Two famous people made the news this week because of their public sin. Michael Phelps, Olympic gold medal swimmer, was photographed smoking a glass marijuana pipe. And, Ted Haggard made the talk show rounds telling Larry King that his public appearances are helping heal the wounds from his transgressions made public.
Both accounts disturb me. I do realize that I’m in the forgiveness business, and that preachers hold out the hope of forgiveness each week from pulpits around the world. But there is something about the way we in America deal with public sin that disturbs me. Both Phelps and Haggard have recently issued public statements acknowledging their wrong-doing and apologizing for their behaviors. Should that be it? Should we, the public, accept their weak explanations and their routine apologies, let bygones be bygones, and all move on?
I don’t think so. While Ted Haggard may say God has forgiven him, Haggard sullies the work of ministry with his attempts to explain his sin as confusion over his sexual orientation. Fine, if that is really true, but work out your inner demons privately, not in our living rooms. Some are also suggesting that Haggard is trying to monetize his notoriety. His HBO documentary debuts this week, and he’s open to public speaking, he told his interviewers. So far, I don’t think Haggard has anything to say. His rehabilitation is suspect, his apology self-serving, and his return to the kleig lights is much too soon.
Phelps disappoints because we have seen his story before. In Michael Vick. In every kid who flies high and then crashes to the ground, brought down not by the heat of the sun on his Icarus’ wings, but by his own arrogance and self-conceit. Phelps apology that he acted youthfully is an insult. He acted criminally, and if he were a poor ethnic kid on the street corner of a major US city caught smoking pot, he’d be in jail right now. Sorry Michael, not all Olympic medalists smoke pot at a college frat party after winning a chestful of gold medals representing the hopes of the United States.
So, I’m not in a very forgiving mood tonight. At least not for these two very public figures. Am I wrong? Did I miss something in both of these cases? What do you think?