Are Christians Allowed to Apologize for Other Christians? April 10, 2011

Are Christians Allowed to Apologize for Other Christians?

When the Washington Post On Faith column asked whether Christians should apologize for the Koran-burning of Pastor Terry Jones, a lot of you vehemently opposed that very idea.

Here are some of the comments made on this site:

… I’m a fan of personal responsibility and not in the business of apologizing for other peoples mistakes.

I don’t believe Christians should have to apologize for terry Jones, basically if you aren’t performing or supporting the given action or idea then I don’t see how you can be blamed on the basis that someone else, who could be categorized into the same group as you, did something wrong…

I have in the past said that it is inappropriate for Christians to apologize for the behavior other Christians with respect to how homosexuals are treated.

It is also inappropriate for them to apologize for Terry Jones, or for anyone to ask a Christian to apologize for Terry Jones.

If the Christian tried to apologize it would be wrong because they can not make up for wrongdoing committed by another. This is the same immoral garbage that the Jesus story tries to allow. Mr, Jones is responsible for his own actions and must make up for them by himself.

That seems to make a lot of sense.

You can’t apologize for someone else’s mistakes. Even if you’re on the good side and he’s on the bad side.

In fact, many of you feel the very idea of apologizing for something you never did (but your beliefs, taken to extremes, may have inspired) is ridiculous.

Ok. Fine. I accept that.

But explain to me why that rule didn’t seem to apply when a Christian group attended a gay pride rally last year with signs that read “I’m sorry for how the church has treated you!”

Last year, when I wrote a post criticizing that particular group for apologizing on behalf of other Christians (as well as not openly supporting gay marriage), many of you were on their side, calling it “baby steps” for them.

If you look at a posting made by a member of that group, the comments are overwhelmingly positive, supporting the Christians apologizing.

I grant that it’s better than the alternatives. I’d rather have Christians acknowledge their church’s mistakes than continue the discrimination and bullying against the LGBT community. (And the group will be apologizing at the Pride Parade again this summer.)

However, with the exception of the person whose sign read “I used to be a Bible-banging homophobe. Sorry,” I don’t think the sign-holders were ever the bullies. They were apologizing on behalf of other Christians because they think the homophobes do their faith a disservice. They want to show that Christianity is not about that. Jesus wouldn’t have done that.

Well, their version of Jesus probably wouldn’t have burned a Koran, either.

So help me understand why it’s ok when Christians apologize on behalf of bigots like James Dobson, but it’s silly when they do it on behalf of hatemongers like Terry Jones.


Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Patrik

    Interesting comparison. While I might be off by a longshot, can it be because the anti-gay behaviour has become something of a norm for even modest religious people, while burning books has always been considered quite extreme, in all circumstances?

    If so, that seems to show, even more, how wrong the priorities of religious people are. But I guess that’s another topic.

  • Karmakin

    I strongly disagree with the comments, and this is one place where I’ll go quite a bit further. I think that Christians have a LOT to apologize for here.

    Ever see Fight Club? Just after they start Project Mayhem, they’re running around doing all the terrorism stuff. Bob gets shot, and the narrator’s reaction is, you’re running around in ski-masks with guns…

    WHAT THE HELL DID YOU THINK WOULD HAPPEN?!?

    That’s the quote that I use a lot. Christians of all stripes are running around, proclaiming that following Jesus Christ is the ONLY way, that other religions are heretical, you need to follow that one path to be a moral person, etc.

    WHAT THE HELL DID YOU THINK WOULD HAPPEN?!?

    Jones simply acted upon that belief in a very public, confrontational way. But it’s the belief itself that’s the problem. It’s dehumanizing, it’s vile, etc. And apologizing probably isn’t enough, to be honest. Because they’re not real apologies. We don’t see Christians rushing to edit the Bible, or even to change liturgical traditions to minimize/eliminate/make clear that the above things are simply not true. Apologies need to come with real change. And there’s simply zero interest in making such real change.

  • gski

    The difference is who they are apologizing for. Jones is an individual responsible for himself. The church is a group with no individual being singled out. We tend to view corporations the same way. Blaming the corporation, and not the people making the decisions.

  • As I read the comments you posted I became more and more convinced I could see where you were going with this. The bold highlights let me know that you are making a point I totally agreed with. Then, you didn’t say it. Maybe there wasn’t room? Whatever the reason, I’m certain you couldn’t have missed the fact that in each of the quotes, each Christian was completely eradicating the idea of “salvation.”

    “…if you aren’t performing or supporting the given action or idea then I don’t see how you can be blamed…”

    “If the Christian tried to apologize(sic) it would be wrong because they can not make up for wrongdoing committed by another.”

    Isn’t the burden of sin on us all because of the Garden of Eden myth? How can a self-flagellating Christian say that Jesus died for their sins, then say they can’t see how other Christians can be blamed? Make up for the “wrongdoing” committed by another? Isn’t that the point of salvation?

    As for apologising for Mr. Jones’ behaviour, it is my opinion that he did nothing wrong. If he bought the book fair and square, it’s his to do with as he pleases. If the book is so valuable, stop selling it.

  • Ben

    I dont personally accept some Christians apologizing for others, regardless of how much they mean it. That goes for apologizing for how they treat gays and lesbians.

    Now, if those signs had read “I’m sorry I supported a homophobic church but I don’t anymore” then that would be different. Then, they are apologizing for something they’ve actually done and have made steps to rectify the situation.

    Apologizing for something you didn’t do, or not making efforts to change anything, are pathetic attempts at placating anger rightfully deserved.

    That said, I don’t think anybody should be apologizing for the pastor, or even that the pastor should apologize. The error is on the side of the lunatics who murdered innocent people for the sake of taking offense.

  • Larry

    It seems to me that this is being looked at too deeply. My impression is that the folks who appear to be apologizing are really just acknwledging the occurrence of something they no longer agree with. They might be struggling with finding an apprpriate way of saying that and this is the best they can do, for now. I am ok with that.

  • It is silly to apologize for someone else’s behavior, if understood in the sense of recognizing wrong behavior and wanting to make amends for it.

    But when a friend’s loved one dies, we say “I’m sorry for your loss.” Those placards along the gay pride parade fall into this category: “I’m sorry your childhood was f-ed up; I’m sorry you were hurt.”

    Likewise (as to Terry Jones … or Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, et al.) people aren’t taking responsibility or wanting to make amends for the religious zealots, but rather “I’m sorry you got the impression all Christians are ignorant and bigoted fools.”

  • Salo

    I think it’s a matter of how popular the behavior is. Anti-gay bigotry is common enough that the entire institution of Christianity may start to look homophobic. Once it starts to appear as an institutional value, anyone supporting the institution bears responsibility for the behavior. So it’s not surprising that those who disagree feel a need to publicly voice their opinions. Being reminded from time to time that many gay-friendly Christians exist stops me from erroneously lumping together all Christians as homophobes.

    Koran-burning, on the other hand, has only been done by one guy who is widely regarded as on the fringe. No outsider thinks all Christians feel the same way, so it seems silly that they’d feel the need to apologize for it. If different pastors were burning Korans every week all throughout the country, the perception would change. We’d begin to think that Koran-burning was a Christian value, and Christians who dislike the practice would have to speak up to show that’s not the case.

  • jess

    Some Christians feel compelled to apologize for the actions of people like James Dobson, and some don’t. Some Christians feel compelled to apologize for the actions people like Terry Jones, and some don’t. Some Christians don’t believe it’s possible to be a Christian, or even believe in God, and at the same time be gay. Some vehemently disagree with that. Some believe it is their personal responsibility to convince every person in the world that Jesus is the only way. Some Christians find that incredibly offensive.

    I think at some point, I’ve read on this very blog that it’s nearly impossible to get atheists to agree on anything. In my experience, Christians differ in opinion on many issues just at much. I’m not trying to comment on who’s right, or wrong. I’m just saying there are differences there, too.

  • Dan

    There are at least 2 different things people mean when they apologize: 1) I take responsibility for doing something wrong OR 2) I feel badly for something that happened to you. It is certainly logical for Christians to apologize for other Christians’ gay bashing in the 2nd sense of apologizing (just like me saying “I’m sorry you have cancer” doesn’t imply I am morally responsible for someone having cancer).

    I guess Christians COULD apologize (in the 2nd sense) for Jones’ actions if they want, but I certainly don’t think we can say they SHOULD apologize, since people should only be expected to apologize if they are are responsible.

    Also, while Jones is an evil bigot who was obviously trying to start a violent reaction I think it is important to realize that if any group should be expected to apologize for the actions of the people involved it should be Muslims apologizing for the mob killing people, rather than Christians apologizing for Jones’ actions. He may have had bad intentions and be a bigot, but all he did was burn some paper, while that mob killed people.

  • Umm Yasmin

    Interesting question, I’d prefer the Christians to reject the pastor, excommunicate him, dob-him-and-his-like-in etc. sort of like, I dunno they expect Muslims to do about Osama bin Laden and the other Muslim fundaloonies.

  • mouse

    To me it seems like two different questions. Should Christians who don’t partake in the action apologize for the action of another Christian; I don’t feel they have to. But if they feel like it because they are ashamed of that action, I’m not gonna chew them out for it.

    Do you see what I mean? With the Koran thing the question was SHOULD they apologize. With your earlier post about the the group at the gay demonstration, I agree that that group could do more, but the point was never a matter of SHOULD they. They felt like it so they did.

    I don’t feel like I’m explaining this well.

  • AxeGrrl

    karmakin wrote:

    Jones simply acted upon that belief in a very public, confrontational way. But it’s the belief itself that’s the problem. It’s dehumanizing, it’s vile, etc. And apologizing probably isn’t enough, to be honest. Because they’re not real apologies. We don’t see Christians rushing to edit the Bible, or even to change liturgical traditions to minimize/eliminate/make clear that the above things are simply not true. Apologies need to come with real change. And there’s simply zero interest in making such real change.

    I don’t think it gets any more perfectly said than that.

  • Lena915

    Keep in mind though, christianity is based upon someone else apologizing and taking blame for something that they did not do. That’s supposedly what their savior was doing, when he was crucified. In christian’s eyes, apologizing for actions someone else has taken is good enough to redeem the wrong-doer. Personal responsiblity is a foreign concept to most of them.

  • keystothekid

    I’ve gotta go with RogerRotge on this one, for the most part at least. Is Christianity not based on the idea of salvation through someone else? Jesus was crucified for everyone’s sins, therefore, is he not making the most extreme form of apology for everyone?

    Should Jones apologize for what he did? Of course. I cannot comprehend how people are letting him off the hook here. Inciting violence, while definitely not as bad as actually committing violence, is still wrong. If I go into a bar full of drunk bikers and tell them that the guy outside was trying to pick up their ladies and a fight ensues, am I not somewhat responsible for goading the violence?

    However, like Bill Maher mentioned on his show Friday night, we’re all concerned with whether or not this crazy pastor should apologize, yet we’ve kind of just accepted and become complacent with the fact that these Muslim extremists will kill so quickly and easily.

    We should be making the larger point here, that religion allows this kind of behavior. Terry Jones’ believed what he was doing was right because of his religion, whether or not mainstream Christianity feels the same matters not. The retaliation by the Muslims is justified in their eyes because of their religion. It matters not that they’re fundamentalists. This is the danger of religion, it allows itself to be interpreted however the believer sees fit.

  • I agree fully with Hemant, here. On the one hand, I could understand being from a group that’s so commonly associated with hate and bigotry and wanting to try and clear up that image. But that doesn’t magically give you the power to “be sorry” on behalf of other people.

    If we allow them to apologize on behalf of one another, that gives the illusion that we accept their apologies as “make-up” for what other people have done. And it will give them the illusion that the problem has solved. In short, saying that they can apologize for other people gives the impression that it works to solve the problem. Maybe a show of good faith at the least, but find a better way to do it than trying to pay lip service.

  • Kelly

    I think as others have said, the group attending the gay pride rally were using “I’m sorry” in a different way (except the third sign in the picture), I think it would have been more powerful if they said something like “I am a Christian and I don’t support homophobia”.

    Also, in response to keystothekid, I think he’s a jerk for his bigotry, but I don’t think burning a book should qualify as an incitement of violence. The imam who told people to be violent was inciting them to violence. If everyone became irrationally violent every time they were offended, as these people did, then would every statement or action that could offend someone be an incitement to violence? In that case, would there even be any freedom of expression left?

  • David W

    So, to clarify, they are quite certain that one cannot take the blame for another’s errors, which I think is reasonable. They’re also clear it’s inappropriate for them to be assigned blame for the behaviour of someone who is a member of the same set in which they reside.

    This would of course be more persuasive if their own god hadn’t blamed all of humanity for the behaviour of a single human, and then allegedly transferred the blame onto his own sort-of son.

  • Ron in Houston

    Do you think it’s really an apology or more of an implicit statement that they don’t feel that way and don’t think it represents that group?

  • Jamie

    It seems pretty straightforward to me:
    The Christians apologizing on behalf of the church are apologizing on behalf of an entity of which they are a part, the actions of which have been widespread and continual. As part of that entity they are acknowledging the wrong doing.

    Jones is an individual who acted of his own accord, and not as part of the widespread policy of an organization.

    Apples and oranges.

    And yes, there is also the sorry in the sense of “I’m sorry you lost your puppy” – the sympathy sorry, which is more the sentiment of the Christians apologizing for how the church has treated the gay community.

  • AxeGrrl

    Given all of the comments above, can we all agree that ‘apologizing’ for or ‘taking the blame’ for others is inherently f***ed up?

    When did personal responsibility get chucked to the wayside?

    How/why did this vicarious ‘acceptance of blame’ ever get endorsement from anyone?

    I just don’t get it.

  • I agree with Larry above who said:

    It seems to me that this is being looked at too deeply. My impression is that the folks who appear to be apologizing are really just acknwledging the occurrence of something they no longer agree with. They might be struggling with finding an apprpriate way of saying that and this is the best they can do, for now. I am ok with that.

    “Sorry” is kind of an imprecise, nebulous word… I think they’re not so much apologizing for another’s actions, as acknowledging a wrong done by a group they are a part of. They’re supporting a group by letting them know that not everyone is a part of that stance. To me, that’s different than apologizing for the specific actions of a specific individual.

  • Villa

    I think they do need to apologize, but mostly in the sense of ‘apologetics’.

    People can claim, “The Church has a special insight into morality” OR “The Church is just a human group, and as flawed as any other” but not both.

    Right now, Christianity is a lot like a weightlifting club where the members are, on average, no stronger or more muscular than anyone else.

    It would be fair to criticize members of that weightlifting club for the lack of strength in the other members, particualrly if they claim that the club was the best way to get fit. So why can’t we criticize Christians for the bigotry that’s so prevalent in their church, particularly if they claim that the church?

  • I don’t believe Christians should have to apologize for terry Jones, basically if you aren’t performing or supporting the given action or idea then I don’t see how you can be blamed on the basis that someone else, who could be categorized into the same group as you, did something wrong…

    Uh, newsflash, all you “moderate” and “liberal” Christers: Your silence on the matter — your silence on ALL matters where the Church is attempting to enforce “morality”, cover up “indiscretions”, and/or further persecute/dehumanize minorities — your silence indicates AGREEMENT and SUPPORT of the church’s words and actions. Thus, if ONE Christian commits an abominable act, such as inciting violence, EVERY Christian who does NOT speak out against it is a co-conspirator, and just as culpable as the individual who carried out the act.

    Which leaves you all two choices:

    Either change the religion from within (i.e. “clean house”), or join the side of reason (i.e. leave the church). There is no “middle ground”, there are no “moderate Christians”, and if you’re going to insist on being a monolithic entity, be prepared to be treated as one.

    End of.

  • martha

    This country is all too enamored of personal responsibility. It is a way for society to avoid responsibility.

    I applaud the Christians who are apologizing and who are working on remaking Christianity into a religion consistent with their own moral beliefs.

  • Kaylya

    I think there’s a difference between apologizing for the actions of a group you actively belong to and have therefore supported, and one you don’t. And someone else labeling himself with a term you use to describe yourself is not the same thing.

    The sign holders probably belonged to churches that were part of organizations that encourage homophobia, even if they themselves didn’t really partake. They gave financial support to organizations that spread anti-gay messages, and so supported it in some way whether or not they did so in a more active way or really believed it. That being said, I imagine very few people who are part of a group with much in the way of “political” views fully agree with 100% of them.

    But Terry Jones is a whacko who runs a tiny unaffiliated church (seems to be ~30 regular attendees). Other than that small number of attendees, and undoubtedly some other bigots who are all for the Koran burning, other Christians don’t provide him with any financial support, or lend legitimacy through larger church organizations.

  • SeanL

    If you promote the bible as the word of god then you are certainly at least partially responsible for what happens when individuals carry out those words.

    It’s like promoting White Supremacist ideology then claiming complete innocence when the KKK starts lynching people.

    Maybe you didn’t commit those actions directly, but words have meaning and affects people’s actions.

  • cat

    There are plenty of things that are okay if optional but it is not okay to require. Should Christians need to apologize for Jones? Nope, not required. May they do so if they please? Sure, I couldn’t care less. The issue when it is a widespread problem but is not one’s own action (which, fyi, hatred of middle eastern people and stereotyping of Muslims is) is distinguishing oneself (“we do not support Jones’s ideas or actions”) and not supporting those ideas deirectly or indirectly.

    On the signs at Pride: Pride is not all about you cis heteros, stop trying to make it so.

  • AxeGrrl

    martha wrote:

    This country is all too enamored of personal responsibility. It is a way for society to avoid responsibility

    Could you perhaps explain what you’re trying to say here in different words?

    Because as the above stands, it leaves me scratching my head.

  • ATL-Apostate

    This one pegged my Irony Meter at “11.”

    Christians base their entire religion on Jesus saying “my bad” on everyone else’s behalf – so called “substitutionary atonement.”

    One of the many glaring examples of cognitive dissonance that exists in the religious mind.

  • Ms. Crazy Pants

    Just the other day I had suggested that a church that has a person in authority sexually abusing someone, that the entire church should have to pay reparations to the victim, because an environment was created to allow the sexual abuse to occur.

    Book burning, unlike sexual abuse, is a legal activity, but it certainly paints Christians as a group that would invite killing to promote their faith. If they don’t want that image, then they need to confront Jones about it and maybe they need to change some of their doctrines to create an environment where there can be respect of other religions.

    The Christians who apologized at the gay pride parade are actively doing something to create a gay friendly atmosphere. I don’t know if it’s effective or not, but it beats doing nothing about it at all. They have a shot at changing church doctrine.

    In that light, if I want atheists to be viewed as a positive group, then I have some responsibility as well to work towards a better environment to prevent any negative things. Hemant is an example of an atheist who is doing a lot to create a positive environment for all.

  • An apology is an act of humility and contrition, prompted by something you did, or in this case by something somebody else did, somebody presumably “on your team” in some form or another. It may or may not be effective, or even entirely appropriate, but I don’t see it ever being a Bad Thing. Seems like a waste of time to vilify anyone for such an action. Unless, I suppose, their motivation is somehow cynical and self-serving, and that can be shown.

  • mox

    Christianity is based on the idea that someone else can take responsibility for your actions (i.e. Jesus died for your sins) so I don’t see how a real Christian could say you can’t apologize for somebody else’s actions. In any case, Jesus has certainly forgiven Jones for any wrong-doing, amiright? So hey world, chill please, Jesus says it’s all good.

    In all seriousness though, I still fail to see what anyone has anything to apologize for. As repugnant as Jones is, at the very least he violated a fire code–maybe. He burned a block of paper, and probably said some magical woo while he was doing it. If the Muslim god really exists, I have a hard time believing that he is so fragile as to be harmed by a block of paper being burned, or have a celestial skin so thin as to require apologies from anybody.

  • Carlie

    My own somewhat cynical opinion is that they refuse to apologize for Jones’ action because on some level they agree with it. They might think it’s ok to be gay now, but it’s still wrong to be any religion other than theirs.

  • Tyler

    The sign-holder on the right was very much in the right, since the subject of the sign is the holder himself (or herself, I can’t tell). The other two, while their signs apologize on behalf of the church, were (or perhaps still are) members of said church who no longer agree with the church’s anti-gay sentiments. Therefore, whether directly or indirectly, the signs are used as an apology for beliefs and actions once condoned and now rejected by the sign-holders. They’re owning up to their responsibility, however minor, as once-members of an anti-gay community. Perhaps the wording needed work, but otherwise, I find this kind of apology acceptable.

    Apologizing for Terry Jones, however, is completely different. Those doing so are apologizing for the behavior of a single person they hold no control over. It’s like a random grocery shopper apologizing for someone else’s child throwing a tantrum because the child’s parent won’t. If these people wish to apologize for their own past negative thoughts or actions towards the Quran, that’s fine. Just leave Jones out of it. However, those with no responsibility for this fiasco whatsoever bear no responsibility in apologizing, and doing so will not help matters at all.

  • Richard Wade

    People should apologize for their own failings, not for someone else’s.

    Apologies are personal. They cannot be loaned or borrowed. A proper apology contains no ifs or buts, and it includes a promise to not repeat the offense. It’s a statement of action to correct the wrong. Apologies that don’t include actual corrective action are bullshit.

    What has been the failing of other Christians in this case? Doing nothing. The act of apathy.

    If some Christians feel embarrassed about the actions of Terry Jones, they should apologize for their failing to loudly, powerfully, publicly, and continually denounce his actions. And then promise to not continue their failing.

    This is the beef I continually have with Christians or any religionists who offer their sheepish expressions of chagrin when one of their extreme brethren does something so over the top that they’re embarrassed by the association of being in the same theological category. My question to them is always the same:

    WELL WHAT THE HELL HAVE YOU ACTUALLY BEEN DOING TO CONTRADICT, REFUTE, REPUDIATE, DECRY, DENOUNCE AND OR DEPOSE THE OFFENDER, AND WHAT THE HELL WILL YOU ACTUALLY DO ABOUT HIM NOW?

    Their answer is always the same:

    Silence.

    Apathy is the most powerful force in the world.

  • fuzzybunnyslipperz

    Quite honestly it sickens me when Christians refuse to stand up and say “Hey that is just not right!”. They refuse to take responsibility for the horrible actions taken in their religion’s name. Oh but you have to remember that their relgion is the only correct one, and if someone kills someone in the name of their religion or commits a hatecrime well then that’s just peachy keen because “God” must have given the okay already. Yet they have no issue with saying ALL Muslims are terrorists, ALL Atheists are immoral and angry at “God” ALL Pagans worship “Satan” and sacrifice babies in the moonlight. They have no problem lumping other groups together and judging them by the worst of their kind.

    They all hide behind their slogan “Not perfect just forgiven”. That is their excuse and their card blanche’ to do whatever they please because their “God” has forgiven them. They seem to forget their own bible’s words when it says they shall stand before “God” and be judged for what they did in “His” name.

    “For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.”
    -Romans 14:10 KJV

    They use that they are “forgiven” to get away with all kinds of horrors and to sweep aside the more extremists of their own religion. Or they just dismiss it as the person was decieved by “Satan” and think their saying that they will “pray” for them is sufficient and no other actions on their part are necessary.

    p.s. Yes, I know not all Christians are not all this way. Those that aren’t need to speak up louder. Perhaps not apologizing for the rest of their fellows but at the very least speak up and say “Hey that’s not right! We aren’t all that way, please don’t judge me by them.”

  • adam

    I went through the post about the Christians group attending the gay pride rally and it doesn’t look like I commented in that one, but I actually do agree with your summation.

    Apologizing for something you didn’t do is at best a well meaning but ultimately empty handed act, particularly when as you pointed out with the Marin Foundation that it still seems that they hold to the same hurtful and nonsensical beliefs as before.

    @WMDKitty newsflash, I’m not a Christian

    “Your silence on the matter — your silence on ALL matters where the Church is attempting to enforce “morality”, cover up “indiscretions”, and/or further persecute/dehumanize minorities — your silence indicates AGREEMENT and SUPPORT of the church’s words and actions”

    Remember how this post was started, over the acts of Terry Jones. I don’t remember the bible verse or the public agreement throughout the majority of church’s that read thou shall burn the Quran and piss off a bunch of Muslims, So I don’t see how your comment makes sense in this one instances.

    Also why are you just limiting it to Christians, if I don’t make a public denouncement every time an atheist (or an American for that matter) does something “abominable” am I “co-conspirator, and just as culpable”?

    I don’t ask my pro-gay Christian friends to apologies to me for what anti-gay Christians do, why shouldn’t the non-Terry-Jones crowd be extended the same courtesy.

    I do believe that it is a good thing to publicly condemn atrocious act or ideas of a person or group because it often leads to the changing of socials norms for the better however I still don’t believe that one (if they never supported it) should have too.

  • Apollo

    “Now, we must all fear evil men. But there is another kind of evil which we must fear most, and that is the indifference of good men.”

    I think Christians should be speaking out against things like persecution of homosexuals, or disrespect from people like Jones. Apologizing isn’t the right word, they should be admonishing him and denouncing his beliefs and actions as wrong. The moderate and liberal Christians that would actually disagree with Jones need to make sure their voices are heard above the rabble.

  • nadnavillus

    I find this debate interesting. I immediately think of the US reaction when fringe Muslim organizations commit terrorist actions. I believe there is a large group of us that expect the moderate Islamic groups to speak out and denounce their actions. When they don’t, can an analogous argument be made that there is no need for them to appologize for the acts of other Muslims.

    Do we buy that argument?

  • The Captain

    “Last year, when I wrote a post criticizing that particular group for apologizing on behalf of other Christians (as well as not openly supporting gay marriage), many of you were on their side, calling it “baby steps” for them.”

    But was it the same people, who said they didn’t have to apologize for Jones? You know it is possible (I don’t feel like going through the threads to look) that the people who commented on the christians apologizing story are not the same individuals who commented on the Jones stuff. So there really may not be a contradiction there.

    And on the Jones thing, I don’t even think he has anything to apologize for. Sure, he’s a gigantic, evil, douche bag. But all he did was commit blasphemy (for muslims). Are we now to apologize for blasphemy whenever the offending party uses force? Should Trey and Matt have to apologize if a muslim sees their old South Park depictions of Mohammed and kills someone else? Should PZ have to apologize for the Eucharist thing, if catholics had formed a mob? And if so, isn’t that just a de facto blasphemy law?

  • SeanL

    I think it is ridiculous that atheists on this thread think religious people whom promulgate hate in the bible are not in some way responsible for other individuals who act on the hate they promote.

    We don’t live in a vacuum. The things we say and promote does affect the actions of other people, whether we intend it that way or not.

    You can’t promote White Supremacist ideology and expect other people not to start lynching people. You would have to be willfully ignorant or deluded to think that.

  • As I wrote in a comment on your previous post, I don’t think people should apologize for the actions of others. If the people apologizing once supported discriminating against LGBT people, burning other holy books, etc. but have now changed their minds, then it can be a good thing to apologize. I think Raytheist and Dan make good points, that it also depends on how they mean it. If they mean “I’m sorry this bad thing happened to you” but are not taking responsibility for someone else’s actions, it can be a nice gesture.

    What I really don’t like is when people try to use this type of apology not to actually express regret that something bad happened to another person but as a conversion tactic. (They may be under the impression that the only reason people don’t want to be Christian is because of the bad impression they have of the religion, and think an apology will help fix that.)

    What I do wish more Christians would do is look at their own actions, look at the actions of the extremists, and then look at their holy book. I’d want them to realize that the bad actions that the extremists are taking are actually supported by sections of their holy book. I don’t want them to apologize for others actions, but I do want them to take responsibility for their own beliefs—realize that they are defending/believing in a book which actually advocates actions that they personally claim to condemn. They should change their actions in accordance with what they actually claim to believe.

    @Richard Wade:

    If some Christians feel embarrassed about the actions of Terry Jones, they should apologize for their failing to loudly, powerfully, publicly, and continually denounce his actions. And then promise to not continue their failing.

    Agreed.

  • AxeGrrl

    Apollo wrote:

    I think Christians should be speaking out against things like persecution of homosexuals, or disrespect from people like Jones. Apologizing isn’t the right word, they should be admonishing him and denouncing his beliefs and actions as wrong.

    You nailed it right there. Kudos 🙂

  • Miko

    Richard Wade:

    This is the beef I continually have with Christians or any religionists who offer their sheepish expressions of chagrin when one of their extreme brethren does something so over the top that they’re embarrassed by the association of being in the same theological category. My question to them is always the same:

    WELL WHAT THE HELL HAVE YOU ACTUALLY BEEN DOING TO CONTRADICT, REFUTE, REPUDIATE, DECRY, DENOUNCE AND OR DEPOSE THE OFFENDER, AND WHAT THE HELL WILL YOU ACTUALLY DO ABOUT HIM NOW?

    A good first cut, but it goes a bit too far. If one Christian commits anti-gay acts, it’s something that should both embarrass other Christians and commit them to trying to stop it. If someone engages in a form of symbolic speech like burning a Qur’an, it’s something that probably should embarrass other Christians and cause them to distance themselves from the act, but not something that they ought to actively seek to suppress, since unlike the anti-gay actions the Qur’an burning doesn’t actually harm anyone.

  • RPJ

    I suppose that when extremist sects of Muslims blow themselves up in markets or kill UN workers in an overblown reaction to a Koran-burning on the other side of the world, it’s perfectly fine for “moderate Muslims” to remain silent to the atrocities because “they aren’t like those guys” and “Islam is a religion of peace” There’s no need for “moderates” in a sect to soil their hands disavowing their radical brethren?

    My views, in regard to any sect or religion, agree with Sam Harris in this post: http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/do-we-have-the-right-to-burn-the-koran/

    To be clear, I am not, as Harris says “condemn[ing Jones] for provoking this violence”; culpability for the violence rests with the Muslims who rioted. Nor am I claiming that Jones’ actions were tantamount to murder and arson.

    My point is simply that I think the principle extends to Christians as well as Muslims, as well as to Hindus, or Buddhists or Shintoists as the case may be; and that’s that “moderates” in a sect can’t just pretend to dissociate themselves from the extremists. I would expect Christians who don’t believe in murdering abortion providers, or gays, or establishing tyrannical theocracy to state that they don’t believe in that. And that means disavowing Pastor Jones as well (again, for his extremism and hate, not for culpability of violence).

  • Grendels Dad

    How distinct is the line between apologizing for something someone else did and condemning it? I hear loads of people saying that moderate Moslems should speak out against (apologize for? Condemn?) the terrorist actions of their more militant co-religionists.

    Why should moderate Christians not treat their more wacky brethren the same?

  • Mr Z

    One might consider the best possible outcome of this to be Christian group A telling the world that Christian groups X,Y, and Z are not real Christians and therefore they need not apologize or censure them for any reason. This will however lead to eventually to widespread fundamentalism IMO.

    It is good that they can see a difference between the various sect’s views, but it is NECESSARY that they instead see how one group strays from the constitution or the law.

    The act of apologizing for others of your faith does not bring back the people who died after the book burning. Their loved one’s can only feel closure at the premature last breath of their murderers. Apologies won’t help, but censure and reporting crimes … that will help. I don’t mean an inquisition, but normal regular joe citizen stuff.

    If you want to really change how people are treated by your faith, leave it. Quit. Stop supporting the very people you would apologize for. Censure them from your money and moral and popular support. March WITH the GLBT citizens with a sign saying so. Fight oppression, do not simply apologize for it. Do something that speaks for itself.

    Apologies are simply the smile on the oppressors face as they oppress you a bit more.

  • Patrick

    Group identity is a weird thing. If someone feels like “their people” have hurt someone, its perfectly fine for them to apologize.

    The interesting question isn’t when its appropriate for someone who wants to apologize to do so. If someone feels they ought to apologize, then they’re indicating that they feel blame for something, and accepting the apology is a kind thing to do. Even if you don’t feel that they ought feel blame for the matter, the fact is that they DO feel it, and accepting the apology is at least a nice thing to do for someone you don’t think needs to feel bad.

    The interesting question is when we ought to expect people who don’t want to apologize to do so, when the matter they might apologize for is something done by a group to which they consider themselves a member. That’s… a lot harder. I don’t know the answer to that.

  • Chris M

    So calling on moderate muslims to denounce radical islamists is okay and is done all the time. Even that poor group in Detroit, IIRC, did it but that wasn’t enough.

    However, asking moderate Christians to denounce radical Christians that shoot abortion doctors, blatantly discriminate against homosexuals, and knowingly cause riots with their actions is totally different and unnecessary. We got it. *ROLL EYES*

  • Justin Miyundees

    It’s morally corrupt to apologize for the wrongs of an institution but keep right on with the practice. Any Catholic aware of the institutionalized child molestation that even 1/1000 of 1 cent went to preserving, is guilty of collusion.
    What apologists are loathe to accept is their part in all this. Old Terry Jones surely attended and runs some sort of child indoctrination. He is both a product and a purveyor of false assertions of authority.

    As for Muslim apologists, they’re in the same boat. But I do not entertain the notion that the thousands that stormed the UN were “extremists”. This “religion of peace” is nothing of the sort. The same “moderates” who smile and exchange pleasantries with our misplaced troops became stone throwing thugs at the drop of a hat or the burning of a book three thousand miles away. It is insane to think you can have rational exchanges when irrationality lurks so close to the surface – christian, Muslim, Zoroastrian, scientologist – you name it. Until we dethrone the fairy tales, this insanity will persist.

  • Joshua White

    While I love the fact that Hemant quoted me (the last quote), I am confused as to why.

    He goes straight from the comment quotes to asking why we were just as upset about the other christians trying to apologize for homophobic christians. I did mention that! I do reject that! It’s in the part above! Do I need to be meaner? Am I missing something?

    I’ll bitch about the rest of you when I’m done with the house cleaning.

  • Just wanted to add, in light of more recent comments, that what I said about Christians evaluating their own religion should apply to others, such as Muslims, as well.

  • Pureone

    I thought Xtians destroying books they didn’t believe in was the norm and historically consistent. Otherwise wouldn’t we have a few more copies, or even a copy of some books?

    Like burning the Quran is new. They did that during the Inquisition. Any apologies for that?

  • mike

    Culpability by Proximity

    I see culpability on a continuum. If you identify with a common group and an individual commits an extreme, but still within group bounds, action, then you are culpable in a very small sense. If you identify with a specialized group and participate, then you are more culpable. Basically, the closer the action gets to you and your ability to stop it, the more accountability you attain.
    So if a backwater preacher does an uncommon act in a splinter group, you don’t really have to apologize for that. If the church that you attend spends money on anti-gay propaganda, you definitely have something to apologize for. That means that if you are Catholic, Mormon, Southern Baptist, or Evangelical (among others), which accounts for most christians, then you should be sorry about the treatment of homosexuals.

    I favour the “What did you think would happen?” argument but regard that more as a destruction of claims to innocence through naivete and not as a measure of culpability by proximity.

    It’s really simple, the closer you are to affecting an action, the more culpability you have for the consequences.

  • CanadianNihilist

    I’d like to go on the record here:
    The first quote you used is from me, and I was not aware this site existed a year ago. Therefore I never said that one apology was OK and the other wasn’t.

    Moving on;
    With the expedition of “I used to be a Bible-banging homophobe. Sorry,” the rest are a nice thought and that’s all. It would be great if they could convince their respective churches to have a more civil outlook on the subject as the churches on the whole are mostly responsible for the gay bashing.
    However their individual apologies mean little.
    Currently the people that need to apologize now are Terry Jones for acting like an idiot and intentionally inciting people, the people who are acting like middle age savages killing people over the smallest things in their “religion on peace” and the religious leaders who propagate that kind of thinking in their sycophantic followers.

  • S-Y

    Terry Jones doesn’t have all that much to be responsible for; all he did was burn a book. It is the barbarians halfway across the world who associates that with meaning that America is entirely irrationally Islamnophobic who must account for their actions. Of course, Jones has probably done far more and worse things than burn a book, but he’s only getting flak for the book burning.

  • I think in both cases, it is inappropriate to apologize on behalf of others.

    However, responsibility is not just about who is at fault. Queer-friendly Christians may not be at fault for homophobic Christians, but they are in a good position to counter them. They should say loudly and clearly that they are Christian and they repudiate homophobia, not because homophobia is their fault, but because they have the power to help.

    And I suppose that’s the difference between “apologizing” for James Dobson and Terry Jones. People like James Dobson have a lot of power, and this power can be diminished by Christians loudly disagreeing with him. Terry Jones, on the other hand, is already unpopular, and that really doesn’t stop him.

  • Jon Moles

    I have to agree with a previous comment, the difference is that there is nothing wrong with burning a book, per se, while persecuting gays is fundamentally immoral. If anyone should apologize for the Terry Jones affair it is the corporatized and sensationalist media, but then they would have to apologize for nearly everything they do.

    On the other hand, I don’t think apologies are out of line for Christians who have stopped their homophobic, hate-filled actions and changed their point of view concerning homosexuality. However, I don’t think they are required to apologize so much as they should be working to make a difference in their church. Anyone who is truly sorry would seek to make amends, not just mouth empty apologies. An apology without some action behind it is no different than a prayer, it makes the person apologizing feel better, but does very little if anything for the injured party(ies).

  • Stephanie

    I don’t think people should have to apologize for groups they are not representing. That said, the sign on the left specifically is a personal apology.

    Also, I think you’ll find this false analogy when you examine it:
    ACTION:Burning a book vs. Taking away rights from a specific group of people
    REACTION:Slaughtering a dozen unrelated people vs. Going about their daily lives or attending a protest.

    Perhaps if you can show me an instance where a religious leader burning “The Gay Mystique” created a murderous reaction from the LGBT community, then I’d give a little credence to this comparison…

  • Halley

    It’s different because apologizing on behalf of an organization that you implicitly belong to by being a Christian simply says that you’ll try to make your organization better and you’re not like the rest of them. Apologizing for what a specific nutcase does implies that you’ll take responsibility for another individuals action, which would make no sense.

  • Gavin

    In the blog world, a single post with a slant toward a specific view (that apologizing for other Christians is unthinkable, for instance) is all it takes to evoke a me-too reaction from people. You’ve gotta remember that one Christian cannot speak for all Christians, so if there are differing opinions among Christians, it makes sense. From the outside it appears that there is inconsistency or an inherent confusion in Christianity’s stance about world issues, but it isn’t really a hypocrisy but a lack of a single voice. It just makes sense. The lack of an opinion about the specifics of today’s world issues in their ancient texts is the reason for this.

  • Seth

    First of all, they may very well be commiserating rather than apologizing. Saying “sorry” isn’t always an expression of culpability. Secondly, some may feel somewhat complicit in specific churches’ bad behavior. Christians in general, on the other hand, are not so directly linked to the fringe congregation of Pastor Jones, so it would be wildly inappropriate for them to apologize for his actions.

    And finally, apology should not be confused with condemnation. When Muslim extremists kill innocents it would indeed by inappropriate for Muslims in general to apologize for the extremists’ actions. They should, however, condemn the violence rather than placing the blame with those who simply exercise their right to free speech.

  • Korinthian

    This has probably already been mentioned, but isn’t much of the bible based on blame being transfered to other people?

    Punishments being inherited? The scapegoat Jesus?

  • Ron in Houston

    The whole concept of “group apology” is interesting. For instance, I’m an American and I feel very badly for how the Japanese-Americans were treated during WW2. However, would I personally apologize to a Japanese-American person? Probably not. I might mention how wrong it was for that to happen but I doubt I’d say “I’m sorry.”

    I’d imagine people making group apologies have some internal sense of guilt. They know how hurtful the actions of the group were and feel they must make personal amends.

    At least that’s my theory.

  • Pseudonym

    If I tell you “I’m sorry you broke your leg”, I am not implying that it was me who broke it. All I am saying is a) I acknowledge that breaking your leg sucks, and b) I sympathise with you.

    “I’m sorry for how the church has treated you” is essentially the same thing. It’s subtly different from “I apologise on behalf of the church”.

  • gsw

    “hatemongers like Terry Jones.”

    If it has reached the point where even atheists can call a man burning a copy of a book he purchased – in protest – and this can be called hatemongering, then there does not appear to be much chance of our holding back the fascist wave.

    If he had burned a copy of Mein Kampf in 1939, to protest the treatment of Jews in Germany would you have condemned him?
    If he had burned a copy of the Communist Manifesto in 1968 to protest the treatment of the Czechs, would you have called him a hatemonger?

    The difference between burning a copy of a book purchased and breaking into homes, stealing and burning all copies of a book – such as is routinely done in Saudi Arabia – is the difference between having a fire in your grate and burning down a museum.
    Let us not lose sight of the true magnitude of a deed.

  • @Ron in Houston: You bring up an interesting point. With the example of how a group of people were treated in the past by a country, I don’t think most people who weren’t involved should apologize (as I wrote above), but I do think that it would be appropriate for government officials to apologize, since they’re representing the same institution that made the decision.

    @gsw: As long as it’s his copy, he can do whatever he wants with it, but lets not pretend he’s doing it for some noble purpose. If his actions were motivated by a desire to oppose bigotry and violence (rather than his own hatred) he’s be opposed to the Bible, too.

  • fracguru

    Will people please stop equating persecution of gays to the burning of a single book?

    Apologize? BS. Instead, you tell the muslim fanatics that if they want to be taken seriously they need to stop reacting to legitimate expressions of protest and disagreement in such a hideous and unforgivable manner.

    What Jones did was a protest, no different then burning a flag. He isn’t rounding up all of the Korans and burning them, nor is he leading a crusade to have Korans banned. I think the guys a pinhead and contemptible, but I fully support his right to burn that stupid book. All blame falls on the idiots that reacted to the burning in such a vile manner.

    Persecution of gays, on the other hand, is a serious crime and needs to be fought on every front. The Christians apologizing are at least taking the first step into standing up for homosexuals. One can hope that they will go further and actively speak out in their communities and churches against persecution. But I give them credit for at least acknowledging the wrongness of past and present persecution.

  • Steve

    The reasons muslims react so violently to this stuff is because they have some pretty weird attitude towards the Koran. For a Christian, the Bible is just a book. It’s the ideas that count, but the book is just a physical object. Muslims consider the book itself to be some kind of holy object. They also don’t like it touching the ground or will make sure it’s in some special or elevated place at home.

    That doesn’t excuse their barbarism of course, but it’s not just a book to them.

  • Beryl

    Terry Jones did the equivalent of telling a jealous guy with a gun that his wife is sleeping around; it may even be true, but the person who says it is not entirely innocent if the predictable violence happens. Provoking someone to kill is not exactly the same as doing the killing yourself, but if you’re

  • Sarah

    Christians should not feel responsible to apologize for someone like Terry Jones if they aren’t

    performing or supporting the given action or idea.

    They also shouldn’t feel obligated to apologize for other churches/Christians who mistreat homosexuals if they personally don’t mistreat homosexuals.

    However, if they feel badly that homosexuals are being mistreated by the church, or disapprove of offensive and moronic behavior by some pastor, its a nice gesture to say, “Hey, what these people are doing sucks. I don’t agree with it and I’m sorry you have to deal with it.”

    Does it absolve the offenders of their guilt? Of course not. But it’s really nice to see a Christian stand up on the side of what is kind and moral and good. It promotes progress when someone on the other side says, “No, we shouldn’t be hating homosexuals. No, we shouldn’t be burning books.” Isn’t that what we all want? A society that accepts people and promotes love and kindness?

    I would be absolutely fine with a world full of religion if it weren’t for the hate, lies, and ignorance it brings to the world. Get rid of that and they can talk about Jesus’ love in their heart all they want, I could care less.

  • Sarah

    @WMDKitty

    if ONE Christian commits an abominable act, such as inciting violence, EVERY Christian who does NOT speak out against it is a co-conspirator, and just as culpable as the individual who carried out the act.

    That’s bullshit. Christians vary so widely in their beliefs, it’s absolutely ridiculous to claim they are all responsible for the behavior of the mainstream church, and even more ridiculous to hold them responsible for the actions of crazy fringe groups, like the WBC. If someone is attending or giving money to a church that is preaching homophobia, then I would hold them responsible for supporting homophobia. But if someone calls themselves a Christian because they like the warm fuzzies they get when they talk to Jesus, they are doing NOTHING wrong.

    Maybe I’m naive or too forgiving, but I like to base my opinions of people the way they act, speak, and believe personally, not on the actions of others who fall under the same incredibly broad label.

  • Daniel Rodger

    Isn’t the first instance apologizing for someone’s mistakes, the second instance is someone showing compassion for people who have been effected by someone’s mistakes. If the second rule were applied to the first example, then wouldn’t it be ‘I feel sorry for the way Terry Jones has treated you’?