Christians Are Forgetting How to Repent: The Growing Inability to Apologize


Our world is used to half-hearted apologies whose only goal is avoiding backlash. But we’re called to challenge the status quo with two genuine and self-implicating words: “I’m sorry.”


“Apology not accepted” has become the cynical mantra of a hurt and frustrated generation. Our culture senses the pretense in the apologies of many public figures. That’s because public apologies are usually made not with genuine remorse but with an eagerness to move on without consequences.

As Christians, though, we are called to apologize with genuine humility. After all, repentance and forgiveness are foundational to our faith. Becoming a Christian requires confessing your sins and asking God to forgive you.

Being experts in apologizing is our greatest witness to a world who often sees us as bigoted and unkind people who love Jesus, but no one else. Let’s become skilled in the art of apologizing.

Our “Cancel Culture” rarely accepts apologies. But maybe that’s because they rarely see an apology given with authenticity.

The wrong way to apologize

In an episode of Freakonomics, podcast host Stephen Dubner asked Karen Cerulo, Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University, why apologies are so easy to get wrong. Cerulo described a study where she gathered and analyzed 183 public apologies. Here’s what she found.

“One of the least effective types of apologies are what we call offender-driven. And these start out by the person talking about themselves and then giving all sorts of information about the context and the motivation of their apologies. That was one of the most common types of apologies. It was almost always ineffective.”

Most apologies communicate that the guilty person is sorry they got caught, not that they hurt someone. The insincerity reflected in statements like, “I apologize if you were offended,” or “I’m sorry if what I did was taken the wrong way,” are just attempts to sweep the offense under the proverbial rug.

The right way to apologize

The purpose of an apology, however, isn’t to avoid consequences but to make amends. Jesus tells us to, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” What better way to love the neighbor you’ve wronged than by confessing what you did and apologizing without making excuses, giving context or diminishing what you did.

Here are six key components of an effective apology according to Forbes.

  • Expression of Regret
  • Explanation of What Went Wrong
  • Acknowledgment of Responsibility
  • Declaration of Repentance
  • Offer to Repair
  • Request for Forgiveness

The apology of Dan Harmon, a writer, producer and actor in Hollywood, has become a sort of standard for apologies because it reflects many of these rules. On his podcast, Harmon publicly confessed and repented for committing sexual harassment against one of his staff writers, Megan Ganz, six years earlier.

“I crushed on her and resented her for not reciprocating it, and the entire time I was the one writing her paychecks,” Harmon says.

Ganz publicly forgave him on Twitter and explained why she chose to forgive him in a New York Times interview.

“The most important part of the apology was its specificity. He gave a complete account of what he did… these were the parts of the story that only he could confirm for me. Whenever I talked to friends about it afterward, they would, of course, say, ‘It wasn’t your fault. You didn’t do anything wrong.’ And I know that’s true. But some small part of me would always think, ‘You weren’t there.’ The irony is, Dan was the only person who could wipe those doubts from my head. That’s why I was able to accept his apology. Because I felt vindicated, to others but more importantly to myself.”

Christians should rock at apologizing

If Christians should be known for anything, it should be that we’re pros at repenting. After all, the habit of daily repentance and forgiveness are established in The Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who have sinned against us.”

Being experts in apologizing is our greatest witness to a world who often sees us as bigoted and unkind people who love Jesus, but no one else. Let’s become skilled in the art of apologizing.