For the Sins of Our Fathers

Can  we apologize for the sins of our grandfathers and grandmothers? Should we?

The answers to both questions was “yes” at a lawyers conference in Berlin this fall.

Brent McBurney, president and CEO of Advocates International, reports the amazing work that God did during the gathering of Christian lawyers from across Europe. The conference, “50 Nations – 1 Fellowship,”  co-led this year by the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship (UK) and Christ und Jurist (Germany), was attended by over 200 lawyers, judges and law students from across Europe.

As Brent tells it in his November newsletter, the first day of the conference was devoted to prayer. On the second day, the keynote speaker, Judge Peter Gegenwart, admitted to the audience that his grandfather was a judge during the Nazi regime, and Peter asked for forgiveness, on behalf of himself, his family, and his nation. In response, Teresa Conradie, of South Africa, came to the podium to offer forgiveness on behalf of her own family and nation. Her grandfather had died during World War II fighting against the Nazis in Europe. Brent reports that there was not a dry eye in the room.

I admit that I’m a little skeptical of apologies and forgiveness on behalf of ancestors. I haven’t quite worked out the theology of that. But it sounds like the Spirit of God was definitely present among these Christian lawyers, enabling them to experience a new level of reconciliation. This has opened my eyes to the possible benefit of seeking and extending forgiveness for sins for which we are not personally responsible.

On Friday afternoon of the Christian lawyers’ conference, the group visited the Sachsenhausen Labor Camp, where Judge Gegenwart prayed a Prayer of Repentance, a way of trying to make amends for the sins of our fathers.  

Restorative Justice in Murder Cases

The New Orleans District Attorney’s office is implementing restorative justice to resolve murder cases. It’s been used to induce a plea agreement for one murderer, and reduce the sentence of another.

Jeremy Burse was just 15 in 2010 when he and his friend Anthony Davis, 16, tried to rob a security guard. Burse shot at the fleeing security guard and the bullet ricocheted, striking and killing Davis. Burse was sentenced to life without parole, but the U.S. Supreme Court held that life sentences for juvenile offenders were unconstitutional, so the Orleans Parish DA office decided to use a process it termed mediation to review Burse’s sentence.

The mediation involved Burse, by then 21, his attorney, his family, victim Anthony Davis’s mother Gilda Davis, and Assistant DA Laura Rodrigue, who heads the restorative justice unit for the Orleans Parish DA office. Apparently after an emotional half-day meeting, they all agreed to recommend that Burse plead to an amended charge of manslaughter and receive a 25-year sentence for that. The judge agreed.

Gilda Davis said afterwards that Burse had offered a tearful apology during the mediation.

In an earlier case, a process called mediation was used to induce a defendant to plead guilty to manslaughter on the day his murder trial was scheduled to begin. The defendant, Cornell Augustine, was remorseful, and the victim’s family was willing to consider forgiveness over vengeance, so Assistant DA Rodrigue thought this might be a good case for mediation. The defendant and his attorney met with the DA and the victim’s family to discuss a plea deal. The defendant could have faced life in prison if convicted of murder; instead he was sentenced to 30 years on the manslaughter conviction.

The articles on these mediations imply that the DA was herself the mediator between the offender and the victim’s family—but of course the DA is hardly neutral, so it’s not clear to me that this is really mediation. It may be an expanded guilty-plea negotiation, or more like a 3-way negotiation, since the DA’s interests don’t align perfectly with the victim’s family. Typically mediation has been used in the criminal context only post-conviction, to determine sentencing, and never in cases involving violent crimes. Even if this isn’t quite mediation, it’s interesting to see an alternative approach being used in criminal cases to everyone’s satisfaction.  


Apology and Humor

Incorporating humor with an apology is risky. If anyone could pull it off, it’d be a cast member of Saturday Night Live, right? But even Pete Davidson, after a few lame comments, delivered a straight public apology Saturday night for mocking Congressman-elect Lt. Com. Dan Crenshaw on “Weekend Update” last week. The apology met the basic criteria of taking responsibility for a specific action, and saying those magic words, “I’m sorry.” It was almost a relief to then see Mr. Crenshaw appear on the show and dish it back to Mr. Davidson with some humorous lines. Given that this was Veteran’s Day weekend, it was appropriate for Mr. Crenshaw to sum up with a sober encouragement that we honor all veterans. To cap it off, Mr. Crenshaw noted that Mr. Davidson’s father was a first-responder who died in 9/11. Note that it was the one forgiving, not the one apologizing, who used humor effectively; but the offender had to be willing to laugh at himself, and Davidson was.

Megyn Kelly Apologizes for “Blackface” Comments

TV host Megyn Kelly apologized yesterday for comments she made earlier this week on her talk show about blackface.

First, the offense: In her morning talk show, Kelly and three guests were discussing inappropriate Halloween costumes. Noting the criticism of actress Luann DeLesseps for dressing as Diana Ross for a Halloween costume party last year, Kelly questioned why it was considered racist for a person to dress up as someone from another race: “Because truly you do get in trouble if you are a white person who puts on blackface at Halloween or a black person who puts on white face for Halloween. Back when I was a kid, that was okay as long as you were dressing up as a character.”

The reaction: This quickly became the trending topic on Twitter, with most users finding Kelly’s comments inappropriate and offensive. Her NBC colleague Al Roker demanded a public apology, noting that blackface carries “a history going back to the 1830s minstrel shows to demean and denigrate a race. … I’m old enough to have lived through ‘Amos ‘n’ Andy,’ where you had white people in blackface playing two black characters, just magnifying the worst stereotypes about black people — and that’s what the problem is and that’s what the issue is.”

The apology: Kelly first emailed an apology to her NBC colleagues. Then yesterday, she apologized at the start of her daily TV show before a live audience:

“I want to begin with two words: I’m sorry. You may have heard that yesterday we had a discussion here about political correctness and Halloween costumes.

“And that conversation turned to whether it is ever okay for a person of one race to dress up as another — a black person making their face lighter or a white person making theirs darker, to make a costume complete. I defended the idea, saying that as long it was respectful and part of a Halloween costume, it seemed okay. Well, I was wrong and I am sorry.”

“I have never been a ‘PC’ kind of person, but I do understand the value in being sensitive to our history, particularly on race and ethnicity. This past year has been so painful for many people of color.”

“The country feels so divided, and I have no wish to add to that pain and offense. I believe this is a time for more understanding, more love, more sensitivity and honor, and I want to be part of that.”

Many in the audience, including people of color, stood and clapped when she finished.

The analysis: First, what’s good about this apology: I believe she is sorry about this mess. She admitted she was “wrong,” and she seems to understand that she contributed to the problem instead of to its solution, expressing a desire to behave differently from now on. She was emotional as she was delivering it: this was heartfelt.

What’s not so good: The comment about not being “a ‘PC’ kind of person” is a bit jarring. I think she’s trying to be honest—that she’s not going to say things she doesn’t believe only because it’s expected. But it could be interpreted to mean that she believes this whole matter is only about “political correctness” rather than genuine offense.

“This past year has been so painful for people of color.” I found this phrase also jarring. I expected her to say that it’s been painful for all of us as we wrestle with racial tension in the U.S. Suggesting that it’s been painful for some people implies that it hasn’t been painful for the rest. I don’t think that’s what she meant – surely she too has been grieved by the police shootings of unarmed black men, the church murders in South Carolina, etc. I think she was trying to express empathy. She didn’t quite do it.

What could’ve made it better: Good apologies are specific about the offense and the attempts to avoid it. I wish she’d added a line specifically about how damaging “blackface” was, like repeating what Al Roker noted – that it’s perpetuated the worst stereotypes about black people. I wish she had acknowledged that it all seemed okay “when she was a kid” because anyone who objected then was silenced, their criticism suppressed. She could’ve expressed gratitude that people speak more freely today, even if it’s to criticize her, because that’s how she learns.

It takes courage to make a public apology, because it’s fraught with minefields. It’s even more stressful when your job is on the line. We can all learn from Megyn Kelly’s example.

What if Judge Kavanagh had Received Conflict Coaching?

Since the Honorable Brett Kavanagh testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, he has issued two statements of regret–an apology to Senator Klobuchar that evening, for answering her question with a question; and an acknowledgment in the Wall Street Journal today that his tone was sharp, and he said some things he now wishes he hadn’t said. Because he is a professing Christian, his statements of regret provide an opportunity to reflect on how some Christian conflict coaching beforehand might have helped him handle his Committee appearance differently. What if he had used Jesus as his model of how to behave when unjustly accused?

The phrase “conflict coaching” is a term of art in biblical peacemaking. It means, helping a fellow believer respond to conflict biblically, reflecting on their behavior in the light of Scripture. We all have blind spots, and a neutral person can help us see how well our behavior in the midst of a conflict measures up to the Christian ideals we profess.

Below are some questions a conflict coach might have used to help Judge Kavanagh take a different approach in the hearing. These questions start from Judge K’s perspective that he is completely innocent. They’re not designed to change his mind about that, so much as to offer a different way of behaving in the hearing, that would be less likely to result in regrets (and criticism). These questions assume that the recipient is a Jesus-follower who takes Scripture seriously.  [Just to be clear: these were never used; they’re just examples of how a conflict-coach might have approached this. I have no idea whether anyone tried to talk to Judge Kavanagh from this perspective.]

Conflict Coaching Questions

Q: You believe you have been wrongly accused. Can you think of people in the Bible who also were accused of a crime, yet innocent?

(Possible answers)

  • Joseph, by Potiphar’s wife
  • David, by Saul
  • Jesus, by Jewish leaders

Q: Can you identify one quality that person displayed under those circumstances, that you admire?

(These are just some examples)

  • Joseph (Genesis 39): apparently didn’t have a chance to defend himself to Potiphar, so never even had the chance to tell his side of the story; apparently trusted God while he was in prison, and God worked through Joseph; reading between the lines, Joseph must’ve forgiven Potiphar, and not allowed a root of bitterness to grow while he was in prison.
  • David (I Samuel 18 et seq): David resisted the temptation to retaliate—twice he could’ve killed Saul, but he restrained himself out of fear of the Lord; he could’ve used his power and authority to demolish Saul and Saul’s kingdom, but he chose to flee instead of starting a civil war; he showed respect to Saul right to the end.
  • Jesus (John 18-19, etc.): once arrested, spoke little; kept his focus on his goal of fulfilling the Father’s plan; endured the betrayals of friends Judas and Peter; constrained himself from exposing the Jewish leaders’ hypocrisy; constrained himself from lecturing Pilate; endured humiliation wordlessly; etc.

Q: Are there any qualities in these biblical examples that you want to emulate yourself? Which ones? How will you do that?

Q: How do you think Jesus was able to endure all that torture and humiliation? Not only was he innocent; he also had the power to end it at any time. What empowered him to persevere? Read Ephesians 3:17-19 to learn more about how great is the love of Christ for us.

Q: Given that one of your goals as a Christian is to become more Christ-like, how might you imitate Jesus in this situation? What aspects of Jesus could you adopt and implement? How is this even possible? Reflect on passages like John 15:5-25; Matthew 10:37-39; I Corinthians 5:20-21; Colossians 3:1-3, that talk about how we are transformed when we are “in Christ.”

Q: Are you feeling like you’re being persecuted? Do you recall how Jesus said to respond to that? See Matthew 5:44-45. How can you live out this verse in this situation?

Q: Not many people get the opportunity to defend themselves publicly against a false accusation; God is giving you a rare glimpse of what Jesus went through in his last hours before death. What does it mean to you to be able to identify with Jesus in this way? Are there any other ways in which you especially identify with Jesus as you go through this ordeal? How does that help you?

Q: What goals do you want to keep in mind as you go through this process? What image or picture could you focus on? Reflect on I Corinthians 10:31. How could you glorify God through this process? What would it look like if you made that your primary goal? What would be some things you would be sure not to do, if you’re trying to honor God?

Q: What characteristics do you want to display in this process? What adjectives would you like people to use afterwards to describe your behavior? “He was very ….” Think about the “fruits of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23). Do they play any role here? Is there one that you would especially like to display as you go through this process?

Q: What temptations or pitfalls do you want to try to avoid? How will you do that?

Q from The Peacemaker, by Ken Sande, p. 42: When this is all over, if God were to evaluate your behavior, how would you want God to complete these two sentences:

  1. “I am pleased that you did not …” or,  “I am pleased that you resisted the temptation to …”
  2. “I am pleased that you …” or, “I am pleased that, despite reasons not to, you were able to …”

Q: Are you feeling a need to talk back to your accusers? “Teach them a lesson”? Expose them? Consider Romans 12:14-19. Is it possible that God will take care of this in another way, so you don’t have to be His “mouthpiece”?

Q: Is it possible that, in the intensity of the hearing, you might say something you later regret? If you realize it in the hearing, how might you handle that? How do you feel about publicly apologizing if, for example, you give a response that is sharp, sarcastic, or disrespectful? Consider that “humility” is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). If you realize you’ve said something not consistent with the Christ-like attitude you’re striving to maintain, could you apologize right then? What might you say?

Getting to the Heart:

Q: Do you know what an “idol” is? One definition is that it’s a good thing that we want too much, for which we’re willing to sin to attain. So let me ask you a question for you to reflect on—don’t answer it yet, just think about this: Is it possible that you have made your desire for a Supreme Court seat into an idol? Or, is it possible that you have made your desire for a good reputation into an idol? What might it look like if you had? One sign of idolatry is that we’re in conflict with anyone who doesn’t worship our idol. The cure for idolatry is to confess to God that you have been worshiping something other than God; repent; and replace idol worship with worship of the one true God.


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