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D. Fundamentals of a Genuine Apology

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Revised Aug. 20, 2008

Child Sexual Molestation...

D. Fundamentals of a Genuine Apology (for the Offender)

By definition, an apology is a written or spoken admission of an error, discourtesy or regret. There wouldn’t be any need for apologies if we were all perfect, but sometimes we fail to treat each other with love and respect. If we want to maintain healthy relationships, then it is essential that we give and receive apologies and forgiveness. When a relationship is fractured by hurt and anger, an apology is always in order. Any violation in which human value and dignity are compromised or diminished requires an apology.

According to anthropologist, all normal people have an innate sense of morality. In other words, they “know” that some things are right and other things are wrong. This is sometimes called the conscience. It is also referred to as the “sense of ought.” Normal people are born with an innate knowledge of what ought to be done. Culture influences the standard by which the conscience condemns or affirms. The standard of right differs from culture to culture; however, all normal people have a sense of right and wrong. However, neither apologies nor forgiveness are innate qualities; they must be learned and encouraged.

Even a minor offense injures the harmony of a relationship. If you’re the one offended, you may feel hurt, anger, disappointment, disbelief, a sense of betrayal and rejection. Your sense of justice has been violated. “Somebody done me wrong.” You question: “Why did they say or do that?” “If they really cared for me/loved me, how could they hurt me like that?”

All sincere apologies have the same two goals: that the Offender be forgiven and the relationship be restored. When forgiveness and reconciliation occur, the relationship can continue to grow. Forgiveness is a choice that results in reconciliation. However, this does not mean that trust is immediately restored.

The need for apologies permeates all human relationships. Marriage, parenting, dating, and vocational relationships all require apologies, as well as groups, societies and even countries. Without them, anger builds and may demand justice. If justice does not come, some take matters into their own hands and seek revenge on those who wronged them, which unfortunately ends in violence sometimes.

The Art of Apology can be learned. Understanding and applying the main points of an apology will enhance all your relationships. There are five (5) fundamental aspects of an apology, according to the book The Five Languages of Apology by Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas. They are:


  1. Confession, regret and acknowledgement of their hurt/harm/pain: I am sorry
  2. Accept Responsibility: I was wrong
  3. Genuine Repentance: I will not do this again
  4. Restitution: What can I do to make this right?
  5. Request Forgiveness: Will you please forgive me?

Each of the five (5) fundamental aspects of an apology are important. For a particular individual, however, some of the points may be more important than others. If the particular points that are important to the other person are not addressed in an apology, then it is more difficult for them to forgive, because the apology doesn’t seem heartfelt and meaningful to them. It feels lacking.

It is a common misconception that apologizing reflects weakness. Girls are taught that saying “I’m sorry” is a courtesy. Some boys equate apologizing with losing and defeat. They fear losing and making mistakes. For some being “right” is more important than accepting responsibility. Some value achieving and winning far more than courtesy, kindness and a concern for the consequences of our actions. Some see not apologizing as a strategy for staying in control. Some do not apologize because it is an admission that they are flawed and fallible. If someone wants to have the upper hand, it’s essential that he be right all the time. It’s no wonder that adults struggle with conflict resolution and owning up to their mistakes and taking actions that demonstrate regret.

On the contrary, apologizing takes strength, courage, trust, character, hope and humility. These values can restore communication, enhance relationships, lead to personal growth and bring freedom.

Do not assume that too much time has passed and that it is too late to apologize. A survivor of any crime, insult or harm is entitled to hear words of apology, no matter how late they are in coming. It is important to express your apology now while you and the person you offended are alive and have the opportunity to do so. NOW is the time…To avoid making an apology has significant consequences and repercussions. On the other hand, difficult situations can also be diffused by the Offender’s willingness to accept responsibility for his wrong doing and by demonstrating a desire to rectify the matter with an apology. A genuine apology can avert negative consequences.

Your apology does not guarantee restoration. What the other person chooses to do with your apology is outside your control. The outcome you desire may or may not result. There may be anger. There may be rejection. But regardless of what happens, you will have done the “right thing,” the honorable thing. You may not see an immediate healing or reconciliation, but your sincere apology is honorable and right. Days, weeks, months or years may go by before you both fully realize the impact of the apology on your relationship.

Some Offenders say that they have confessed their sin before God and made their peace with Him, and that they have been forgiven by God, and have gotten the victory. They promise not to repeat the offense. Yet, they have not shown any evidence of “fruits meet for repentance.” In other words, they have never made things “right” with the one they offended. They have never made a meaningful apology to their victim. They have not offered the Victim any restitution.

O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father. Matt 3:7-9

Jesus taught that the Offender is to FIRST be reconciled to the offended person and THEN go to God. It’s unbelievable that an Offender could think that he could ignore and circumvent the Victim and go before God and expect God to forgive him. He hasn’t followed the scripture and he hasn’t first made things right with the Victim.

Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; FIRST be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. Matt 5: 23-24

And even more outrageous is that some authorities have on occasion accepted the Offender’s word that he has made peace with God and his assurances that he will not repeat the sin. Further, they have allowed him to continue in his role of authority as minister or elder. Were they given proof that he made a meaningful apology? Did they verify that it was received by the Victim? Some Offenders have apologized to the Victim’s parents and think they have absolved themselves, even though they ignored the hurt of the one they actually harmed. Again, this is not according to Jesus’ teaching.

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. 1 John 1: 8-10

The teachings of these verses make it is clear that without reconciliation, your “gift” is left at the altar and is not received or accepted by God; and there is a gulf between you and God.

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