The Most Powerful Apology I’ve Ever Heard

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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.’  2014_03_apology_man_praying_candle_Image credit a href 123rf.comphoto_16569421_woman-praying-in-church-cropped-part-of-face-and-hands-closeup-portrait.html'andreykuzmin  123R

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.

His Apology:

  • 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.2014_03_bible_in_a_church_apology_Image credit a 123rf.comphoto_13383604_a-bible-in-a-church-pulpit-overlooking-the-church.html'trevorb  123RF Stock Photoa
  • 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.

Your Turn:

Have you ever heard of an apology meeting or a forgiveness service?

What is your reaction?

 

Leave a comment and be entered in my monthly drawing for a FREE copy of my book.

 

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An Unprecedented Public Apology. Part III.

In response to my last post, Kirsten commented: “Thank you for sharing this powerful testimony. It is an exceptional thing. I would love to know more about the role you played in this. … I’d also love to know how the church responded (or is responding).”

So, here you go!

A couple of years ago, our replacement pastor and some of our elders renewed communication with Robin.  Within the past year, Robin asked to make a public apology to Grace Church (also my church).  Our pastor formed a planning committee of 3 others:  a consulting pastor who often works on reconciliation, another woman in our church, and myself (because of my apology book and passion for reconciliation).  When the plans for the service were announced to the congregation, the pastor and elders received a handful of protests from church members.  I can’t speak of all the reasons for the resistance, but I, myself, have heard people say that it’s time to move on and leave that mess behind us.  One or more people voted with their feet, leaving our church before the service was held.  Our pastor and elders remained firm in their conviction that a non-Sunday service of forgiveness would be beneficial for all who might choose to attend.

The service was actually delayed by several months after Robin suffered a near-fatal heart attack and underwent heart surgery to repair a section of his heart that is dubbed “the widowmaker” because so few people with that blockage even make it into surgery.  Today, Robin stands as a great example of one who made an effort to make his important apologies before it was too late!

Just before the re-scheduled service took place, I consulted with Robin (and his second wife) about his apology preparations.  This was the first time I’d had an occasion to talk to Robin since his abrupt dismissal 9 years ago.  As I consulted with him, I asked Robin about his goals for the forgiveness service and any concerns he might have.  His greatest desire was for his family (and his church family) to gain healing.  His greatest practical concern was that he might wilt with tears and be unable to speak during the event.  This was fairly likely, as he said that he had cried during each 1:1 restoration meeting he’d had in the weeks leading up to that time.

During the event, Robin held up perfectly.  He was moved by being back in the pulpit that he had occupied from the founding of the church until his choices forced his departure.  The main floor of the sanctuary was filled nearly filled with visitors, nearly 50% of whom had left our church in distress but who had returned for the service at Robin’s invitation.

Since the service took place, life as usual has continued at the church.  Our committee, Robin and his wife, and a few others recently gathered to celebrate the “fruit” of the forgiveness service.  We agreed that the climax of the meeting was when our current pastor responded to Robin’s apology with a few simple sentences.  He generously said that on behalf of the church, he forgave Robin and he is restored to equal standing among all those who would enter that building.  We sense a continual movement of forgiveness among others in our church (with all sorts of circumstances).

In closing, I’d like to offer these ‘shout outs’ today:

  1. To Robin and your second wife:  Thank you for your bold willingness to pursue healing of relationships and for boldly sharing your story so that it might help others.
  2. To Robin’s first wife:  I’ve watched you take the high road while enduring what could be compared to a nuclear bomb.  Your class and grace are inspiring!  Thank you for graciously welcoming Robin’s restoration.
  3. To the elders who served during Robin’s disaster:  Thank you for your long days, weeks, and years of service to our congregation.
  4. To our current church leaders:  Your commitment to Biblical forgiveness is a healing path.  Thank you.

A note from Dr. Jen: I would welcome your comments and questions on this topic.  🙂

An Unprecedented Public Apology. Part II. 5.0 Stars (Out of 5)

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Below, you’ll find the draft of a stunning public apology that was delivered to the church of which I’m a member on Friday evening, Feb. 20th, 2009.  I attended and was deeply touched by this ‘forgiveness service.’  When you are finished reading this, please post a comment:  Have you ever heard of such a meeting? What is your reaction?

Note: Robin has kindly given permission for his apology to be shared with any person or group who might be helped by its contents.  I’ve omitted all other names.

Grace Confession

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 2nd wife has born the burden of these events even though she didn’t enter into my life until over 4 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 9 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 1:1 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 bring you refreshment.

Announcement: An Unprecedented Public Apology. Part I.

This e-mail was sent to our congregation in preparation for our Reconciliation Service with our former pastor:

If you weren’t at Grace this past Sunday, you may have missed my announcement that on February 20 at 7:00 p.m. in our sanctuary, we will be having a reconciliation service with our founding pastor, Robin. Over the past several months we have been in a process to reconcile our relationship with Robin which has been unreconciled since he resigned from Grace in the summer of 2000. Many of you may not have known Robin, but we’d still ask for your prayers that healing, forgiveness and reconciliation will occur. Robin has asked for a time to publicly apologize to those he has hurt, and we want to extend that opportunity to any of you who would like to participate. We recognize that some of you may want to speak individually with Robin, and he would welcome that. I’d like to ask any of you who sense God’s leading to join me in fasting and praying for this time every Friday up through February 20, that God would show all of us any place of unforgiveness in our lives and lead us in the path of reconciliation. We see this service as a beginning step, opening the door to reconciliation and healing.

From the Teaching Pastor

Update:  Several people have asked me if and when Robin left the pastorate. He did resign from the church as soon as the affair was discovered. He now works at a real estate agent. As you can see, he has a real way with words and I hope he’ll be called upon to share his lessons learned with others- he’s willing to do just that, he says.


From Dr. Jen:  Next time I’ll post the content of his powerful public apology.