Mea Culpa: Admitting Error Is Good
First of two parts
By Ken Walker-
I saw President Obama’s apology about Americans losing health insurance on the NBC Evening News before reading about it.
Immediately, I envisioned a cacophony of criticism in coming days and weeks. Granted, a litany of problems that have greeted the federal government’s dysfunctional healthcare.gov web site. Even if they get coverage, millions face outrageously high deductibles. There is ample fodder for criticism.
Right to Apologize
Yet, as they squabble over health care most of Obama’s critics—and supporters—will overlook another vital issue: The president was right to apologize. Nothing can diffuse criticism more quickly than the admission: “Sorry. I messed up.”
The same day Obama’s apology aired, news surfaced about the president of LifeWay Christian Resources apologizing for a decade-old offense involving the Asian-American community.
Thom Rainer admitted the agency’s 2003 “Rickshaw Rally” vacation Bible school material used racial stereotypes. Speaking at a conference a conference of multi-ethnic church leaders, he said that while he wasn’t president at the time, he had learned the offense had lingered.
“I am sincerely sorry stereotypes were used in our materials, and I apologize for the pain they caused,” said Rainer. The statement prompted such reactions as this one from Paul Kim, pastor emeritus of Antioch Baptist Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts: “I want Dr. Rainer to know I accept his apology with deep gratitude on behalf of our Asian community and desire we move forward for the Kingdom’s service together.”
Even better, Kim and other Asian-American pastors will meet with LifeWay’s leadership early next year for further discussions.
One reason I remembered the LifeWay flap so well is I had not only read about it, but written a story for Christianity Today about the offending material.
In addition, LifeWay’s B&H Publishing released the first two books I co-authored in the mid-1990s. And, I edit some of Rainer’s past blogs from his web site for ChurchCentral.com.
Yet, there is another reason I was pleased to see both presidents’ apologies. It goes back to the mid-1980s, when I heard the late Lee Buck speak at a conference in Dallas.
A former senior vice president for insurance giant New York Life, Buck had retired about three years earlier to serve as an Episcopal evangelist. Time magazine even dubbed him the “railroad evangelist” because of the Bible study sessions he conducted on commuter trains between Connecticut and New York.
Secret Power Source
After hearing Buck speak, I bought a copy of his book, Tapping Your Secret Source of Power, co-authored with former Guideposts editor Dick Schneider. You can find it online for next to nothing. It will be one of the best purchases you ever make.
Though I have since forgotten much of the material, the chapter that stuck with me is titled, “The Principle of Mea Culpa.”
Buck’s leading example of a man who took responsibility is Harry Truman, still remembered for the sign on his desk that read, “The buck stops here.”
Most people cite the message to prove Truman was a tough CEO. But Buck thought it was Truman’s way of letting people know that he was ready to give up his pride and accept responsibility when something went wrong.
Then, without naming Richard Nixon, Buck wrote, “Contrast that with a later president who refused to admit he was wrong when everything pointed to it. Beleaguered by the press, he continued to sidestep the blame, which only intensified attack and, in the end, forced him to resign.”
So regardless of where you stand on Obamacare, remember when it comes to offering a “mea culpa,” the president got it right.
Next blog: Why mea culpa works.