Apologizing for the Past | A Path to Reconciliation and Healing

In Gladstone’s name, a history pained,
Ancestral guilt, but not their own contained,
Ezekiel’s words echo, clear and just,
Each soul’s accountable; in this, we trust,
A family’s quest for healing starts,
Acknowledging the past, open hearts,
No guilt transferred, but empathy’s embrace,
A step towards justice, and human grace,
In deeds of old, no sin they wear,
But strive for love, compassion, care.


In an era where history’s wounds continue to fester, acknowledging the painful past and the role it plays in shaping the present is pivotal. Through the lens of these Christian perspectives, this article seeks to understand the multi-dimensional importance of recognizing the past to foster healing and unity as we collectively move forward.

The recent event of the Gladstone family publicly apologizing for their ancestor’s involvement in the slave trade illustrates a significant act of remorse, reflection, and reconciliation. This profound act resonates deeply with various strands of Christian theological understanding, including Radical Orthodox Theology, Liberation Theology, Christian Metaphysics, and the theological concept of Imago Dei. In an era where history’s wounds continue to fester, acknowledging the painful past and its role in shaping the present is pivotal. Through the lens of these Christian perspectives, this article seeks to understand the multi-dimensional importance of recognizing the past to foster healing and unity as we collectively move forward.

Ezekiel 18:20 states, “The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him.”

This verse emphasizes individual responsibility for one’s actions and refutes the idea that the guilt or righteousness of a parent can be transferred to a child or vice versa. So, how does the Gladstone family’s apology for their ancestor’s involvement in the slave trade align with this principle?

The act of the Gladstone family apologizing does not conflict with Ezekiel 18:20 because they are not claiming to bear the guilt or sin of their ancestors. Instead, they recognise the historical injustice committed and seek to make amends for the lingering effects that still impact society today. The family members are not repenting for their sins but expressing remorse for the actions of their forebears, acknowledging the role those actions continue to play in current injustices.

Radical Orthodox Theology

Radical Orthodox Theology, a movement that seeks to go beyond modern secular norms to reconnect with traditional Christian values, offers a profound understanding of the Gladstone family’s apology. This perspective emphasizes a return to pre-modern principles of community, ethics, and responsibility, urging a transcending of secular norms that often hinder genuine reconciliation.

The apology by the Gladstone family can be interpreted as a radical gesture aimed at correcting historical wrongs and recognizing the communal bonds that have been shattered. It’s an embodiment of the realization that individual actions reverberate throughout the community, and that repentance and restitution are paramount for rebuilding those bonds. By acknowledging the ancestral part in slavery, the Gladstones are taking a profound step toward healing the social fabric, aligning with John Milbank’s emphasis on community restoration found in his work, especially his first book, “Theology and Social Theory.”

Liberation Theology

The Liberation Theology perspective further deepens the understanding of the Gladstone family’s apology. Rooted in social justice, liberation of the oppressed, and solidarity with the marginalized, Liberation Theology underscores the importance of acknowledging the pain and suffering that historical injustices have inflicted.

Apologizing for the ancestral role in slavery is not merely an expression of sorrow; it’s a concrete step towards justice, liberation, and equity. The Gladstone family’s actions align with the values of empathy, solidarity, and a commitment to redressing historical inequalities, thus fostering a path towards healing, restoration, and collective growth. Their gesture resonates with the liberationists’ mission to stand with the oppressed and to actively work towards a more just society.

Christian Metaphysics

The principles of Christian Metaphysics provide another perspective from which to appreciate the Gladstone family’s act. Focusing on the underlying spiritual reality that informs our physical existence, Christian Metaphysics seeks to understand the interconnection between our actions and the spiritual world.

The act of making amends for historical injustices, such as the Gladstone’s apology, signifies a profound alignment with divine principles of love, forgiveness, redemption, and grace. It goes beyond mere societal norms and expectations and taps into a deeper spiritual truth that all actions have spiritual ramifications. By recognizing and actively seeking forgiveness for the past, the Gladstone family embraces a metaphysical approach to healing that unites temporal and eternal aspects, moving beyond political platitudes to a path of compassionate understanding and harmonious coexistence.

Imago Dei (Image of God)

The Christian concept of Imago Dei, referring to the belief that every person is created in the image and likeness of God, offers a deeply humanistic interpretation of the Gladstone family’s public apology. Recognizing and apologizing for past wrongdoings reaffirms the inherent dignity, worth, equality, and sacred value of all individuals.

The public acknowledgment of the “crime against humanity” committed by their ancestor serves as a significant step toward restoring the image of God in those who have been wronged. It’s not just a public relations move; it’s a genuine attempt to reconcile with a painful history and to affirm the dignity of those affected by slavery. This act, by reinforcing the Imago Dei, shows that the Gladstones are committed to seeing all people as bearers of the divine image, deserving of respect, love, and justice.

Conclusion: Moving Forward Together

The Gladstone family’s public apology for their ancestor’s role in the slave trade is not a simple or isolated gesture. When examined through the diverse yet interconnected lenses of Radical Orthodox Theology, Liberation Theology, Christian Metaphysics, and Imago Dei, it reveals itself as a profound expression of essential Christian principles.

In apologizing, they do not merely dwell on the past but illuminate the interconnectedness of humanity and the ongoing effects of past wrongdoings. They demonstrate a commitment to social justice, spiritual reconciliation, and the recognition of the sacred value of all individuals, no matter their heritage.

Moreover, their financial contribution and the call for “reparative justice” unveil a comprehensive approach to healing that acknowledges both the spiritual and material dimensions of reconciliation. These actions stand in contrast to the UK government’s refusal to apologize for its role in slavery, a stance that underscores the ongoing struggle for justice, reconciliation, and healing on a national level.

The Gladstone’s act serves as a striking example of how engaging with our history, recognizing the wrongs committed, and taking meaningful steps toward making amends can foster a more compassionate, empathetic, and just world. It reflects profound teachings within Christian theology and presents a model for society, encouraging healing, growth, understanding, and the creation of “a better future.”

This apology, combined with tangible support, sets a precedent for how we can collectively address the dark chapters of our history, not by ignoring or denying them but by facing them with courage, compassion, and a commitment to justice and restoration. It’s a path that transcends mere political rhetoric, reaching into the depths of our shared humanity, and opening the door to a future built on understanding, respect, and love.

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About Rev Lloyd Hobbard-Mitchell

Rev. Lloyd Hobbard-Mitchell, an Englishman deeply connected to Thailand, was ordained to the Sacred Priesthood on 28th May 2023.

In addition to his religious journey, he has worked as an online English teacher and pursued a career as an artist. He has also operated a tour desk business with his wife within international brand hotels.

Lloyd has extensive experience in the voluntary sector, specifically in addressing homelessness and social welfare.

He is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and embraces opportunities to meet new people, see new places, explore cultural similarities, and celebrate differences.

Combining Radical Orthodox and Liberation Theology into a coherent singular theological approach.

Until my ordination, on my journey of reading theology, I was most influenced by Liberation Theology.
My friend and colleague Fr. Zach Storey suggested I do a ‘deep dive’ into the works of David Bentley Hart, John Milbank and other Radical Orthodox Christian theologians.
I am now exploring whether there is a way to coalesce these two pillars of Theology into a coherent singular theological approach.