And so, to get rid of this rumor [that he was the cause of the great fire of Rome], Nero set up as the culprits and punished with the utmost refinement of cruelty a class hated for their abominations, who are commonly called Christians. …an immense multitude was convicted, not so much on the charge of arson as because of hatred of the human race.
-Tacitus, Annals (from Henry Bettenson, Documents of the Christian Church, 2nd ed)
It’s one thing to have liberal secularists blame Republicans, conservatives, and Christians (but I repeat myself) for the mass murder in Orlando. It’s something else to have Christians blaming Christians for it.
To cite just two examples, Sammy Rhodes (RUF campus minister) and Jen Hatmaker (author/blogger) have both posted mea culpas* for our contribution to the barbarity that claimed the lives of 49 people in a gay night club.
I have no intention of divining the sincerity of these apologies or the impetus behind them, but I do want to draw attention to some troubling aspects.
First, it’s striking to note that these comments were offered in response to charges leveled by prominent gay & lesbian individuals. Hatmaker was “listening to my gay friends and leaders” while Rhodes came across a tweet from “author and lesbian Támara Lunardo.” I’m under no illusion that the Christian community has an impeccable record on any social issue, but isn’t it possible that our critics are just using us as convenient scapegoats?
For example, here is the tweet that drove Rhodes to his keyboard:
When Lunardo was told that Christians had, in fact, been speaking out she responded:
Maybe I’m just a hardened cynic but it sounds to me like Lunardo (et al) would be shaming Christians no matter how we responded.
Second, the language in some of these apologies can actually dull the Christian witness in an important way. We know what militant secularists mean when they accuse us of promoting inequality, supporting injustice, denying civil liberties, etc. These charges are leveled against us any time we affirm a biblical sexual ethic or seek to live out our faith in the public square. Parroting their lingo in an apology sounds like tacit agreement. We can love others without adopting their terms. Language matters.
Third, a personal apology should regularly employ the singular personal pronoun (I, me, mine). I may be in a very small minority here but when your personal apology goes on to talk about “we” and “us” it sounds like posturing.
Tacitus’ account of the events in 64 AD isn’t a perfect analogy but it makes for an interesting thought experiment. Had social media been available during the Roman empire, a large segment of the population would have been happy to blame Christians for the fire. Assuming that Christians were no more perfect then than now, would Peter have taken to the blogosphere to apologize for the anti-pagan bigotry that rendered Rome combustible?
*On the whole, Hatmaker’s post wasn’t exactly an apology.