Friday, November 10, 2006

Owning Up

Before too many news cycles carry away the buzz about recent controversies (no doubt replacing them with new ones) I want to comment on two recent apologies, those of John Kerry and Ted Haggard.

Politics and the culture war will always bring the bright light of public scrutiny, and at times integrity takes a back seat to image. This was seen in Kerry's reluctance to apologize one week and then Haggard's initial apparent lies to cover up his indiscretions the following week. In the end, each man apologized publicly. While I don't want to compare the actions for which they apologized, I am interested in the nature of the two apologies themselves. You can read the full text of Kerry's apology here and the Haggard apology here.

Kerry's apology was brief. He seemed to say enough, but he qualified the apology somewhat. While he did say that he apologized to any who were offended, that followed his saying that he was sorry to be misunderstood. His were carefully crafted words, leaving open the question about the depth of his sincerity.

Thus was not the case with Haggard's apology. He didn't go into detail about his behavior, so the apology left open the question about what he was sorry for. But while he was not clear in his admission, his mea culpa was lengthy enough to leave no doubt about the depth of his sincerity.

The vivid differences between these two men's words says something about the state of public confession and contrition today. I can't help but sense the fingerprint of Kerry's handlers on his statement, but sense a real sorrow over his behavior in Haggard's.

It strikes me that the more sincerely one says "I'm sorry," the more likely the public will forgive and perhaps ultimately forget. Personally, even though Haggard's behavior was clearly far more heinous than Kerry's poorly chosen words, I feel sadness for Haggard and yet have some suspicion of Kerry. What is odd for me is that in general I agree far more with positions espoused by Kerry than those of Haggard. In all out culture warfare, I would be expected to be with those who defend Kerry and attack Haggard. But I refuse to succumb to knee-jerk judgment. But that doesn't mean that I don't feel empathy for the pain Haggard is obviously suffering at the moment. And I guess that is the problem I have with Kerry at the moment; he just doesn't seem to be genuinely concerned about the pain he caused.

And that is my concern regarding this episode in the culture wars. I want to see more people, whether Christian Right, secular fundamentalist, or anything in between, owning up to their behavior and the ways their behaviors impact others. Is it really so hard to achieve that level of maturity in the public square? Sure, there can be dire consequences to one's image and thus influence by admitting one's mistakes. But do we no longer believe that confession is good for the soul? Or could it be that we no longer really value the souls of those who dare to be public leaders?

5 comments:

Priscilla49 said...

I think that the two apologies are different in that, consciously or not, Kerry was apologizing to some "thin air" person that might have been offended, while Haggard knew that he had offended his parishioners AND had stained the image of the Church. I think Haggard realized that he had done more than merely offend a few people. Only God knows how many unbelievers will look at the Evangelical Church and think that they want no part of that "hypocracy". The damage to the term "Evangelical Christian" and simply, "Christian", can't even be estimated! Within hours of the whole thing blowing wide open, the COMEDY CHANNEL (!) was spoofing Haggard's ministry and every thing he'd ever said! How can that kind of damage be apologized for?

Ian said...

Thank you for your comment priscilla49. You make a very good point about the differences between the apologies. I have to agree that damage done by each persons behavior is significantly different. Perhaps the magnitude of the offense is a mitigating factor in comparing the two. Still, I wish that there were more "owning up" in the public arena. I'm reminded of 12-step recovery programs. The heart of recovery is admitting powerlessness and seeking a higher power. In this process it is through weakness that one finds strength. This is the power of confession.

David J said...

Ian,
I think you hit the nail on the head with your analysis. Many conservatives were howling even after John Kerry apologized-it was a qualified apology, as if president Bush caused his verbal miscue. And as far as Ted Haggard's situation, he was blunt about his confession, but not so forthcoming about the details.

I was dissapointed with both men. It took me back to Bill Clinton's forceful denial regarding the Lewinsky affair. I wanted to forgive him, but he not only lied, but did so in a defiant way.

In our own sinful nature, we look for others to be role models in owning up to their indiscretions. It gives us courage to confess our own sins, and spurs empathy for those who fall.

But God can restore those who seek Him. I wish John Kerry would act on his Catholic faith and use confession as a public and private way to restoration. As a conservative (but moderating) evangelical, I see a need in our culture for real forgiveness. But it can only come when those who commit sins own up with sincerity. Then God's love pouring out through others can heal and restore that person to true grace.

PeaceBang said...

Hmmm. Is it that Haggard is truly more sincere in his apology, or is it that he is more deeply schooled in the language of repentance, and acquainted with the theater of public disgrace than is Senator Kerry?

Amazing to me that we're so obsessed with Kerry's weak apology and use it as an opportunity to crow about sinfulness, while our own president has yet to offer ANY apology or admission of grave moral sin in occupying a sovereign nation under false pretenses and being directly responsible for thousands and thousands of deaths not to mention generations of environmental degradation.

Bush and Cheney walk around with blood dripping from every orifice,Haggard devastates his family and his parish, yet good Christians turn on some schmo Senator who put his foot in his mouth. Big deal.

Ian said...

Great point PB, we only get to see/hear the public apology, not the private behavior, so we shouldn't be surprised that an apology fits a particular "genre." Perhaps that is really my bigger complaint (and also shows my bias). I'm regularly disappointed by political apologies that are carefully crafted to say very little and give away nothing. Apologies in the religious realm have better language, because we have better penitential language in the religious realm. I suppose what I really want to see is genuine penance in the days to come.

And yes, Kerry has little to apologize for, except, of course, for voting to support the war in the first place.