”

… here’s how Lisa would come back. Fasten your seatbelts:

  1. “If”: If???? I’ve made it very clear to you that I indeed am hurt, upset, offended and distressed. No if! You definitely hurt me and you know it. Why did you say “if” when you know for a fact you hurt me? I’ve made that clear to you, and if you had any sense you should realize it without me needing to tell you!
  2. “my insensitivity”: Yes, your insensitivity! I’ve told you before that you lack sensitivity in that area and you still hurt me there! You need sensitivity training when it comes to this issue and you still haven’t even picked up a book on the topic! You don’t understand me and you don’t seem to care. Hurry up and take personal responsibility to educate yourself on this before you hurt me again. This isn’t just going to go away unless you take accountability and change because I’m not going to put up with this callousness forever! You’re better than this.
  3. “I am truly sorry”: Are you? You seem to be suggesting that you’re only sorry because I was hurt by what you said. You don’t seem to be sorry for actually saying it. In fact, you seem to be suggesting that if it didn’t hurt me that it would be totally fine for you to say things like that. Are you implying that saying offensive things like that is okay as long as I don’t get hurt? Or are you implying that if I can take that, then you’ve got more in your arsenal? Are you sorry because I’m too sensitive and was hurt by it, or are you sorry because you said something that inflicted me with pain? You do realize if you treat me this way you’re going to treat other women this way, right?
  4. “May God richly bless you”: What??? Why are you bringing God into this now? Are you trying to turn this into a spiritual thing so I won’t be so hard on you? Are you trying to make me remember that you’re this highly respected man of God that can do no wrong? Are you trying to remind me that you’re God’s anointed that should not be touched? Or are you trying to deflect this difficult conversation away from your problem and turn this into a prayer meeting? Don’t try to squirm out from under this. This is too important! I know God richly blesses me. But right now I need you to. This is about you and your issues. Not me and God.

Ya! That’s how Lisa would challenge me on this apology. And I love her for it. She makes me want to be a better man. I learned a long time ago that the fastest way to peace and reconciliation is to own it, admit it; change it. It’s tough to admit weakness. But I also think when we do it that it is actually our greatest strength. In a culture that applies a great deal of pressure on its leaders to be perfect, admitting error can sometimes be perceived as fatal. I suggest there is a new kind of leadership emerging though, evident in our culture as well, that leaders with weaknesses are more human, accessible and even desirable.

About David Hayward

David Hayward runs the blog nakedpastor as a graffiti artist on the walls of religion where he critiques religion… specifically Christianity and the church. He also runs the online community The Lasting Supper where people can help themselves discover, explore and live in spiritual freedom.

  • http://bartbreen.wordpress.com/ Bart Breen

    Ah … the stealth apology. I know it well and have to watch it myself.

  • HeidiTurner

    YES! So well said David (and Lisa!) Thank you! I hope this gets lots of legs and makes it far afield and even into the hands of those who are so pathetic with their apologies and yet so energetic to excuse themselves for their bad behaviour.

  • http://nakedpastor.com/ nakedpastor

    Thanks Heidi. Me too! Hey! Lisa and I might be visiting St. Croix Vineyard next weekend. Might see you there?

  • Freedom

    Brings up bad memories of my former husband’s “apologies” that went something like this: “I’m sorry you’re upset.” I would tell him that’s like punching someone in the face and saying “I’m sorry you broke your nose.”

  • http://paulman.wordpress.com/ Paulman

    In defense of Rick Warren, if his apology was, “If you were offended… etc., I am truly sorry”, then I would agree with you that it’s a half-apology/not really an apology. But what he actually (technically?) said was “if” followed by a DEFINITE, “my insensitivity”. He was not questioning whether or not he was being insensitive – that was not included in his if statement. So I would say, at least he was acknowledging that what he said WAS insensitive, which it was. However, even as a Chinese (Canadian) Christian, I wasn’t really offended by Pastor Rick’s post – I suppose that’s because I didn’t really know all the history and connotation attached to that image, and also I quite like Rick Warren’s work and attitude he’s shown in the Evangelical community throughout the years, which made it a lot easier for me to give him the benefit of the doubt and also cut him some slack for, admittedly, handling this in a flawed way (especially at first).

    Tldr: I guess my previous sentence sums up a healthy, constructive way for us to handle conflict and mistakes in the Church, especially when the non-belieiving world is warching (in fact, my long time friend who is not a Christian [but is Chinese] asked me about this because she had seen a story on it, and I was a little uneasy about the fact that we Christians were “attacking” one of our own like that and, in my opinion, making him seem like one of those stereotypical intolerant, insensitive, and arrogant Christian leaders in the evangelical community [which in this case I do not think is true]).

  • gnturibi

    This is an excellent post, must share it! True many times in relationships we apologize just to cool the heat down but don’t realize what happened and the isue is not really resolved. I admire the relationship you have with your wife, that’s an excellent way to resolve conflict and understand the other person. When reading I remembered this song by Tarrus Riley that goes “I’m sorry that, your sorry but sorry ain’t good enough for me … You say it , you say it but you don’t mean it…” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0OKNG7-8RVs

  • http://nakedpastor.com/ nakedpastor

    I respect your opinion Paulman. I was not personally offended by Warren’s actions or apology either, but the Red Army poster and his apologies did concern me because I knew they would be offensive and harmful to enough believers that it would require being addressed. This is also why I wrote it as if I had apologized to my wife in this way, and why I quoted the Asian-American evangelicals’ letter. I have nothing invested in this except the fact that these are my brothers and sisters who are being hurt by his insensitivities, and, as a result, I am too.

  • http://nakedpastor.com/ nakedpastor

    Cool! Thanks for sharing.

  • Wendy Smith

    “To those upset, hurt, offended and/or distressed by my insensitivity in using an inappropriate poster to encourage my staff, I am very sorry. I will be more careful in the future to ensure this never happens again.” Is that so difficult?

  • http://nakedpastor.com/ nakedpastor

    apparently

  • Pat68

    “…the fastest way to peace and reconciliation is to own it, admit it; change it.” AMEN!

  • Fred C Plumer

    David, great article and it does seem that the half apology is more common than we realize unless we listen more carefully. By the way, “own it, admit it; change it” was the original Hebrew translation of the word “repent.” To bad it is been so screwed up by the later interpretation that suggest that somebody else will fix it and forgive us. We did it, we fix it, is a much healthier way of living.

  • JenellYB

    Wow! You’ve expressed in very clear words what I’ve felt and seem to have failed to be able to communicate to another so many times! The timing is amazing, as well, as I have been struggling with the sting I still feel this morning over someone having done just this kind of thing yesterday, that has become a habit for them, that left my feelings rampaging between feeling hurt, angry, and dismayed at being unable to engage in reasonable sincere conversation with someone I care about without getting abused in this way! Oh, yes, and I’ve been ‘guilty’ too, for sure! I need to post this one somewhere I’ll see it every day!

  • http://nakedpastor.com/ nakedpastor

    glad to help jenellYB

  • Cecilia Davidson

    Permission to make a joke about your being Canadian, sir, given the topic? :P

  • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

    After putting it through my Google religious to secular translator, it came out as follows:
    “If you are so emotionally insecure as to find what I said hurtful, then I’m sorry. You should seek some counseling or therapy”.

  • http://nakedpastor.com/ nakedpastor

    sorry. yes cecilia. sorry. yes. sorry.

  • Cecilia Davidson

    I was about to say for an apologist, you sure apologize a lot :P

  • gabi532

    confess.. and move on.. amending your behavior

  • Sven2547

    I keep remembering the end of Crimson Tide (’90s suspense movie. Stellar acting, frequently overlooked). Gene Hackman’s character says to Denzel Washington’s character:
    “You were right and I was wrong.”
    Simple. Powerful. Any proper admission of wrongdoing should be this direct. I often actually use that line as a model when I need to apologize.

    * Yes, the admission was for a short discussion about horses, but in the greater context of the movie it meant a lot more than that.

  • HeidiTurner

    My work is weekend heavy, but I will do my best to be there! Would love to see you two!!!!

  • mskathykhang

    Paulman, the issue isn’t the original post. Again, it’s hard to follow because Rick took down the entire thread. After he posted the image, MANY people explained how the image was disconcerting – the Red Guard, cultural misunderstandings as Saddleback was getting ready to launch its Hong Kong campus, etc. Many people commented that they were confused, hurt, etc. with the image. Rick’s initial response is what upset me and many, many others: “It’s a joke. If you take this seriously, you really shouldn’t be following me! Did you know that using Hebrew ironic humor, Jesus inserted laugh lines – jokes – in the sermon on the mount? The self-righteous missed them all while the disciples were undoubtedly giggling.” That is why his apology did not necessarily ring true with many people.

    Yes, the non-believing world is watching. And I would hope that as we are more open about our mistakes, blunders, and brokenness we will worry less about how we look and focus more how we actually live out and communicate the gospel cross-culturally and effectively.

  • Sam Mad Doc Tsang

    IF you’re offended. lol The Asians who weren’t offended did NOT need this apology. So, yes, everyone you’re apologizing to is offended. There’s no if.

  • Ashley

    Fantastic post! I love the way you related it to how your wife would have responded to you, LOL! As a hapa, I found Warren’s half-assed, not-really-an-apology to be worse than the original Facebook photo & comment. It has such a condescending, fake, and cold air to it. I’m not sure if he thinks he will lose his authority if he actually were to apologize in a heartfelt way, or if he seriously doesn’t understand why his comments were insensitive in the first place. I can understand that it can be hard to apologize, but this hurts his public image more than actually owning it would have. It seems like this symptom of clinging to authority more than to humility & compassion is not uncommon in individuals and institutions that have gained too much power.

  • Sam Mad Doc Tsang

    The unbelieving world is watching that we Christians are willing to call out one of our own instead of covering it up like it’s nothing. Yeah, there’s no “if.” “IF” you’re apologizing to those who are offended, then there’s never been an “IF”.

  • Brian Way

    So you are saying that when speaking to thousands of people who will have emotionally reacted in different ways, (hurt, upset, offended or distressed) He should just say “I’m truly sorry for my insensitivity” and move on to the next topic? While I agree with you on apologizing to your wife or an individual in this manner, I think it is incorrect to assume that this is always the best course when speaking to thousands of people. I don’t believe it is a half apology at all but rather he was acknowledging how many people may have felt. In fact, if he had not inserted those words someone would be offended because he did acknowledge that he hurt them etc…

  • OwenW

    Allow me to suggest that while we should keep in mind how an apology is meant by the person who is apologizing and how it is received may be very different. Here is an alternative reading:
    “If” – Signals that it was not my intention to offend anyone. A conditional word recognizes there is a divergence between the original intention and reality.
    “were hurt, upset, offended, or distressed” – I recognize the ways my own actions could have been offensive. Listening the feelings of emotions signals empathy.
    “my insensitivity” – I have owned up to my faults, claiming it as my own. The possessive pronoun takes up ownership.
    “I am truly sorry” – I do not want to hurt others. I do value how I treat people and people respond to me. That I have done that to someone hurts me deeply/
    “May God richly bless you.” – I do not hold any ill will towards you because of the expressed criticism towards me. Rather, expression of blessing represents my ultimate view of you; tenderness, compassion and a desire for your well being.

    This alternative reading is just as plausible as the skeptical reading presented above. It is possible for a person to use those words in a deflecting manner and to use those words in a genuine form of communication. It is also very possible for the offended person to read an apology with skepticism when it was meant genuinely. In fact, the emotions of disgust and anger at being offended often times paints apologies with immediate skepticism, whether merited by previous actions or not.

    There is wisdom to simply saying “I am sorry.” But then a simple statement like that could signal disingenuous-ness because it seems to be brief, abrupt statement that does not evidence grappling with the offense. People who don’t feel real sorrow, shame, and guilt may say it quickly to manipulate the people and then get it over with.

    The greater reality is that ANY and ALL apologies at the level of words may be genuine or disingenuous. One’s actions after the words demonstrate it. But when we quibble about words and presentation itself, as if there is only ONE way to express an genuine apology, it shows that we are being petty in response.

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