Me, Derek Webb, and the long path of repentance

It seems that all my bridges have been burned
But you say that’s exactly how this grace thing works
It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart
But the welcome I receive with every start

~Mumford & Sons, Roll Away Your Stone


A few weeks ago, singers Derek Webb and Sarah McCracken announced that they were getting a divorce. Derek admitted in the announcement that it was his fault, which put his affair up for public scrutiny.

I’ve been thinking about this couple since I heard about the divorce, and when I read this article the other day, I was struck once again by how true and untrue so much of our speculation is when it comes to this kind of thing. And ultimately, how unhelpful all of it is. Not just because they have children who certainly need time to process this, but also because there are adults who need to process this as well – not just Derek and Sandra, but also the woman with whom Derek was involved. There are emotions that all of them are sorting through right now, and speculating about how they should be feeling makes it all the more difficult for them to actually sort through that in any kind of honest way.

Honesty is difficult. There have been things that I thought I was being honest about, only to realize further down the line that I was only partially honest. I wasn’t intentionally holding things back, but my understanding of what I was feeling was not as nuanced as it could be. So I would apologize for something, only to realize later that it was an incomplete apology. I’m sure as time goes by, these confessions will continue to evolve.

As such, I’m finding that the process of repentance is a slow one. Don’t get me wrong, I think I knew that to some degree already, but until you have jumped head-first into a situation that calls for repentance, it can be hard to understand just what that entails. And it can be difficult to know how to proceed when people feel entitled to repentance.

The article about Webb and McCracken stated that while evangelical opinion about divorce has changed dramatically over the past 30 years, the opinion about extramarital affairs is still consistent in that it is wrong. To which I kind of want to go “duh.” But because of this, and because of the public and religious nature of much of Derek’s business, many people, even those who have no connection to the family at all, feel as though they deserve an explanation or an apology and that until that is given to them in sufficient measure, they must withhold support, lest they be somehow complicit in the sin.

As one who has been in Derek’s shoes, I can assure you that this is not a particularly effective way of bringing about repentance. I think the lyric from Mumford and Sons effectively sums up the words of Romans 2:2-4.

Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? (NIV, emphasis mine)

The path of repentance is a long walk. It is often lonely and difficult to navigate. Already I have stumbled and taken wrong turns. What I know is that trying to rush this process will only result in more heartache and more setbacks. Demanding that a person prove that they are repentant can actually inhibit the very thing for which you are searching.

What I also know is that when kindness is extended, when welcome is granted, this allows me, and no doubt others facing similar circumstances, the ability to more clearly see the places that are hidden in darkness. Knowing that forgiveness is freely offered allows me to be more honest about what needs to be forgiven. Knowing that welcome is given allows me to welcome others into my life to speak to the areas that I am unable to see clearly for myself.

If we desire hearts to be changed, we can do that more effectively not by pointing to the long road ahead, but by choosing to walk with those who are on the path.

9 thoughts on “Me, Derek Webb, and the long path of repentance

  1. This:

    If we desire hearts to be changed, we can do that more effectively not by pointing to the long road ahead, but by choosing to walk with those who are on the path.

    Yeah, just that. Because we all need that support, that help, that grace.

  2. Interesting perspective here. Your use of the word completion reminded me of a message I heard recently in church about the ongoing process of forgiveness. When Peter asks if he should forgive someone seven times, seven often being thought of as the number of completion in Jewish tradition, the answer he receives is seventy times seven (or sometimes seventy-seven, depending on translation). And the point of the message wasn’t the precise number of times we should forgive someone, but the significance of the numbers. Forgive until it’s completed. Forgive until it’s finished.

  3. Nice perspective. While I cannot disagree with what you’ve stated, I’d also suggest that the same grace be extended to those who had somewhat biting criticisms/reactions on the front end. If repentence is less of a robotic response and more of a process (as you state), I think it’s only fair to assume the same goes for forgiveness. As it relates to Derek Webb – many people interacted with him at their homes or the homes of others – on a much more intimate level than is typical for an artist. His writings were woven with scripture and allusions; they were also very authoritative in nature. I think it’s very understandable that many of those folks might feel betrayed and ‘lied to’. If they had a poor reaction, perhaps it is not so different from the complicated feelings you’ve described.

    As it relates to your situation or that of a ‘celebrity’ – there are always folks that may voice opinions who are not intimately connected to it. Sin affects all of us (as the Body of Christ) in ways that often seem under acknowledged. While some people may be reacting in judgement/proudness, perhaps some are simply reacting out of frustration, grief, sadness, etc. You do well to assert that that isn’t helpful, but at the same time, maybe it’s simply part of the process. Just like the feelings of true regret/repentence may not be the immediate response for the transgressor, if you will (not exactly helpful in expediting forgiveness).

    Anyhow – I do think you do very well to give your perspective. I just wanted to lend insight to the other side. So often it is marginalized as judgemental and harsh – and I think that’s too easy. God hates sin, He is very clear about that. His followers do nothing wrong in being grieved by the same. However, as you eloquently state – we all need grace – those who have offended, and those who have been offended. More than anything, it really paints a clear portrait of the damage sin leaves in it’s wake.

    Blessings to you in your journey.

    1. You have put into words something so true and so wise and so important for everyone to keep in mind regardless of where they stand. Thank you for sharing this so clearly and kindly.

  4. I like you, Alise. I respect honesty that knows it isn’t finished/final-word-y. I appreciate hurt that knows how to be kind. I understand bad choices that are complicated. I understand justifiably “right” choices that miss the point. And I love grace that’s humble and humility that allows grace. ❤

  5. Every Breath, His Grace…Not every chance, His condemnation!!! Very nice thoughts you provided for two wonderful people caught up in a very awful situation that sadly had to become public. Let us breath His grace, not our judgment!

  6. So true! Love these wonderful people who have given us so much, so selflessly. I love them both, and whenever possible, see them live. You’ll be richly rewarded.

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