Now, before I dive in, I'd like to begin by saying that I really struggled about writing this post. My reasoning for writing this is purely a result of a handful of comments to a Facebook/Twitter post I made earlier today (March 18th) about Mark Driscoll's open letter of apology. Now, I am not a die hard Mark Driscoll fan. In fact, you could even say that I've traditionally been in opposition to many of the things he has said and done. After all, Driscoll is not exactly known for his loving and gracious demeaner. But I have tried to encourage others to offer forgiveness and grace to him in response to his apology. I have been surprised that not everyone has been able to do so.
You can find the full manuscript of Driscoll's apology here. In it, Mark goes into detail on a number of offenses and poor decisions he has made over his past 17 years as the pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA. There are moments when Driscoll is candid and vulnerable, while at other times there's an underlying defensiveness. In the end, however, I thought Driscoll took a step in the right direction and I never would have guessed that he would ever apologize like this.
To be fair, this isn't the first time Mark has offered an apology like this. Yet his previous apology letter was not nearly so forthright. Honestly, it's easy to look at an apology like this and wonder if Driscoll is sincere. So I was surprised when I posted a link to his letter and so few people offered grace and forgiveness to him. As I have been eyeing the social media landscape, I'm amazed that most people are using this as an opportunity to re-hash their own hurts and point out all of Driscoll's past mistakes, many of which are the very things he's apologizing for. So I'll be up front and say that I am saddened that we are so quick to point out this man's faults, regardless of how deep and hurtful, when there's not a single one of us who deserve the forgiveness that he's asking us to offer him. I really think this is one of those "plank in your own eye" moments. It's always easy to cast the first stone. It's much harder to offer a hand of forgiveness when we've been hurt.
As a way to respond to the various opinions out there regarding Mark's letter, and to hopefully explain why I support a grace-oriented approach to his letter, I would like us to ask three questions of ourselves and see if it changes our perception. As you read these questions and the commentary after each one, I ask you to examine your own heart and see if you might deal with Driscoll any differently. If not, oh well, I tried. ;-)
Three questions to ask ourselves in response to Mark Driscoll's open apology letter:
1. Does my response to Mark Driscoll help to heal my wounds or hurt me even more?
If I am counseling someone who has been hurt by their spouse, I would clearly and consistently encourage them to seek reconciliation. Over and over again. It would take significant abuses (physical abuse, dangerous living, etc.) before I would ever advise any sort of separation. And even then I would do whatever I could to help the person find forgiveness in their heart. It does no good for a person to harbor anger toward their spouse. It hurts them.
It's only natural for us to question the legitimacy and sincerity of an apology like Driscoll's, especially after he's already done one of these before. But Jesus addresses this concern in Luke 17:3-4 when he tells us that even if a person offends us seven separate times in a day and asks for forgiveness each time, we must forgive them. I think Jesus is doing more than just commanding us to forgive (and he is commanding). I think he's cutting through our skepticism to the heart of what's going on: our own hurt. Harboring anger is just bitterness. And according to John Ortberg, "Bitterness is like taking rat poisoning and waiting for the rat to die." We think that withholding forgiveness from Mark Driscoll is somehow right and just, when in reality, it's just destructive and will only hurt us in the end.
2. Does my response hurt others or help others heal?
When we refuse forgiveness toward another person, especially someone like Mark Driscoll who has likely hurt many other people, we do nothing to further the mission of Jesus in the world.
There are four elements of forgiveness that must take place when an apology is present:
- Remorse: The offender is convicted of their wrongdoing and expresses regret.
- Responsibility: The offender takes responsibility for their actions and doesn't "dodge."
- Repentance: The offender turns away from their wrongs and chooses a new way of acting.
- Reconciliation: The hurt/offended willingly accepts the apology and allows unity to take place again.
Interestingly, the first three elements of forgiveness are the responsibility of the offender, but the final element--reconciliation--is the responsibility of the hurt party. When you have been hurt by another person, the person who hurt you can knock on the door to ask for reconciliation, but only you can open the door to let them in. At this point, the ball is in your court. Refusing an apology, especially publicly, does nothing to show people outside the Church that we are able to forgive.
In John 13, Jesus shows us that we will be known by our love. In a relational context, love happens when we are able to make room for the faults of others. Withholding love from another person only serves to tear down the way people see the Church and, as a result, Jesus. So the question is, when Mark Driscoll offers a public apology, are we willing to make room for his faults, or are we content to see him squirm? It would be easy to say, "Well, accepting his apology is just reinforcing his past behaviors." But I really don't think that's the case. I think that showing forgiveness, grace, and love is a far more powerful display of Jesus to a lost and dying world.
3. Does my response follow the ways of Jesus or my own way?
In a fascinating scene in Matthew 18, Jesus describes a man who owes his king a bunch of money and, when facing significant punishment, begs for mercy and receives it. But when the same man ends up being owed money, he refuses mercy to his debtor, even though he himself had been forgiven his debts previously by the king. In the end, the man is confronted by the king for his unforgiving nature and sent to prison. Interestingly, Jesus was telling this story in response to Peter's question about how many times we should forgive a person. If we recall, Jesus began the story by saying we should forgive people "seventy times seven" (or, more literally: "seven times, then seven times, then seven times, etc."). In other words, our forgiveness to our brothers and sisters in Jesus should NEVER stop. Period.
Lastly, Jesus gives us a stern warning after telling of how the man was thrown in prison when he says in verse 35, "That's what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters." Now, I will probably never say it as strongly as Jesus did. But then again, I'm not Jesus. Bottom line is, however, that refusing forgiveness to Mark Driscoll doesn't just hurt others or ourselves. According to Jesus, it's downright disobedient to Jesus' commands. Our forgiveness should never end. Never. After all, God's forgiveness is never-ending.