According to an Associated Press story, Kansas House Speaker Mike O’Neal has apologized for an e-mail he sent earlier this month where he quoted Psalm 109:8 in reference to President Obama: “May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership.” The next verse (which he did not quote) says, “May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow.”
O’Neal apologized last week, saying he did not intend to offend anyone. He said the Bible verse was meant to call for Obama to be defeated in the upcoming election. His response included this statement: “I understand the debate over the verse interpretation, about which I have explained and for which I have repeatedly apologized to the extent anyone misconstrued my intent or was otherwise offended.”
Speaker O’Neal has adopted what has become the response when one commits an error. Basically the speaker is saying, “If you were offended by what I said, I am sorry that you interpreted what I said in such a way that you offended.” In other words, the problem is not with the one who committed the offense but the one who was offended.
Although his original statement was inappropriate and offensive in itself, O’Neal is in good company in the way that he phrased his “apology.” How many public leaders, celebrities, and church leaders have we heard say the same thing—putting the problem on the one who challenged the offender’s actions rather than taking responsibility for those actions?
When David took Bathsheba for himself and then orchestrated the death of her husband, the prophet Nathan confronted him with his sin. The King’s response? “Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” (2 Samuel 12:13) David did not say, “Nathan, if my actions have offended you, I’m sorry.” He acknowledged his grievous mistakes and owned the burden of his sin. Further study will indicate that this is not the only time that David acknowledged when he did wrong in the sight of God. He embraced his sinful humanity and sought God’s forgiveness more than once.
Whether the crime is murder or calling for another's death, the one who pursues either has made an error. It is never easy for anyone to say, “I’m sorry for my sin,” or “I made a mistake.” This is especially difficult for a leader. But the inability to acknowledge one’s errors in judgment or morality will always be a burden to the person who will not accept personal responsibility. Admitting a mistake is painful but it is the first step in reestablishing one’s credibility.