Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Vague Apology

I have something to say about the Michael Phelps story, but it may not be what you think. I want to commend Mr. Phelps for taking responsibility for his actions. More specifically, I want to commend him for not being ...well... specific.

As a society, we like apologies. They make us feel good and reaffirm our faith in mankind because, after all, someone feels bad for what they did.

So, when Phelps was photographed smoking a bong this past November, many, including me, were disappointed. I certainly wanted him to take responsibility, repent, and turn away from his behavior (dare we call it sin?). As a result of the photo, he lost a couple of sponsors, he was suspended from swimming for three months, and he issued this apology:

"I engaged in behavior which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment," Phelps said Sunday after the British newspaper News of the World splashed an exclusive photo of him smoking marijuana from a bong. "I'm 23 years old and, despite the successes I've had in the pool, I acted in a youthful and inappropriate way, not in a manner people have come to expect from me," he said. "For this, I am sorry. I promise my fans and the public it will not happen again."

Interesting. No specifics here, just an apology for "regrettable and ... bad judgment," and "youthful and inappropriate" actions. Boy, that could be anything from blowing curfew at swimming camp to showing up late for graduation. That sounds like he consulted an attorney. Smart man.

You see, vague apologies are typically not acceptable to us, because we sometimes feel someone may be trying to pull a fast one. But, there are two audiences to an apology: man and God.

An apology before God should be sincere and specific (1 John 1:9). After all, the goal is to admit our sin, repent, accept His forgiveness, and turn away from the sin, repeating it no more. In God, we know we have a righteous judge. We know that, although forgiven sin still has consequences, those consequences are not eternal.

Man, on the other hand, is not so understanding. Richland County (South Carolina) Sheriff Leon Lott launched an investigation to determine if charges would be brought against anyone in connection with the use of marijuana during the party. Soon, eight "youths" were arrested and the Sheriff turned his eyes toward Phelps.

There, he says, he found nothing. In his words:

We had a photo, and him saying he was sorry for inappropriate behavior. That behavior could have been going to a party. He never said, "I smoked marijuana," Lott said.

Remember that movie/TV line? "Anything you say can be used against you in a court of law. " That's not just Hollywood, it's real life. Had Michael admitting anything more specific, we'd have a different ending.

Of course, I do not condone the use of any type of illegal drugs. His actions, if portrayed correctly, were not just inappropriate, they were criminal. However, as it stands, the state must prove its case without the benefit of inappropriate assumptions. The state must be ready to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that a crime was committed. Sometimes, that involves using the accused's words against him. Other times, it involves a prosecutor saying, I just don't have enough to go on.

Now, some of those eight youths arrested may help, in order to save their own hides. But for now, Phelps needs to thank God that he had good advice, and as a result was not charged. He then must repent, turn away from His sin, so it does not become an issue in the future.

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