Sunday, June 23, 2013

Effective Apologies

How Effective are Apologies?
Christian Apologizes to LGBTQ Community: Part 2

Geoff W. Sutton

In my previous post I provided a link to the apology by Alan Chambers of ExodusInternational to the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) community. In this blog, I will review some research related to the effectiveness of apologies. It is no secret that some Christian groups have protested against activities of the LGBTQ community, including the issue of same-sex marriage and the recent decision by the Boy Scouts of America to admit gay youth as scouts. Since most Americans continue to identify as Christian, it is easy to guess that most members of the US LGBTQ community identify as Christians now or did so at one point in their life. Given the prominent protests by Christian groups, it is not surprising that members of the LGBTQ community view Christians as judgmental, hateful, and hypocritical when they preach a gospel of love, compassion, and forgiveness. For many, two orientations are in conflict:  Religious orientation and sexual orientation.

A psychological perspective on morality
Drawing on the work of psychologist, Jonathan Haidt, which he nicely summarized in the Righteous Mind, non-fundamentalist Christians (sometimes called progressive or liberal) are likely to view LGBTQ issues from a framework that emphasizes the commandment to love one’s neighbor (Mark 12:31) and concern for the harm done to members of the LGBTQ community. They are also likely to care deeply about issues of justice and fairness.

Christians with a fundamentalist worldview emphasize a conservative view of biblical texts. In this view, God plainly condemns homosexuality for all people for all time (think Sodom, Genesis 19 and St. Paul, Romans 1, etc.). Haidt’s research suggests that conservative views of morality rest on at least five moral foundations. In addition to the harm and justice issues emphasized by more liberal thinkers, conservatives care about loyalty, respect for authority, and matters of purity and holiness. Any changes in social policy that fail to recognize biblical teachings are causes for alarm as they harm traditional views of marriage and family, betray God and thousands of years of Judeo-Christian teaching, disrespect the authority of God’s word and designated Christian leaders, and countermand teachings about sexual purity and holiness.

How effective are apologies?
The twin combination of an apology by an offender and the ability of a victim to take another perspective promote forgiveness. Some public apologies seem to have been helpful in promoting forgiveness and reconciliation between groups. For example:
  • Pope John Paul II apologized to many groups hurt by actions of the Catholic Church ( link)
  • American leaders apologized to Japanese-Americans for internment in camps during World War II ( link)

Not all apologies are effective. A 2007 study by Ferguson and others did not find an apology by the IRA helpful in Northern Ireland. Also Struthers and others (2008) reported negative effects of an apology on 
forgiveness by victims.

Chick-fil-A Effect? 
Almost a year ago, the Chick-fil-A brouhaha occurred. The company president, Dan Cathy opposed gay marriage (huffington post). Protests were organized by the LGBTQ community. Popular conservative Mike Huckabee responded by encouraging his followers to support Chick-fil-A (Huckabee’s post). Ironically, Kayla Jordan, a psychology student at a conservative university was working with my friend Ev Worthington and me to conduct a study on the effects of an apology offered by a Christian to the LGBTQ community. The apology wasn’t helpful in promoting forgiveness but was it because of the unforeseen Chick-fil-A national news event? We weren’t sure so we reran the study with another sample. Still not much effect – but there was a difference. This time the participants were less positive than during the summer. This Spring Kayla presented her findings at a regional conference hosted by Creighton University. As she sat down, a professor leaned toward her and declared, “I’m blown away!” The professor had been involved in services to LGBTQ students at a major university and was stunned that a Christian would even consider an apology to the LGBTQ community. Kayla’s article will be published this summer in the Journal of Christianity and Psychology.

Five Tips for Effective Apologies
Some apologies can make things worse or simply be ineffective. Likely, public apologies by one group toward another are far more complex than those between two people. We do know that some characteristics of apologies work on the interpersonal level. Here’s five tips:
  • The person recognizes they hurt someone else
  • They evidently feel remorse- emotion is important
  • They take responsibility for the harm
  • They seek to make amends—to repair the damage
  • They explain why they did what they did without making excuses

In my next blog, I will write more about effective apologies.


Ferguson, N., Binks, E., Roe, M. D., Brown, J., Adams, T., Cruise, S., & Lewis, C. (2007). The IRA Apology of 2002 and forgiveness in Northern Ireland's troubles: A cross-national study of printed media. Peace and Conflict: Journal Of Peace Psychology, 13, 93-113. doi:10.1037/h0094026

Haidt, J. (2012). The righteous mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion. New York: Pantheon Books.

Jordan, K., Worthington, E. L., Jr., & Sutton, G. W. (in press). Effects on Forgiveness and Attitudes toward Christians of Self-Identified LGBTQ People to Hearing a Public Apology from a Christian and to Taking the Perspective of the Church. Journal of Christianity and Psychology

Struthers, C. W., Eaton, J., Santelli, A. G., Uchiyama, M., & Shirvani, N. (2008). The effects of attributions of intent and apology on forgiveness: When saying sorry may not help the story. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 44, 983-992.

Comments welcome but please keep them constructive.

No comments:

Post a Comment