Welcome to my blog. I’m a psychologist and the co-author (with Gary Chapman) of When Sorry Isn’t Enough. I share tips about What to Say When challenging conversations arise. I’ll check back in frequently to chime in on the conversation here.
Below, you’ll find the draft of a stunning public apology that was delivered exactly five years ago. What is the context? It’s painful to even describe this: Robin was the founding pastor of our church. He was married and had an inappropriate relationship with a female church member. He was sent away by the church and everyone went through a period of slow healing. Robin divorced his wife and married someone he met in another town. He returned years later and asked the church elders for an opportunity to publicly apologize. I attended and was deeply touched by this ‘forgiveness service.’
Note: Robin (pastor) has offered for his name to be used and his apology to be shared with any person or group who might be helped by its contents. For the sake of privacy, I’ve removed all other names.
- I am going to ask you to bear with me tonight as I haven’t yet been able to talk about these issues without a lot of emotion. I can’t tell you how grateful I am to be here. I have been waiting, hoping, longing, groaning really…. for this day for 8 years. I have been distraught by the divide that existed between me and the church since 2000. I was so distraught didn’t take communion for the better part of two years. For good or bad reasons, the divide between us has haunted me. So on the one hand, you can say that 8 or 9 years is a long time. But on the other hand, it is a whole lot shorter than never. Really, I have never known of a service like this… I have certainly never witnessed a service like this and I think that would probably be true for the vast majority of those here. I understand why this rarely happens. It’s not easy. To get to this place has taken a lot on the part of the leadership of the church. You should be proud of your church and its leaders. Reconciliation is a demanding. It takes time, energy and effort to sort through all of the emotions and perspectives. The leaders of the church has taken a risk standing here with me today. I want to thank them for that. I want to thank them for doing this with me so that together we can be true to this gospel of Jesus we proclaim . In particular I want to say thanks to (the leaders) who first approached me two years ago because, “they wanted to be intolerant of the lack of reconciliation that existed between me and the church.”
- What I am here to do today is pretty simple. I am here to say I am sorry. I recognize the immeasurable pain, hurt and confusion I brought into this room- into your lives- into your families- into your hearts- and into the hearts of people that you love. My sin didn’t just cause a car wreck. It wasn’t a mere multi car pile up. It was a train wreck and there were a couple of thousand passengers in those cars. A part of what made it so hard was that in that train wreck it wasn’t just you that got hurt. It was you and your spouse, it was you and your kids, it was you and your friends, it was you and your church. By having an affair, I betrayed you in the worst kind of way. I say that it was betrayal of the worst sort….. because I recognize the place I had been given in your life. I was your pastor. For most of you, being your pastor wasn’t just a position I occupied in the church, it was a place I had been given in your heart. It was a place of trust, a place of leadership, a place of love. It was a sacred place. Through my actions, I betrayed your trust, I violated your love and I profaned what was holy….. and for that I am truly sorry. In trying to deal with the wreckage left behind– all of you were affected . It was because of my actions that some of you, in the aftermath, began to struggle with one another. It was because of me that some left the church altogether- no longer getting to hear about this God that I love. I made it difficult for the leadership that stayed behind and for the leadership that followed. Trust isn’t easily given and it is oh so slowly restored. Fear and anger were rampant. Doubt and cynicism hung about your hearts as a part of the damage that remained. I know that we all bear those burdens. I just gave them much more weight in your life. I wish I hadn’t. I wish I could take it back. I wish I could undo the past. I wish that standing here today and saying I am sorry today could somehow rewind the clock but I know that it can’t. All I can do is take responsibility for what I have done and ask for your forgiveness as a church. And I do take responsibility. I want you to know that I know that my sin wasn’t anybody’s fault but my own. I didn’t go there because I wasn’t accountable enough. It wasn’t because I was overworked. It wasn’t an elder board failure or a leadership failure on the part of the church. It wasn’t my wife’s or my family’s fault. It was me. It was my fault. It was my stupidity. Period.
- I wish that was where this confession could end but it isn’t. I didn’t just let you down or turn my back on you through my actions. Worse….. far worse….. was what I communicated to my family. I know that I broke My parents’ hearts. I put my brother in a terrible, unbelievably difficult place. My wife was undone. She never deserved anything like that. And the message to my children was devastating. The pain of my abandonment remains to this day. They were wounded by my choices and those wounds were then deepened and inflamed by my leaving…. both of which I truly, truly, regret. I am the dude that is supposed to protect them and I didn’t. I damaged them instead…… Putting lipstick on that pig doesn’t help it look any better. The truth is that I love my kids more than words can ever say and that I am amazed by and grateful for the forgiveness they so generously offered me years ago.
- I wish the damage stopped with them but it doesn’t. It is like an echo that just won’t end. My second wife has born the burden of these events even though she didn’t enter into my life until over four years later. When you love somebody, you get all of them… every blessing and every burden. When she married me, she married into the anger and alienation of a community. She married into my dishonor and has worn that mantle since her arrival here. You have no idea how many conversations she has had to endure about my affair nine years ago. I brought that on her. It was no fault of her own. I brought that on her and I hate it for her.
- Most fearful of all, I discredited the God that I love. For some unfathomable reason, God chose to associate his name with mine and I dishonored Him. I have wished I could apologize to every pastor in this city for making their work that much more difficult.
- I know that some of you have questions still. I know that some of you don’t know whether to believe what you hear. If it would be helpful to you, if it would make any difference, I am open to meeting one on one. That may be a place of deeper healing. I don’t know about you but I was listening carefully when John Edwards came out last fall to admit the truth of his long-standing affair. These were the words he said after confessing, “I am reconciled with my wife, I am reconciled with my God and I am never going to speak of this again.” I thought, are you kidding? If you were reconciled with your God, if you knew that your sins—- “though they are like scarlet have been made as white as snow”, If you knew– in your heart of hearts that you were a restored son of the sovereign king… you would never quit talking about it. All that is to say, that at the end of the day, a story about another fallen leader isn’t much of a story. But the welcoming heart of the father that runs to embrace his total failure of a son, that is a story that needs to be told again and again and again. So if you want to talk, if it matters, if it would help, if it would mean something, we will find a way, we will make a time.
- There is really nothing else that I have come to say but that I hope that you can find your way towards forgiveness. Please forgive me for how I hurt you and all those around you.
My Thoughts: I know the source of this apology and I have heard the sincerity in his voice. Robin’s is the best public apology I’ve ever heard. He expressed regret about the hurt he has caused, admitted wrongdoing without passing blame, offered to meet one on one with people to hear what they need from him, made a commitment to go forward remembering and talking about his mistakes as needed, and requested forgiveness. To those who have been deeply hurt and who deserve (but may never receive) an apology such as Robin’s, we hope that in some way, his apology may uplift you.
Have you ever heard of an apology meeting or a forgiveness service?
What is your reaction?
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