Saturday, November 29, 2008

Apologies That Aren't: More Thoughts About Corresponding With Voddie Baucham

In a previous post, I discussed the offer of apology that Voddie Baucham offered to me, and I’d like to use it as an opportunity to explain a bit more about how powerful and how troublesome “blanket apologies” can be. Both offering and accepting insincere apologies can be harmful in many ways, and though Christ required that we forgive, there must be demonstration of ongoing repentance on the part of the offending party. We’re also called to test all things, and I include apologies among those things, though this can be an obscure process.

At the outset, I only hoped to set the record straight by addressing Dr. Baucham’s online statement here on this blog. I never anticipated an apology from him to start with, and I am so disappointed in the outcome, leading me to believe at this point that he was only willing to apologize to me when he believed he was correct and I was in error. When he was found to be in error, the emails to me stopped coming, and his online response to which he never directed me struck me as terse if not cruel. I’m committed to forgiveness and collaboration, but the process of repentance (apology) and forgiveness is a two way street. I’m joyful to forgive offenses, but I am interested in true repentance and forgiveness, not just the appearance of it. I’m still very happy to hear from Dr. Baucham at any time and to pick up where we left off in regard to clarifying what he meant by the initial apology he offered. And I still hold him to his offer to “talk” so that his views about certain matters can be clarified. It seems that just as the SBC showed offense at my listing them along with the patriarchal views of Vision Forum, Baucham is just as offended at being listed under the same general and broad category of patriarchy/FIC with the kinists, paedocommunionists, Federal Vision and the New Perspectives on Paul. I'm still very happy to make his clarifications and distinctions from these other groups well known on this blog. I've done so regarding Southern Baptist Theological Seminary's concept, and I am happy to do so with his own.

So, I would like to take this opportunity to explain to others how to discern apologies, particularly when they are offered by others with whom they have ongoing conflict. I’m grateful that I did have validation that this process of forgiveness can work as a result of all of this. Though my relationship with the president of the apologetics organization mentioned in the previous post is very strained and cautious, we apparently continue to have fellowship in the Lord. (It is possible!) I also have dreams in my sleep wherein I reconcile (my heart’s desire) with those who have treated me unfairly in these matters, even after saying cruel things about me personally. We are brethren in Christ Jesus, and that supercedes all of our other differences. And though I want the truth to be known about his actions, I pray every good spiritual blessing upon Dr. Baucham and his family so that they might all know the hope of their callings and our Savior in the deepest possible way, bringing every good blessing that faith in Christ affords. Though I hope that people will see the full spectrum of Dr. Baucham’s behavior, I wish him only blessing as my brother in Christ. More on that in a moment, but first, let us look at apologies in general.
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About Apologies

What exactly is an apology? The word originates from the Greek (and the Latin) word “apologia” which literally means a "plea" or “a speech in one’s own defense.” This straight definition more closely resembles the meaning of the word “apologetics” which we use to describe giving an account of one’s faith and the hope within us, with both meekness and patience. It also corresponds with the third possible definition that the Oxford Dictionary lists: “a justification or defense.” But in terms of asking for forgiveness (the process of repentance for causing an offense), what the Oxford describes as “a regretful acknowledgment of regret or failure” and how we most commonly use the word, using a defensive approach usually proves to be a poor one.

In terms of asking for forgiveness, using just the Oxford dictionary’s first description alone, an apology includes a few components – something that gives it meaning and substance.
  • Failure
  • Acknowledgment
  • Regret
Both parties must acknowledge that the offending party committed an act that either failed to meet a certain standard or resulted in some undesirable outcome. The person offering a sincere apology must be specific about this action and the outcome, because the rest of the apology builds upon this foundation. That is why general, blanket apologies which do not make clear that the offending party understands what they’ve done lack substance. An apology teaches each party more about their own boundaries and the boundaries of others, hopefully effecting some lasting change for the better of both as a result of the learning process. If there is no identification of the specific failure, can there be any way to avoid repeating it in the future?

Many weak apologies avoid assignment of responsibility for failure, because it is a painful and disappointing process to do so. Our human nature tends to discourage an objective view of ourselves, complete with all of our faults. Taking responsibility for failures points out to us that we are flawed, inadequate, limited, and sometimes, powerless. And sometimes that acknowledgment of our responsibilities reveals the dishonor in our own hearts. Apologies become even more difficult when circumstances beyond one’s control contributed to the failure or offense, particularly when the person responsible for starting the chain of events never intended and could not foresee the end result of the negative outcome. When a person behaves responsibly and another suffers harm or offence as a result, the offending party comes face to face with the limitations of their humanity, and this can challenge beliefs such as the idea that “Life is fair,” or “I am a basically good person that is in control of my environment.”

All apologies must include some expression of regret. Regret poses an even more difficult aspect to measure, though it is also an essential element of a true and sincere apology. Sometimes apologies are offered with all the right components, but sometimes, the party offering them can only be making the effort for their own personal gain. If they experience negative consequences as a result of their actions themselves, if the offer of apology proves to be just a public show to promote a certain persona of themselves to others, or if the party has been compelled against their natural inclination to make amends by some outside influence, then the apology can be more offensive than the original act of offense for the one who "sees through" the ingenuous apology. These insincere apologies only draw attention to the lack of care, respect and consideration that the offending party holds for the offended. It only intensifies the injury.

As it is often difficult to measure regret, it is here where one’s actions often speak louder than our words when conveying an apology. Efforts of restitution speak powerfully to the offended on behalf of the one who committed the offense, as true regret includes a desire to restore the other party. An effort to make restitution serves to seal an apology and can become a measure of the apology’s essential element of regret. Timing and the manner in which one offers an apology also adds to the effectiveness. The person offering an apology must show contrition and contrition regarding the right elements, as apologies should never serve as license to commit the offense again. Without contrition, there is not impetus to avoid the act in the future.

My Stance on Baucham’s Apology

Where do I stand with Voddie Baucham? Luke Chapter 17 tells us that if someone repents, we are to forgive them every time that they repent. The word “repent” literally means to change one’s mind, carrying with it that sense of acknowledgment mentioned in the Oxford definition. The offender must admit to the offended that they have "changed their mind" about what they’ve done, indicating that they will aspire to not repeat the action that brought a negative outcome. When repentance occurs, the offended must release the person who brought the offense, no questions asked. The offended must no longer hold the specific event “over the head” of the offending party and as an continued cause for bitterness or strife. Forgiveness can be defined as “setting forth of the offending party to freedom.” based upon the Greek word used in the New Testament. Forgiveness differs from reconciliation which was a term most commonly used in reference to cancelling or settling of any debt. Reconciliation requires a high degree of trust, an element not necessary for forgiveness alone.

Voddie Baucham made two errors in his first blog post. First, he improperly identified my workshop as a reaction to his book and church, also improperly associating me with a particular seminary who played absolutely no direct or indirect role in the process at any time. A second error he made, if truly concerned about causing offense, was his reference to my workshop as a “rant,” which I believe implies that it was illogical and presented with a loud and pretentious tone. I believe that this choice of words harms the integrity and value of the presentation through prejudice. When I first read this comment, I was not so surprised about the choice of the word “rant” because of the trenchant nature of the subject matter (which made absolutely no reference to Baucham). But I was deeply disturbed that he attributed my work and the process that lead to the workshop as having something to do with the seminary he mentions.

Here is the complete apology I received and the only apology I received, though we exchanged several emails:

Miss Kunsman

It has come to my attention that you took issue with a recent blog I posted. It was not my intention to offend you. My reference to your presentation at [said seminary] was meant to point out their response to some of my teaching, not yours. You did not mention me there. I apologize for any offense my impresise [sic] language caused. Please forgive me, sister. We may disagree on some things, but I mean you no harm.

Soli Deo Gloria

Voddie Baucham

I have problems with this apology, as it seems to me to be one that is not really an apology, at first glance, so I wrote to Baucham for clarification. If someone comes up to you and kicks you in the shin, they could well intend no true and lasting harm to you, but their non-specific apology might give them license to do whatever they wanted in the future, without accountability. This apology offers no specific mention of the harm I’ve suffered. Though I am not bruised or bleeding as a result of this online statement, Baucham did marginalize the presentation through his choice of the word “rant,” thus attempting to “poisoning the well” with an ad hominem argument for all who view the video after reading his reference. So in some sense, though I believe that he intends no personal, physical, or genuine harm to me personally, I cannot believe that he did not intend to marginalize my work (merely based on this apology alone). That aspect of his apology seems insincere to me. And I did not even find his original use of the term to be that offensive, considering the contrasting nature of our beliefs, UNTIL he offered an apology for his “imprecise language.” I don’t consider “rant” to be an imprecise term at all, and my argument did suffer a type of harm through connotation.

The second element of this apology, the reference to the connection between the seminary and my workshop, greatly intensified my initial offense. Baucham makes note that I did have a problem with what he wrote, so I assume that he or some agent for him read my online rationale that denies his statement. But the apology he offers serves as self-justification and does not repent at all. This may be a first step in the process of forgiveness, but it is not complete. That carried a high degree of arrogance for me, because it basically says that I still don’t know enough of my own activities to offer a valid opinion concerning what really happened. So his “imprecise language” comment likely refers only to his explanation of the causality that he believes links me to the seminary. The comment suggests that I am too unsophisticated to discern what he meant, and for this he is apologetic, because he failed to adequately explain himself. He’s not sorry for making the statement itself. This condescending apology shows no respect or consideration for anything I’ve written concerning his original error made in his blog post, the greatest source of my offense. I’m never esteemed as one with a valid opinion at all. There is regret for harm, but the harm is not mentioned, and he directly claims license hold to his original offending and untrue statement. Even in his subsequent emails, Baucham offers no acknowledgment whatsoever of my rationale. His own understanding of events always outweighed my own, giving me the impression that my account had no significant merit.

In subsequent emails from Baucham, my offenses (that I clearly deliniated for him) were never addressed at all. There were additional and fairly long emails sent to me detailing how people misinterpret the FIC, how FIC pastors are starved for fellowship, etc. which drew attention away from my primary concern. But after laying out my main concerns succinctly and again giving more detail about my explanation about why the Patriarchy Workshop had absolutely nothing to do with the seminary, Baucham never directly acknowledged my offenses which had intensified greatly since he offered his apology, save for his paragraph of explanation that made absolutely no sense to me. When I did produce a corroborating witness regarding the error that he made online (Don Veinot, the President of the apologetics organization itself), Baucham did address the technical error online without any further word to me. I’ve yet to receive any further emails of apology or a considerate email to let me know of the correction, however.

I would be both embarrassed and remorseful if I knew I’d stated something that was not true of someone, and I’ve addressed similar matters like this on this blog. I’ve made errors in the past here, and I’ve been happy to correct them. That is why I seriously doubt that there was any remorse involved in this original apology, because as soon as I would have discovered that I was in error, I would have apologized. Baucham did not. If I’d contended that I’d not been wrong at all and found that I was, I would be even more strongly compelled to offer an apology to whomever it was that I’d offended. I was not even worthy enough, when proven right, for Baucham to send me an email, at least noting that he’d addressed matters online. Adding insult to injury, he wrongly attributes the apologetics group’s statement about my referencing SBTS and CBMW to one person (Does he have an axe to grind with him and his seminary using me as an excuse to do so?), calling it this individual’s “rebuke” of me. He was incorrect about this, and I would have been quite happy to explain the specifics about the matter had he asked. It’s also clearly documented here at length on this blog. Am I to consider this an apology?

This makes me feel quite sad and disappointed. I started out believing that Voddie Baucham had more integrity than many of those with whom he associates, most notably, those at Vision Forum. And I started out with really just one offense (that my workshop had nothing whatsoever to do with the seminary Baucham mentioned). Because of a blanket apology, one I think was intended to quickly diffuse a conflict, I now have several offenses in addition to the original one. It would have been better for Baucham to have avoided the matter altogether, offering nothing to me at all. It makes me wonder if the rule is this: “If you know you’re right, apologize. If you’re wrong, don’t apologize and retaliate instead.” ???

If Voddie Baucham can manage to offer an apology that specifically addresses my offenses that have resulted from his own actions, then I am happy to forgive him. And I honestly believe that he didn’t intend me personal harm when he first contacted me. I can no longer believe that at this point, otherwise I would have received some additional contact from him. Now that this truth has been told (and I am happy to forward all of our correspondence to interested parties upon request), I do set him forth to freedom through forgiveness. I thus look to the Lord for my healing of these offenses, though the best source of that healing should rightly come through Baucham’s own repentance and restitution. I set him forth to freedom in Christ, to fall into the just hands of our Living God, but I think he’d be better served to work it out with me instead.

What I am not willing to consider without repentance is a cancelling of the moral debt he owes me. His account in my moral bank still shows an unpaid balance because we have not reconciled. In hindsight, the initial “blanket” apology served only as a type of damage control, in my opinion. It was an apology that showed no real aspect of regret, except perhaps regret that I’d not found his original statement convincing enough to cause me to doubt the truth. That shows self-interest on the part of Dr. Baucham and not remorse. And that is very disappointing, because I honestly thought better of this man up until this point.
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