Sunday, May 13, 2012

What To Do In Your Romney Moment

Much is being made of the high school incident in which Mitt Romney led a pack of boys in an assault on another student whose unconventional hairstyle and possible gayness offended them. Mr. Romney claimed (at least initially) to have no direct memory of the incident. I suppose, technically that is possible but if it is true it invites the even more damning suggestion that such incidents have been so common in his life that they have become indistinguishable from one another.

We have all done horrible things in our lifetimes. Horrible, I repeat. I can imagine those who are protesting that they have never been cruel or insensitive. I’ve met people convinced of their life-long innocence, wholly sanctified, with even the root of sin removed.  But if we consider that a single ill-chosen word can wound for a life-time, and recall the words we’ve spoken in anger, or spite, or even sanctimonious righteousness, we need not to have dragged someone to the ground and cut their hair off, to be as guilty as Mr. Romney gingerly admits he is.

It may not be possible to forget having wrestled someone to the ground and demeaning them by disfiguring their hair, but it is certainly possible to wound without even knowing we have wounded. In my long career as a teacher I dealt with literally thousands of students, some very pleasant and hard-working who would elicit only affirmation from me, but others who were difficult and defiant, and I’ve wondered often if the words I spoke to them were healing or if they only opened their wounds further.

We can only pray that our offenses against our fellow beings (human and non-human) will remain hidden to be dealt with only when we stand before a compassionate, all-knowing, but righteous Judge. But it is possible that, like Mr. Romney, we will be confronted with some sin from the past that we had hoped would never be revealed. If that occurs, we will have reached a salvific moment – and opportunity for redemption.

It appears that, for Mr. Romney, the fear of damage to his present ambition outweighed his desire to redeem an awful moment in his past. He chose to fain forgetfulness and fumble his apology. But before we are too condemning of his actions we need to look into our past, perhaps distant or perhaps recent, and choose an incident which, if revealed would put us in an unfavorable light before those we hope to impress. What would our reaction be?

One of my favorite stories from the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) is that of King David who, when confronted by his friend, the prophet Nathan, about his adulterous and murderous affair with Bathsheba, immediately confessed and repented. It is an almost unprecedented event in human history. David was king. He could have killed the messenger. He could have lied and covered up. He could have denied any complicity in the scheme to murder his friend Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba. He could have kept the incident from going public – except for whispered rumors that most certainly would have swirled around his reign. He could have mounted a PR campaign to burnish his image as a fair and righteous king. But David had a higher priority, a desire to be “right” in the eyes of his God. His sin remains upon the “books” as one of the most horrific treacheries of all times. Beside it lies the record of his contrition and sorrow for what he had done. And despite his obvious and notorious sins he is revered in Judeo-Christian history as the righteous King through whom the Messiah would come into the world.

Mr. Romney’s actions during his senior year of high school have to weigh on his conscience – we sincerely hope they do; that he does not dismiss them as an innocent harmless prank. He cannot remove that from the record. But he could have laid beside that record a recognition of its awfulness, and a deep and convincing statement of his sorrow for having been involved. I wish he had.

But saying that, I challenge myself. When I am faced with an awful “Romney Moment”, what will my reaction be? Denial? Forgetfulness? Dismissiveness? Or contrition, confession, and sincere apology?

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