Institutional Apologies Fall Short
Your reaction to the U.S. Senate unanimous resolution apologizing for slavery, the latest attempt by the federal government to take responsibility for 2-1/2 centuries of slavery.
In 1992 the Catholic Church apologized to Galileo for his 1633 heresy conviction, and even went so far as to acknowledge that the Earth really does revolve around the sun. In 1995 the Southern Baptist Convention, having split with northern Baptists over the slavery issue in 1845, apologized for its past defense of slavery. In 2009 the United States Senate apologized for slavery.
Call me a cynic, but I think institutional apologies to those who have been dead for centuries are calculated to restore the reputation of the institution rather than the reputation of the long departed abused. Instead of or in addition to an apology, I would like to hear what an individual or an institution has learned from past mistakes. I would like to know what steps are being taken to minimize the lasting damage and avoid the need for future apologies.
A casual friend once inexplicably broke into tears, confessing she had sent me a hateful and anonymous letter years before she got to know me as a person. In her letter, she charged that atheists have no morals and can't be trusted. She felt guilty immediately after mailing the letter, so she asked Jesus for forgiveness. I thanked her for telling me, and was pleased that she had learned at least two things: To sign her letters and avoid stereotyping. I added that we might disagree on whether Jesus forgave her, but I certainly did.
Here is my general prescription. If you wrong someone, apologize to the person you wronged and seek ways to make restitution. If you are in a position of power and about to vote or make a decision, don't focus on political expediency. Ask yourself if it would embarrass your (imagined) great, great grandchildren. If you think there's any chance it might, and that they would feel the need to apologize for your actions, don't do it.
Posted by: maryellensikes | June 24, 2009 10:33 PM
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