Category Archives: Ethics

Parsing Representative Todd Akin’s Apology

Nothing seems to draw my attention quicker than a public “apology”.  Most aren’t worth the oxygen necessary to form the words, so I crawl out of my lethargy and take notice when one is prominently offered.

Representative Todd Akin got himself noticed during the doldrums of August when he famously said, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”  In context, he was discussing abortion, and attempting to make the point that pregnancies resulting from rape are rare.  (This blog post isn’t going to address the factual fallacies of Representative Akin’s statements or stance.  I’m only looking at the apology.)

After a firestorm erupted on the internet and calls for his resignation from the US Senate race in Missouri came fast and furious, including from Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Representative Aiken offered the following apology in a campaign video.

“Rape is an evil act.  I used the wrong words in the wrong way and for that I apologize.  As a father of two daughters, I want tough justice for predators.  I have a compassionate heart for the victims of sexual assault, and I pray for them.  The fact is, rape can lead to pregnancy.  The truth is, rape has many victims.  The mistake I made was in the words I said, not in the heart I hold.  I ask for your forgiveness.”

How did this fare as an apology?

John Baldoni writing for Forbes believes that Representative Akin “flubbed his apology”.  He writes,

Akin also committed the first sin of insincerity – making the apology about himself and not the people he has offended.

Misogyny aside, Akin made another mistake — one that is all too common in today’s “apologize and it will go away” culture. Akin has made himself the focus on his apology, not the millions of women he had insulted.

Akin also attempted to disavow his insult by claiming that he had used a poor choice of words. As Ben Franklin said, “Never ruin an apology with an excuse.” When you watch Akin apologize, you get the feeling that he cares more about his candidacy than he does about anything else.

I wouldn’t rate the apology as harshly as Baldoni.

First, Akin came close to admitting that he was wrong.  In his apology he didn’t defend his use of words as too often happens, but rather he states he used wrong words in wrong ways.  I would have liked to see him state unequivocally that he was wrong and insensitive to a violent act.

Second, he didn’t address his apology to a select group of people, but instead to the broader audience.  This is where I disagree with Baldoni.  To apologize “to those I have offended” too often blames those who are offended.  His at least was an attempt at a blanket apology.  In my view, this is positive.

Yes, he is attempting to keep his campaign alive.  The apology tries to score some points in that arena with his statement about predators.  The voters will have to decide that one.

Finally, I ask how clearly does the apology distance itself from the original statements.  Here is where the apology completely failed.  There is enough wiggle room in the apology that Representative Akin doesn’t have to change his view one bit.  “Rape can lead to pregnancy.” [emphasis mine]  This is a “safe” statement in that it doesn’t necessarily mean his position is changed. In fact, his original statement left open the same possibility when he said “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” [emphasis mine]

To me, this “apology” better than most public apologies, but still is primarily damage control.  It will be interesting to watch this play out.




These days it has been hard to get me here to post some “ponderings”.  Recent events calling on boycotts as a first response to news has me riled up.

You’ve seen the news.  Dan Cathy, The CEO of Chick Fil-A disclosed his objection to marriage between two people of the same gender.  He made the claim that the company is run on Christian values to justify his perspective.  The backlash was immediate.  Many groups have called for a boycott of the business, protests are planned, and counter protests are planned.  Almost every action is directed against another group with the desire to draw attention to one’s own perspective.

What a mess.  This is nonsense.  This is more polarization of our society.  I’ve never seen it so bad.

When did it become true that if we disagreed with someone that instead of talking we protest, demonize, or boycott?  What ever happened to civil discourse?  What ever happened to the hard task of listening to others not to find fault with their perspective but to hear their perspective and learn from it.  Are my opinions so full of ultimate truth that I must make sure that all people agree with me in word and deed?  The arrogance is astonishing.

While I personally disagree with Mr. Cathy’s reading of scripture related to same-gendered marriage, I also disagree with the actions of those who are calling for boycott or banning Chick Fil-A from certain communities.  These actions have further damaged any chance of seeing any change in Mr. Cathy’s stance.  Thanks for making that work harder.

My experience has been that I have more influence in someone’s life and decision-making if I am in relationship with them.  Boycotts and bans damage the possibility of relationship.  Boycotts and bans have their place, but not as the first response, or maybe even the 10th.

Martin Luther explained the 8th Commandment (You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor) this way: “We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and interpret everything he does in the best possible light.”

The Park 51 Controversy

Once again I’m embarrassed to be a Christian in the United States.  We are known by the company we keep.  The public outcry and political maneuvering focused on Park 51 is short-sighted and smacks of manipulation.  Christians have been found to be part of this public outcry.  It is at times like these that I wonder if people even attempt to think through issues.

A group has plans to build an Islamic Center at 51 Park Avenue, in New York City.  It is reported to be just 2 blocks from “Ground Zero” where the World Trade Center once stood.  Some call that insensitive.  Some want the “hallowed ground” of “Ground Zero” to be respected.  Polls of public sentiment indicate some 61% of those polled object to the establishment of the Islamic Center there.  President Obama, who has voiced affirmation of the right of the group to construct the Islamic Center, is increasingly believed to be Muslim.  (Slow head shake goes here.)

Plenty of others have weighed in recently attempting to infuse the public conversation with facts.  Two other mosques already are located within a dozen blocks of the World Trade Center site.  A room in the Pentagon close to the site where the plane crashed on 9/11 has been set aside as an interfaith chapel and is used by Muslims for prayer on a regular basis.  If we call ground “2 blocks away” (and even that designation is questionable) “hallowed”, then why not an outcry against some of the other businesses in the area?  Strip clubs, sex shops, and “Gentleman’s Clubs” are there.  President Obama is Christian.  Islam has been in this country for a very long time, mosques being built beginning 95 years ago.  There are 2 million active Muslims in the United States today, and their numbers are growing.

Those facts don’t matter to many.

There is concern expressed by Newt Gingrich that it is “…radical Islamists who want to triumphally prove that they can build a mosque right next to a place where 3,000 Americans were killed by radical Islamists…”.  It is that kind of rhetoric that stirs up this debate, making it an emotional issue, far from the facts of the situation.

I have a few observations.

  1. If this Islamic Center is blocked, it has negative implications for the zoning and construction of any religious structure, including Christian churches.  Maybe community leaders don’t want the “negative influence” of Christianity on commerce, schools, or neighborhoods?  Preposterous?  No.  Christian congregations have been blocked from construction in neighborhoods because of traffic concerns, concerns about noise, concerns about feeding and housing the hungry and homeless, and any number of other concerns.  Most of the objection to the Islamic Center in NYC is to the “assumed message and intent”.  Facts don’t matter.
  2. Even if the intent of the construction of the Islamic Center is to “rub our noses in Islam’s growing influence”, don’t we decide what it means to us?  The congregation I serve views itself as a dynamic, growing, and faithful congregation.  Some outside the congregation see it as a heretical club leading people away from faith.  We decide what something means for us.
  3. Do we seriously believe that the construction of an Islamic Center, even if it were to be built by radical fundamentalist Muslims would change the nature of “Ground Zero”?  Does denunciation of the reality of the Holocaust really change many minds about its historicity?
  4. Republicans running for office or in the national spotlight are most frequently seen as making this Islamic center an issue.  This is the political party that presents itself as for “smaller government” and fewer government restrictions on businesses.  Are they really advocating denying the permits for this Islamic Center?

There is so much more.

Take a breath.

Listen to what is being said.