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.


For those open to understanding the ELCA Decisions

The decisions by the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly to

  • “bear one another’s burdens, love the neighbor, and respect the bound consciences of all”,
  • to find “ways to allow congregations that choose to do so to recognize, support, and hold publicly accountable life-long monogamous, same-gender relationships”,
  • and find “a way for people in such publicly accountable lifelong, monogamous same-gender relationships to serve as rostered leaders of this church.”

are the reason some give for leaving the ELCA.  There are claims that this decision does not take scripture seriously and overturns thousands of years of Christian tradition.

Two pastors I respect have written some very helpful articles for those who are open to understanding these decisions from a Bible-centered way.  I recommend them to you.

The first is from Pastor Peter Marty and is here.

The second is from Timothy Wingert and is here.

Our goal with these decisions is to engage in respectful, honest conversation.  I’ve stated often that we are blessed by people of different perspectives in congregations.  I want to learn from people who are traditional in their understanding of scripture and from those who are non-traditional.  I believe our faith is strengthened by the conversation.

Pondering Pastor

True story from ELCA Churchwide Assembly

As told to me by someone in attendance at the Churchwide Assembly…

On Saturday a worship service was held at Central Lutheran Church, just across the street from the Minneapolis Convention Center.  This congregation has hosted Assemblies, Conventions, and Gatherings of Lutherans for most of its long life.  The sanctuary is large enough to hold 1200 people, so it is comfortable for these large worship services.

The church was full.  The music was sung in both Spanish and English.  The preacher preached a first-person sermon from the perspective of the widow who gave two copper coins.

During the sermon, there was a kernel of an idea that started to emerge way in the back of my brain.  I wanted to give more.  I had already given a great deal at each of the other worship services.  I needed travel money back home, so I wasn’t quite sure just what I could give.  I tried to push aside the now growing in intensity need to give.  It just wouldn’t go away.  The voice in my head said, “You’ve got that emergency stash in your billfold.”  My voice in my head said, “That’s for an emergency!”  The voice in my head said, “You’ve got that emergency stash in your billfold.”  My voice in my head said, “That’s a one hundred dollar bill!”  The voice in my head said, “You’ve got that emergency stash in your billfold and the widow gave all she had, you can keep your travel money.”

The voice in my head won.  I reached into my wallet, pulled out the one hundred dollar bill, and put it in the offering plate (folded so no one would see how much it was) with all the fives and ones.  I noticed that.  Why wasn’t the Holy Spirit speaking to all these others?  I wondered what the counters would think.  For a moment, I wanted change.  And then, I let it go.

The trip home was uneventful, but I had to eat inexpensively.  I didn’t have as much travel money left as I thought I did.

I’m glad I listened to the voice in my head … no, I’m glad I listened to the Holy Spirit.  I’m embarrassed that I argued against it.  I’m the one who received the best gift out of this experience.  It felt quite good to be generous.  Tell the story.  Don’t use my name.

New York Post pseudoApology

It is quite refreshing to hear the outcry about another pseudo-apology.  I’ve written a number of posts about these in the past.  There have been Tom Foley, John Hagee, Desparate Housewives, Bill Belichick, Southwest Airlines, Larry Craig, & Michael Vick.  The New York Post joins this club.  This is their apology.

Wednesday’s Page Six cartoon – caricaturing Monday’s police shooting of a chimpanzee in Connecticut – has created considerable controversy.

It shows two police officers standing over the chimp’s body: “They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill,” one officer says.

It was meant to mock an ineptly written federal stimulus bill.


But it has been taken as something else – as a depiction of President Obama, as a thinly veiled expression of racism.

This most certainly was not its intent; to those who were offended by the image, we apologize.

However, there are some in the media and in public life who have had differences with The Post in the past – and they see the incident as an opportunity for payback.

To them, no apology is due.

Sometimes a cartoon is just a cartoon – even as the opportunists seek to make it something else.

The first failure is the often used line, “to those who were offended”.  This is usually a veiled statement about what is lacking in those who were offended than it is an apology.  Notice how the intent of the cartoon is defended in the words preceeding the “to those who were offended” reference.  In other words, “if you are so sensitive as to not get the joke, then we apologize”.

The second failure is to withold an apology to others.  The New York Post is what it is … a tabloid.  It thrives on the sensational and the outrageous.  It is by nature, defensive, always perceiving itself as being under attack.  It can and does hit back.  An apology is no place to do that.

I’m delighted to see many others jumping in and calling this “apology” what it is … a non-apology.

The New York Post writers don’t know about the historical caricature of people of African descent as apes?  Or is the juxtaposition between the killing of a chimpanzee and the stimulus package just too obvious to pass up?

To the New York Post: Sometimes an editorial cartoon is inappropriate.  Yours was inappropriate.

Pondering Pastor

Rational Justification

I’m intrigued by the recent survey results of the Josephson Institute.

There’s a Hole in Our Moral Ozone and It’s Getting Bigger

Survey of 29,000 high school students reveals entrenched habits of dishonesty in the workforce of future – stealing, lying, and cheating rates climb to alarming rates

The survey says: (with a phrase “stolen from” Family Feud)


More than one in three boys (35 percent) and one-fourth of the girls (26 percent) — a total of 30 percent overall — admitted stealing from a store within the past year. In 2006 the overall theft rate was 28  percent (32 percent males, 23 percent females).

Students who attend private secular and religious schools were less likely to steal, but still the theft rate among non-religious independent school students was more than one in five (21 percent) while 19 percent who attend religious schools also admitted stealing something from a store in the past year.

Honors students (21 percent), student leaders (24 percent) and students involved in youth activities like the YMCA and school service clubs (27 percent) were less likely to steal, but still more than one in five committed theft.

Twenty-three percent said they stole something from a parent or other relative in the past year (the same as 2006) and 20 percent confessed they stole something from a friend. Boys were nearly twice as likely to steal from a friend as girls (26 percent to 14 percent).


More than two of five (42 percent) said that they sometimes lie to save money. Again, the male-female difference was significant: 49 percent of the males, 36 percent of the females. In 2006, 39 percent said they lied to save money (47 percent males, 31 percent females).

Thirty-nine percent of students in private religious schools admitted to lying as did 35 percent of the students attending private non-religious schools.

More than eight in ten students (83 percent) from public schools and religious private schools confessed they lied to a parent about something significant. Students attending nonreligious independent schools were somewhat less likely to lie to parents (78 percent).

More than one in four (26 percent) confessed they lied on at least one or two questions on the survey. Experts agree that dishonesty on surveys usually is an attempt to conceal misconduct.


Cheating in school continues to be rampant and it’s getting worse. A substantial majority (64 percent) cheated on a test during the past year (38 percent did so two or more times), up from 60 percent and 35 percent in 2006. There were no gender differences on the issue of cheating on exams.

Students attending non-religious independent schools reported the lowest cheating rate (47 percent) while 63 percent of students from religious schools cheated. Responses about cheating show some geographic disparity: Seventy percent of the students residing in the southeastern U.S. admitted to cheating, compared to 64 percent in the west, 63 percent in the northeast, and 59 percent in the midwest.

More than one in three (36 percent) said they used the Internet to plagiarize an assignment. In 2006 the figure was 33 percent.

While these numbers are higher that I anticipated … and certainly higher than I would like to see, I was astonished by another reported number in the survey.

Despite these high levels of dishonesty, these same kids have a high self-image when it comes to ethics. A whopping 93 percent said they were satisfied with their personal ethics and character and 77 percent said that “when it comes to doing what is right, I am better than most people I know.”

Never underestimate the ability of people to justify their own behavior or ethical lapses.  The reality of sin is seen everywhere.

No doubt, these youth have lived in a culture where what is ethical is determined by what gives me the advantage.  Many will use this as further proof that we need to place the 10 Commandments in the public sphere.  I suggest that growing up in a culture where one’s parents disregard even simple laws teaches our children that all ethics are situational, and therefore as long as I know someone who is less ethical than me, what I do is ok.

  • Speed limits are routinely ignored, unless there is a police officer present.  (Then it seems that only the police officer is speeding.)
  • Common courtesy is the exception rather than the norm.  We don’t mind if others overhear our criticism.
  • “Everyone cheats on taxes” is almost a mantra.
  • You’ve heard those stories this summer about people getting gasoline for $0.39/gallon and no one reports the mistake.  They call their friends and family so they can take advantage of the error.

If High School youth are engaged in this kind of unethical behavior, look back about 10 years and examine what their parents were doing.  This can only be turned around by the actions and values of the parents of today’s elementary school aged children.

Josephson Institute website

Pondering Pastor