How to Make a Faux Apology

We all make mistakes and need to ask forgiveness of those we offend. It’s part of life. Unfortunately, we find plenty of ways to mess up the apology, to the point of making it meaningless or turning a bad situation into a relationship killer.

In this video, David Powlison, executive director of the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation, Jonathan Parnell, senior pastor of Cities Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota and John Onwuchekwa, senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Atlanta, Georgia got together to talk about forgiveness and how not to say you’re sorry.

Examples of a faux apology include, “I’m sorry I offended you”,  “I’m sorry you’re offended”, “I’m sorry you feel bad” and “I’m sorry you’re so thin skinned that I can’t be frank with you.”

Parnell called those “qualified apologies” that can be characterized as anytime we throw in something extra to soften the vulnerability we should exhibit when we’re seeking forgiveness.

To keep a humble perspective Powlison advises that we start our apology from a vertical perspective, the apology offered first to God. He said that puts the one asking forgiveness “in a humble place.”

Powlison offered another example of a faux apology that he described as more “nuanced.”  It’s when we ask someone to forgive us and then quickly demand they do so. He says that apology won’t fulfill its purpose because “something that’s meant to be humble ends up being aggressive.”

To make a good apology you must first recognize the difference between apologizing and asking for forgiveness.  “If I accidentally bump into someone in the cafeteria, you’re sorry and you apologize,” Powlison pointed out, “but when I really do something wrong… I ought to name what I did wrong.”

C. S. Lewis made a similar point in an essay on forgiveness where he explains there is a difference between asking for forgiveness and asking to be excused.  Parnell said, “A lot of times when we mean to ask for forgiveness we really just want (the wrong) to be excused. There’s relational harm that we’ve done and we want to pretend that we’ve just bumped into someone. It requires that we put ourselves out there. We are vulnerable.”

Onwuchekwa said a good apology also includes a specific request to be forgiven. He believes it brings closure and acknowledges that the one offended has a right to be mad. “I ask you to forgive me and in that I’m asking for a pardon. We own what we did wrong…What I did was inexcusable. There’s got to be some type of regret… so what that does it affirms the dignity (of the offended). You are worth feeling bad over,” Onwuchekwa said.

Parnell believes the faux apology that quickly demands forgiveness might come from a desire to return harmony to a relationship and move on from the wrong, especially in a marriage setting. It is a faux apology borne out of good intentions.

“God’s word does command us to forgive,” Onwuchekwa acknowledged, “But I think we err when we wrong somebody then we ask for forgiveness and when it takes time, then we take the command of God’s word that they have to forgive….that’s true but not all of God’s truth communicates as well at all times coming from you.”

And in some ways the quick apology short circuits the radical idea of forgiveness.  Parnell said a quick apology “takes away the wonder of forgiveness…You have wronged someone and you’re asking them to pass over that, to absorb that wrong that you’ve done and not to pay you back.”  

Onwuchekwa called that “the grace we get as Christians to show one another.”  

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Bob Ditmer
Bob Ditmer has worked in Christian media for more than 20 years including positions with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and Focus on the Family.