Category Archives: News

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.




Reflections post Churchwide Assembly

The following is what I emailed to the members of the congregation I serve following the actions of the recent ELCA Churchwide Assembly.  I think it gives some perspective.

By now you have likely heard some reports that at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly the voting members have decided to recognize and support same-gender relationships and to permit those in such relationships to serve our church as pastors and other rostered leaders.  I want to provide you with facts and my perspective on these changes.

  1. Approved: “Resolved, that …the ELCA commit itself to bear one another’s burdens, love the neighbor, and respect the bound consciences of all.”

My observations: The ELCA has long recognized that people of faith differ, often dramatically, about what scripture says and how to understand the intersection of faith and life.  For instance, the Social Statement on the Death Penalty declares that this church does not support the death penalty … but gives voice in the document to those who on the basis of scripture and their understanding of scripture support the death penalty.  Likewise, in our Full Communion agreement with the Episcopal Church, we have agreed to ordination into the historic episcopate … except for those who object to that requirement.  In this same way, the Assembly recognized that there is no consensus in this church about how to read scripture with respect to same-gender sexual relationships and agree to respect those differences.  Respecting the “bound conscience” of all does not mean demanding that my position be approved of by others, but that in my relationships with others I respect those differences and treat those who differ from me with kindness, respect, and love.  The responsibility is on “me” to respect another person’s perspective.

2. Approved: “Resolved, that the ELCA commit itself to finding ways to allow congregations that choose to do so to recognize, support, and hold publicly accountable life-long monogamous, same-gender relationships.”

My observations:  Notice the important words, “congregations that choose to do so”.  This is an honest recognition of our present reality and has the effect of truth-telling by the ELCA.  We already have congregations which recognize & support, persons in these relationships.  In this resolution, we agree together that for those congregations choosing this path, that we will put no obstacles before them.

3. Approved: “Resolved, that the ELCA commit itself to finding a way for people in such publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as rostered leaders of this church.”

My observations: This action takes resolution 2 above just one more step.  It is important to note that it too is truth-telling by the ELCA.  These pastors and others exist now in vital ministries within congregations that cannot imagine being served by anyone else.

4. Approved: An implementing resolution (too long to reprint here) which does contain these two paragraphs.  “Resolved, that the ELCA make provision in its policies to eliminate the prohibition of rostered service by members who are in publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships; and be it further Resolved that the ELCA make provision in its policies to recognize the conviction of members who believe that this church should not call or roster people in a publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationship.”

My observation: Please notice that this church is recognizing that there is not full agreement on the rostering of persons in same-gender relationships and is careful to make sure that policies are in place respecting the bound conscience of all.

At the end of Friday’s plenary session, Bishop Hanson served well as our pastor.

He reminded us that some in this church are experiencing profound loss.  He offered words from Romans to them.  “Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who was at the right hand of God, who intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”

He reminded us that some in this church area experiencing profound joy in celebration of full inclusion.  He offered words from Ephesians to them.  “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.”

He reminded us that some in this church are full of uncertainty.  Did the voting members do the right thing?  Did we create division in the church or was this prophetic?  He offered words from Colossians to them.  “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

I’m thankful for Bishop Hanson’s care.  It is reflective of what I wanted to share with you also.  There are those in this congregation who will celebrate these decisions (and hold disappointment that the actions were not stronger).  There are those here who will see these votes as going against clear scripture (and wonder if they can even remain in the ELCA).  And there are those who are filled with uncertainty.  I rejoice with those who rejoice, and my heart aches for those who hurt or uncertain.  I care about you deeply.

I remind you that a core value of this congregation is that “We will continue to discover that people of faith often disagree about all sorts of things, but we can engage in respectful faith-centered conversation and learn from one another.”  This is a good test of whether this is a lived  value.

Also, please know this.  These votes are not asking anyone to change their perspective on the Bible.  These votes are asking people to respect the bound conscience of those who have a different perspective. ELCA positions are often very carefully worded and nuanced.  Read these decisions carefully for what they say and for what they do not say.

There are plenty who will seek to make these votes some awful sign of the end of the church.  There will be some who generate fear and much wringing of hands.  Many people are part of Our Shepherd because of the care, ministry, & learning opportunities we offer.  Most people are part of Our Shepherd because of the important relationships with one another and the proclamation of the Gospel.  That won’t change.

Bishop Hanson also said to us, “We meet one another finally, not in our agreements or our disagreements, but at the foot of the cross — where God is faithful, where Christ is present with us, and where, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are one in Christ.”

As always, I will be available for individual discussion of these votes and their implications for you, this congregation, and the ELCA.

I joyfully serve as one of your pastors,

Pastor Earl

Pope Benedict agrees with me!

VATICAN CITY – An apology from a bishop who denied the Holocaust wasn’t good enough, the Vatican said Friday, adding that he must repudiate his views if he wants to be a Roman Catholic clergyman.

The statement by Bishop Richard Williamson “doesn’t appear to respect the conditions” the Vatican set out for him, said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a spokesman for the pope.

While the pope did not focus on the apology itself, he could have.  Not only did Bishop Williamson issue a “pseudo-apology” but he did not recant his views about the Holocaust.  Good to see he is being held accountable.

Pondering Pastor

Bishop Richard Williamson Apology

Another day, another pseudo-apology.

A British bishop whose denial of the Holocaust embroiled Pope Benedict XVI in controversy has apologized for his remarks, a Catholic news agency said Thursday. Bishop Richard Williamson, with the conservative Society of St. Pius X, had faced worldwide criticism over a television interview in which he said no Jews were gassed during the Holocaust.

I’ve pieced together what the Zenit news agency reported about the actual words of the apology below.

“the Holy Father and my superior, Bishop Bernard Fellay, have requested that I reconsider the remarks I made on Swedish television four months ago, because their consequences have been so heavy.”

“Observing these consequences I can truthfully say that I regret having made such remarks, and that if I had known beforehand the full harm and hurt to which they would give rise, especially to the Church, but also to survivors and relatives of victims of injustice under the Third Reich, I would not have made them.”

“opinion […] of a non-historian,”

“formed 20 years ago on the basis of evidence then available, and rarely expressed in public since.”

“the events of recent weeks and the advice of senior members of the Society of St. Pius X have persuaded me of my responsibility for much distress caused.”

“To all souls that took honest scandal from what I said, before God I apologize.”

“As the Holy Father has said, every act of unjust violence against one man hurts all mankind.”

Ah, even a Bishop has trouble with an apology.  He regrets making the remarks or regrets the impact that the remarks have had?  His “apology” seems to indicate the latter.  His apology reads as being “forced”.  What’s with the phrase “all souls that took honest scandal”?  That sounds to me a lot like he thinks that some have “taken dishonest scandal” at his words and raised much ado about nothing.

Then, in an interesting turn, the last line above has something important in it.  “Every act of unjust violence against one man (sic) hurts all mankind (sic).”  In the Lutheran understanding of the 8th Commandment (you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor), the Bishop’s words for which he is “apologizing” is an act of unjust violence.  If indeed that is true, and it therefore hurts “all mankind”, then the apology should be to all humanity, not just to those who “took honest scandal from what” he said.

Pondering Pastor

Rupert Murdoch Apology

Today, Rupert Murdoch issued an apology for the New York Post’s controversial editorial cartoon.

As the Chairman of the New York Post, I am ultimately responsible for what is printed in its pages. The buck stops with me.

Last week, we made a mistake. We ran a cartoon that offended many people. Today I want to personally apologize to any reader who felt offended, and even insulted.

Over the past couple of days, I have spoken to a number of people and I now better understand the hurt this cartoon has caused. At the same time, I have had conversations with Post editors about the situation and I can assure you – without a doubt – that the only intent of that cartoon was to mock a badly written piece of legislation. It was not meant to be racist, but unfortunately, it was interpreted by many as such.

We all hold the readers of the New York Post in high regard and I promise you that we will seek to be more attuned to the sensitivities of our community.

Not bad as far as public apologies go … but not great either.  This apology, like many others issues the apology to those who felt offended, which is a little like blaming the victim.  Just prior to that, he admits that “we made a mistake”.  That is rarer!  He once again “blames the victim” when referring to the interpretation of racism, and the “sensitivities of our community”.  (Read: “If they weren’t so dog-gone sensitive, we wouldn’t have to be dealing with all this”)

What would I have liked to see?  How about a phrase something like, “It was not meant to be racist, but unfortunately, we used images that have historically been used in racist material, and did not fully anticipate the impact of these images on our readers.  Our choice of images was inappropriate.”  Now that acknowledges responsibility.

Pondering Pastor

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

Polar Bear Plunge

Today was the Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge for Special Olympics.  What a day!

This morning before dawn, my spouse and I awoke with one question … actually two questions … on our minds.  First, how cold would the water feel?  Second, what could we do to stay warm?  We found ourselves pacing and killing time until the 9:30 am meeting time at the church, where we would carpool over to the local Community College for a bus to the freezing zone.  Before we left, however, the weather update was not encouraging.  Air temperatures were to be in the mid to upper 30s with a strong wind blowing.  Water temperature in the Chesapeake Bay was 33 degrees.

When I get nervous, I get quiet and withdrawn.  It was an effort to interact much with people this morning.  I knew I could do this, but the two haunting questions remained.

Ice on the Beach - High tide

When we arrived at Sandy Point State Park, the event site, it was a carnival atmosphere.  Ravens colors were everywhere.  (You would have thought that they won the playoffs and were going to the Super Bowl!)  Huge heated tents held vendors and displays.  The promised pig racing didn’t happen.  Someone was seated on a dunk tank.  (He was wearing cold water survival gear.)  Those selling cold weather gear seemed to be doing pretty brisk business.  Costume contest and other on stage events didn’t really capture my interest.

As the plunge time approached, we scouted the beach.  Walking down to the water, we noticed the high tide line … a crust of ice about 4 inches thick and a foot wide marked that point.  A hand in the water revealed that the answer to question one was “very cold”.  We looked for the best place to park our photographers and cheering section, and planned our group plunge.

This looks cold!

This looks cold!

The dressing tents, one for men and one for women, stood at opposite sides of the beach.  They were heated and very warm.  Our group separated to the appropriate tents, then donned our plunging gear.  The most common attire was swimsuits for the women (we were told it was best to wear as little as possible) and for the men, t-shirts and swim trunks.  One of our men wore a grass skirt.  I wore a black clergy shirt with collar.  It was slow getting out of the warming tent into the water.  In fact, some returned through a seam in the tent before we were even ready to go out.  The men traversed the beach to our planned spot near the women’s warming tent, got a “before” photo, then headed to water’s edge.

Our men led the way into the water.  It was cold, but strangely, it didn’t feel as cold as those early summer dips into the Atlantic at Ocean City.  That might be because our skin became quite numb very quickly.  We waded out to about belly depth, high fived the rescue swimmers stationed at the limit of the plunge zone, then with a quick 1, 2, 3 count, the men went completely under water.  At the count, the women started their way out of the water.  They heard rumor that some men were looking to tackle any woman in arms reach.  The men came up sputtering and spitting and trying to catch a breath as we waded ashore.  I doubt that there is anything so cold as a wet shirt in the wind on a 35 degree day and the wind blowing about 15 mph!

Coming up out of the water!

Coming up out of the water!

I quickly made my way back to a towel, stripped off the shirt, and donned my winter jacket.  We had survived!  All of us!  A quick “after” photo shoot, and back we trudged to the men’s changing tent.  My sandles were filling with sand … frozen in place.  I couldn’t feel my feet.

We had seen the back way into the tent, and took that route.  The warmth felt good.  We changed into dry, warm clothing, but not without noticing that the men’s tent was really a coed changing tent.  Not a few women were also using those facilities.  One woman, changing about 5 feet behind me was overheard to say, “Don’t worry, I’ve seen a penis before.”  There were some attempts at modesty, but after all, this was the men’s changing tent.

After getting dressed, we all made our way to the bus line as quickly as possible.  That was the same plan everyone else had too.  We waited in line for an hour for a bus to take us back to our cars.  By the end of that wait, most of us were colder than we had been coming up out of the water.  We were home by 3:30, and by 4 there was no hot water left in our showers.

That water was cold!

It was a great day.  Our team of 11 foolhardy plungers raised more than $7,200 for Special Olympics.  We had a great bonding experience.  We will show photos and video at our Youth Fundraising event this evening.  I’ll post a few photos here once I get some of them emailed to me.

Pondering Pastor