What is missing in Camping’s apology? The link between repentance and restorative justice


Ever had someone hurt you, apologize, but you still felt like something was missing? Did you think it was your problem because you couldn’t forgive? Is it possible that their apology didn’t go far enough? Have you had a chance to hear about Harold Camping’s recent apology for picking dates in 2011 for the rapture to take place? The good news is that he admits what he did was a sin and that he will no longer seek to discover the date when Jesus returns. Read his apology on the Family Radio website.

But there are a few problems with his apology. I mean…problems beyond his attempt to focus more on the good his sin did for the kingdom of God than on actually apologizing for the actual sin. His apology amounts to something akin to, “I’m sorry I was reckless and crashed your car but I got out unscathed and people heard me thank God for surviving it so it’s all good.”

What is missing? Acknowledgement of hurt, willingness to restore

Read his apology again. You will see he fails to repent directly to those he hurt most–the ones who gave sacrificially to fund his insanity. He never names the specific sins committed nor the hurts he caused. Further, and this is most telling, he makes no offer to restore victims of his offenses. If he acknowledges he misled people and in doing so received benefit from his sin, might he not desire to follow the path of Zaccheus? To give back what he took (that would be a start) and even give back more?

He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need. Eph 4:28

Repentance is then shown not just in stopping bad behavior but replacing it with behaviors that are righteous and good.

What is restorative justice?

This week I will be in Tennessee speaking on the relationship between repentance and restorative justice. Restorative justice (RJ) is the idea that victims, offenders, and community ought to be in dialogue together to (a) understand the impact of offenses, (b) determine together ways to restore both victim and offender, and (c) to allow the community to have a say in the matter. It doesn’t oppose the rule of law but believes that the judicial approach is not always the best approach and tends to focus on punishment to the exclusion of restoration. RJ does not work unless victims are interested in it and offenders are remorseful. But, in those cases where there may be interest and some remorse, it may allow offenders the opportunity to get the depth of the pain they caused and offer them opportunities to “restore what the locusts have eaten.” (Joel 2:25)

Restoring vs. penance?

If you are like me you may be tempted to swing between to polar opposites when you are confronted with your own offenses: defensiveness or penance. Sometimes we want our apology to be the last word. We want to be forgiven and our offense treated as if it never happened. Other times we want to grovel and do penance so that the offended party will think better of us. During this season of lent, let us be aware of our offenses and the necessary sacrifice to cleanse us. But let us also be willing to seek the betterment of those we harm “with joy.”

5 Comments

Filed under Forgiveness, news, Relationships, sin, Uncategorized

5 responses to “What is missing in Camping’s apology? The link between repentance and restorative justice

  1. Restorative Justice/true repentance is a topic that is long overdue in discussing–and implementing. As counselors, I think we all have a tendency to respond to other person’s sins with a band-aid approach, i.e. to cover up the boo-boo and make everything better. God calls us to do so much more. Admitting the actual wrongs done to Him, to individuals, and to society at large is a critical part of the process. During lent, I’ve been praying a prayer written by St. Anselm which ends with the words, “…and [by] loving you, may [we] hate those sins from which you have redeemed us.” When we belittle the sins we commit, we belittle the work of the cross.
    Thanks for your post.

    • Karen

      When we belittle the sins we commit, we belittle the work of the cross.

      What a great thought. I always tell my daughters if they say “but” after “I’m sorry” it no longer counts as an apology. I wish more Christian adults could understand that and be more about restoration and less about self-protection.

  2. Scott knapp

    I thought it was interesting that Camping cloaked himself in the collective of “we at Family Radio,” rather than taking sole responsibility for the decision to pinpoint the return date. While I suspect that his senior advisers were probably on board with his prediction (they wouldn’t have lasted as long as they had with his organization if they didn’t see eye-to-eye with Camping), his voice always came across as the sole authoritative voice of the organization, silencing all others. Maybe I’m wrong on this point, but it always seemed that Family Radio could just as easily been named “Camping Radio.”

  3. Scott, I had the same reaction, “Whose this WE you are talking about?” Made me wonder whether he wrote it or not.

  4. Richard D Harris

    Thanks for your insight and clarity on this issue. Very refreshing.
    Someone gave me the Family Radio mailing with the “apology” which included a plea for money and a postage paid return envelope. (Mixed motives.) Strange apology. What about all the other “stuff” – like followers who emptied their bank accounts for the cause etc. etc.. Are there apologies to follow? Why only the date setting? – Empty words.
    What I ‘read’ is ‘lawyerly’ jargon carefully crafted to absolve themselves and minimize the damage – your typical corporate apology. Every word appears to be edited by a team of intelligent people seeking to find a way out of this. There is no personal responsibility taken here. How can RJ take place without that?

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