What is the appropriate response to accidental offenses?
I ask myself this question after reading reactions to the song “Accidental Racist” by Brad Paisley and LL Cool J.
I do not wish to overlook or diminish the conversation about whether racism is accidental or whether this song trivializes a serious offense. Is “Accidental Racist” a contradiction in terms? Is the song itself actually racist? Those questions have been well addressed by voices more qualified than mine.
Instead, I’d like to consider accidental offenses in general.
For example, as a female caucasian I have not experienced accidental racism, but I sometimes feel (accidentally?) overlooked and undervalued as a woman. It is offensive.
What should I do with that?
The song’s premise (no matter what you think about its application to racism) is that no one fully understands how life looks through another person’s eyes. That is, in fact, true.
Therefore, we all accidentally offend each other. Often.
Christians have an opportunity to promote unity and healing by learning (1) how to avoid accidentally offending others and (2) how to appropriately respond to unintended offenses against us.
We are all accidental offenders. Therefore…
To avoid offending others, recognize the limits of our own perspectives.
Furthermore, expand our sensitivities by seeking out, reading about, and interacting with people unlike ourselves to help us understand a wider range of thought and experience.
We are all, at times, accidentally offended. Therefore…
Check ourselves: Am I overly sensitive on this point? Do I have a “plank” in my own eye that needs attention before I respond to an offense?
Directly confront the situation. Jesus advised this when “a brother sins against you.” Is an “accidental offense” a sin? Even if it is not, perhaps there is value in a respectful conversation to help the offending party expand his or her understanding (see #1.)
Jesus was not afraid of a confrontation, but usually on behalf the weak and vulnerable. He did not defend himself.
Overlook the offense. The New Testament clearly teaches that we are to bear with each other, forgive offenses, and cover over differences with love. In humility, having been graciously forgiven by the Lord for innumerable accidental and not-so-accidental offenses against Him, we must be willing to do the same for others.
A purposeful response to accidental offenses requires
humility to recognize our own offenses
courage to confront,
willingness to overlook an offense in the interest of peace and unity,
and the wisdom to discern which response applies in a given situation.
Always with purposeful grace.
Have you been accidentally offended? When do you confront and when do you overlook an offense?
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other, and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Colossians 3:12-14