Linda Downing

Sifting through apologies

Apologizing on the national and world stage has become so common as to render it sterile. Two pleas for forgiveness hit the news this past week. Cooking diva Paula Deen begged her fans and critics to forgive her for having used racial slurs in the past. The Christian ministry, Exodus International, represented by its president Alan Chambers, retracted its founding premise, verbally flagellating itself before the gay community it says it has wronged. Were the apologies genuine? Only God knows. What will they accomplish? Only time will tell. Does everyone have an opinion? That's a rhetorical question. Except in form, no one person in a group can apologize for everyone else.
And certainly, no one person from any group can accept an apology for all others. Deen is a public commodity gleaning benefits from a culture she claims to share. Chambers and Exodus International are answerable to a belief system that cannot be shut down with the closing of their businesses. Apologies hope to undo or redo. Daisann McLane, writing for National Geographic Traveler, once said: "Perhaps the worst risk, in the long run, is regret." When it comes to apologies, actions can follow; more often, we can speak only words that seem inadequate. Deen's admittance to a racial slur spoken a "very long time ago" comes in the context of a lawsuit against her and her brother. A former employee is bringing accusations of sexual harassment and assault, subjection to pornography and racist language. There is no verdict yet, but the Food Network and a number of companies representing Deen's products are dropping their support of her. Increasingly, this is the way the system works: guilty until proven innocent. How disturbed each of us feels usually reflects how close we are to the turmoil. I am neither for nor against Paula Deen. I have known many Old South girls who act and cook like her. I do not watch the Food Network. I can live without the products. I am against the things she is accused of, but wisdom and justice demands holding off judgment until truth is uncovered. When it is, Deen's apology may or may not be in order. When it is will be time enough for individuals to decide whether or not they will accept the apology. The Exodus International situation is more complex because of society's rapidly changing views. Exodus' founding premise-that persons can come out of homosexuality and operate as heterosexuals through a treatment known as "reparative therapy"-is under hot debate in our courts. Some questions are: Is it a medical or spiritual/moral issue? If the law eventually declares it medical, how will that affect therapy through religious programs? Exodus did not so much renege on its premise as give up on its practice. Chambers' words: "We've fought the culture war, and we've lost. It's time for peace." There can be no peace when Christians stop proclaiming that "everything is possible for him who believes" (Mark 9:23). If someone so desires, that includes changing or controlling his or her sexual identity. If the aim is only to prove "I am born this way and cannot change," then the Christian must agree. That is the reason we believe Jesus came: to accomplish what we cannot on our own. Journalist Ambrose Bierce called an apology "the foundation for a future offense." That is true if it is insincere. It is also true that even when sincere, we can be sincerely wrong. Finding truth requires the right starting point. That is the quest of this column. If we seek simple truth, we can find it together-side-by-side. Linda M. Downing is a freelance writer. Contact her at