Why Matt Lauer’s Confession Statement Falls Short…

...And What We Can Learn From It.

When Savannah Guthrie of the TODAY show broke the story of co-host Matt Lauer’s sexual misconduct and abuse in the workplace, she acknowledged her pain with tears and words:

Matt Lauer

How do you reconcile your love for someone with the revelation that they have behaved badly? And I don’t know the answer to that.

I appreciate the honest vulnerability of her question. Whenever someone behaves badly, the hurt caused by their actions spreads far and wide. Private immorality always has public consequences—the collateral damage of sin. In the case of Matt Lauer, the collateral damage caused by his sin has already spread far and wide, and will likely spread farther.

Ms. Guthrie then added,

But I do know that this reckoning that so many organizations have been going through is important, it’s long overdue and it must result in workplaces where all women—all people—feel safe and respected.

Indeed, a reckoning is long overdue. The statistics on sexual abuse in the United States are staggering and heartbreaking:

  • One in four women and one in six men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.
  • Sexual assault is the violent crime that is least often reported to law enforcement officials. A 2000 study from the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that only 28% of victims report their sexual assault to the police.
  • Only about 2% of all sexual assault accusations reported to police turn out to be false. This is the same rate of false reporting as other types of violent crime.

Of course, there are false accusations that are made. But with the release of Matt Lauer’s statement on the TODAY show, we know that, in his case, the charges are by-and-large true. Here is the full text of Mr. Lauer’s statement:

There are no words to express my sorrow and regret for the pain I have caused others by words and actions… To the people I have hurt, I am truly sorry. As I am writing this I realize the depth of the damage and disappointment I have left behind at home and at NBC.

Some of what is being said about me is untrue or mischaracterized, but there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed. I regret that my shame is now shared by the people I cherish dearly.

Repairing the damage will take a lot of time and soul searching and I’m committed to beginning that effort. It is now my full-time job. The last two days have forced me to take a very hard look at my own troubling flaws. It’s been humbling. I am blessed to be surrounded by the people I love. I thank them for their patience and grace.

As far as statements of regret and confession go, this one has much to commend as a start. There is some honest admission of wrongdoing and the expression of a desire to take personal responsibility for that wrong. I pray for him, that God will help him do the hard work needed to repent and recover from these sins, as well as for the recovery and restoration of his victims.

However, as an object lesson in confession, there are places where his statement falls short. I take Mr. Lauer at his word that he has a long road ahead of him of “soul searching” and “repairing the damage,” so this is just the beginning of his own personal reckoning with God and the people he has hurt. But with any statement of apology, there are vital components that need to be included—and here we can learn something for our own confessions.

The Seven A’s of a Good Confession

As a priest, I have often been called upon to hear confessions, make confessions, and work to bring about the reconciliation of parties through confessions. One tool that I have found to be very helpful in evaluating confessions and helping people make believable and effective confessions comes from Ken Sande’s book, The Peacemaker. Sande outlines the Seven A’s of a good confession:

  1. Address everyone involved (all those whom you affected).
  2. Avoid “if,” “but,” and “maybe” (do not try to excuse your wrongs).
  3. Admit specifically (both attitudes and actions).
  4. Acknowledge the hurt (express sorrow for hurting someone).
  5. Accept the consequences (such as making restitution).
  6. Alter your behavior (change your attitudes and actions).
  7. Ask for forgiveness.

The more egregious the sin, the more important it is to do a good job hitting all seven of the “A’s”.  Let’s evaluate Mr. Lauer’s statement using the Seven A’s as a test.

Address everyone involved (all those whom you affected)

There are no words to express my sorrow and regret for the pain I have caused others by words and actions… To the people I have hurt, I am truly sorry. As I am writing this I realize the depth of the damage and disappointment I have left behind at home and at NBC.

Mr Lauer makes an attempt at the first “A” of a good confession here. But what is notably lacking is any specific reference to the victims themselves. While he does use the catch-all phrase, “to all the people I have hurt,” he then qualifies that statement by specifically naming “home” and “NBC.” What about his victims?

When we are caught in sin, often our first and biggest regret is over the consequence of the sin more than the actual commission of the sin. This is subtle, but we mainly regret getting caught and the consequences that we must now face (in Lauer’s situation, marital problems and loss of a job) rather than the fact that we sinned grievously (abuse of power, sexual harassment, and adultery).  Mr. Lauer is “early days” in coming to terms with his accountability. The more he looks in the mirror honestly (if he can do that, with God’s help), he will see that his sin was a heinous violation of the women who were victims of his abuse of power and influence.

It was also a grievous violation of God’s call to covenant faithfulness in marriage, by the breaking of God’s law against adultery and covetousness. This sin, as he has begun to acknowledge, has caused real damage to his own wife and family.

Avoid “if,” “but,” and “maybe” (do not try to excuse your wrongs)

Mr Lauer struggles here when he says:

Some of what is being said about me is untrue or mischaracterized, but there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed.

While the trauma experienced by victims can sometimes lead to an exaggeration of the facts, by this statement Lauer discounts his victims’ charges off the bat.  In order to be helpful, a confession must be believable. When we qualify a confession with “if’s,” “but’s,” and “maybe’s,” we let ourselves off the hook from bearing the full responsibility of the pain we have caused. Mr. Lauer should have left out this qualifying statement. If there was enough truth in the stories, then there was enough to simply express wrongdoing without qualification or rationalization.

Admit specifically (both attitudes and actions)

Here is a real weakness that ties into the previous point about believability. A good confession admits specifically the wrong that was done.

While Mr. Lauer refers to his “words and actions” that caused pain, he does not specifically mention how these words and actions were wrong. Using terms such as “adultery,” “abuse,” “sexual harassment,” or “moral impropriety” would have helped to convince his hearers that he actually “gets it” that he did something wrong—seriously wrong. When we make a confession, it’s helpful to remember that those receiving it know the details; we do not need to rehash them, but we do need to include enough specifics to demonstrate that we understand the pain we caused, rather than using blanket phrases such as, “the words I said,” or “my actions.”

Acknowledge the hurt (express sorrow for hurting someone)

Mr. Lauer does a pretty good job acknowledging the hurt and disappointment he caused his family and NBC. The area in which he could have done a better job is in acknowledging the hurt to the victims of his “words and actions.” We’ve already discussed using more specific terms of what he did wrong, but he also could have more specifically addressed those to whom he did wrong: the women whose boundaries he violated. Acknowledgement of the very real hurt to the very real victims of our sin is one of the hardest but most important aspects of a good, believable confession. (Given the litigious nature of our society, it’s probable Matt Lauer’s lawyers helped craft a statement vague enough to allow themselves room to defend him from the legal consequences of his actions.) This is one of the places where his confession could have been more believable.

Accept the consequences (such as making restitution)

Mr. Lauer’s commitment to repair the damage through soul-searching as a full-time job is encouraging. This is actually the best part of his confession:

Repairing the damage will take a lot of time and soul searching and I’m committed to beginning that effort. It is now my full-time job. The last two days have forced me to take a very hard look at my own troubling flaws. It’s been humbling.

He uses the words “repairing the damage” rather than “make restitution,” but this is essentially the same thing. That damage repair will be needed not only to his home and career, but also—very importantly—to the victims of the abuse. Few are willing to openly state that they are prepared to make such amends and restitution for fear of just how costly such a process might be—materially, emotionally, and spiritually. But abusive behavior has real costs; restitution, to the extent humanly possible, should be offered and made. Lauer’s willingness to make “repairing the damage” his full-time job gives us hope for his future, hope that he will receive a measure of grace.

Alter your behavior (change your attitudes and actions)

Matt Lauer makes a good beginning here by soberly acknowledging the humility that has come to him by seeing his “troubling flaws.” The language of Step 4 in the 12 -Step Program to sobriety is helpful: “Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” To do a thorough job, this process takes a lot of time and soul-searching. With situations such as Mr. Lauer’s, such a process should be engaged in with the help of accountability partners, such as pastors or godly counsellors. It is not easy, but Matt Lauer is to be commended for his first steps.

Ask for forgiveness

The last “A” of a good confession is tricky. If we have not done an adequate job with the first 6 “A’s” of a confession, asking for forgiveness can feel inappropriate and even insensitive. It is probably best that Mr. Lauer left this part out because of the lack of specificity of this confession and the fact that it is too soon in the process for him to truly come to grips with the damage he has caused and the extent of the forgiveness being sought.

Ultimately, no amount of restitution can eradicate or pay for the violations against the dignity and personhood of another human being or against God’s holy law. Only Jesus accomplished such complete redemption through the ultimate sacrifice he made on the Cross. Matt Lauer will need to rely on the grace of God for help in his journey of restoration—as will his victims.

 

Under Guard for Christ and By Christ

In the book of Philippians, both Paul and the Philippians were experiencing difficult situations of persecution in their lives due to their commitment to the Gospel. Paul was imprisoned for the Gospel by the imperial guard in Rome. From an earthly perspective, this could become the occasion of tremendous stress, worry, and despair. Paul used the example of his own sufferings to help the Philippians see a different way of looking at the trials of life.

First, Paul sees the incredible fruit that is being brought forth by his imprisonment (1:12-18). The entire guard is hearing Christ proclaimed; the faithful are being encouraged to boldness because of Paul’s witness; and Paul’s rivals are seeing an opportunity to gain a place in the pulpit for their own selfish gain. Yet, in all of these things Paul rejoices because “Christ is proclaimed” (1:18).

Secondly, Paul has a different way of looking at the sufferings of this life because of the glorious resurrection life to come (1:19-26). In a “to be or not to be” reflection, Paul reveals that whether he lives or dies, he knows that he is blessed in Jesus Christ. He knows that if he dies, it will result in being with Christ. His continued life means more fruitful labor for the church. So either way Paul is filled with joy. Live or die, he simply can’t lose!

In chapter 4:6-9, Paul will encourage the Philippians to lay aside their own anxiety in their struggles by turning their worries over to God in prayer with thanksgiving and by setting their mind on that which is glorious and good. If they will give God their troubles in prayer, God will protect their hearts from anxiety.

Even though Paul is under guard of Rome, his heart and mind are guarded by the peace of God, so he can rejoice in the LORD. The same Peace of God will guard the members of the Philippian Church as they focus their attention away from their trials and onto the Lord and the blessings of their lives:

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:7

As citizens in a fallen world, you are guarded in persecution because of the Gospel. As citizens of heaven, you are guarded for eternal life in the unfathomable peace of God.

Prayer: Almighty God, today I am concerned about many things, yet you are in control of all of them. You are sovereign. Help me LORD that I may rest under divine guard and protection with my heart and mind trusting you for the outworking of your plan for my life. Amen.

This post originally appeared on The Bible Challenge.

The Adoption Process

An Excerpt from The Spirit-Filled Life Daily Devotional

Parents of foster or adoptive children will tell you this again and again: Adoption is a process.

The first phase is simply the decision to adopt. Unlike the natural birth process, adoption involves a clear, conscious choice on the part of the parents to bring a new child into their lives. Once a child is identified and chosen, the parents are in for an arduous and challenging gauntlet of paperwork, interviews, research, travel, and financial and emotional expense. What gives adoptive parents the endurance to get through this phase is the sheer love they have for the child and the determination to secure that child against all odds and over any barriers.

We must never forget that the Lord has done the same for us! He knew us before we knew Him:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. – Ephesians 1:3-6

The process of our adoption into the family of God began long ago—before the foundations of the world were laid. The Father has loved you and me from before time and forever. Understanding God’s absolute determination to secure us as His children before we were even born can bring a great sense of self-worth and value.

Once a little girl was playing on the playground with other children. When they began teasing her about being adopted, she responded, “My parents chose me; your parents got stuck with you!” Indeed. You are special because God chose you as His child. He called you to Himself, adopted you, and you are His.

Once a child is brought into a family, there is often a honeymoon phase during which the child and parents enthusiastically embrace their new relationship. Parents receive the adoption papers that confirm the child belongs to them with all of the appropriate legal seals. There is a great celebration when the child is brought home. The child is a full member of the family now. That moment of realization can be euphoric! It also can bring some fear and trepidation as a new reality is born.

There are similarities to our adoption by the Lord:

In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. – Ephesians 1:13-14

You may remember the day when you first heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation. How did you receive the news of your adoption into the family of God?

You have the full rights of inheritance as adopted children of God. Your adoption papers are signed and sealed! Your inheritance of eternal life is secure. The guarantee is the abiding Holy Spirit of God.

The challenge of your adoption process now becomes living into that new reality. The Father has called you into His family, yet the challenge to know and trust His love is real. Do you ever struggle with believing that God truly loves you? What is behind that struggle? The Father would have you know His abiding love; you are chosen and dearly loved!

Excerpted from The Spirit-Filled Life: All the Fullness of God, p. 66-71.

Be Strong and Courageous

God's Encouragement in the Transition

Here is my final sermon to the beloved St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Lake Mary, FL where I have served for the last 16 years.

The scriptures here are offered by the Lord as encouragement to stay strong and brave even in the face of the new realities and thresholds that the Lord challenges us to cross.

 

God’s promises transfer across the thresholds of life and leadership. He challenges us to stay true to His Word. We have nothing to fear, because the Lord is with us always. Be Strong and Courageous!

Brooke’s remarks at St., Peter’s

At the conclusion of the sermon you will hear the remarks and congregational prayers, by Brooke Holt (my wife), John Ricci, (Senior Warden) and The Rev. Canon Justin Holcomb (representing Bishop Gregory O. Brewer).

Joshua 1:5b-9

“Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. 

Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Announcement: A New Ministry Call

From St. Peter's, Lake Mary to St. John the Divine, Houston

Below is my letter announcing my call to St. John the Divine Church in Houston, TX:

29 June 2017

Dear St. Peter’s Church Family and Friends,

Grace and peace to you through God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

After a full and fruitful ministry of experiencing and sharing the joy and love of Jesus Christ with you, I am announcing my resignation as the Rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. My last Sunday with you will be August 13, 2017—exactly 16 years. I have accepted the call to be the Associate Rector focused on teaching and formation at St. John the Divine Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas.

These years with you have been a grand venture in faith. We began our time together in grief as the nation faced the horror of the September 11, 2001 attacks. As a nation, we went to war against terrorism. As a church, we strengthened our faith and resolve in Christian witness knowing that while our country responded in war with military might against the ‘evil doers’ who caused such harm, we engaged in spiritual warfare with spiritual might against the forces of hell itself.

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. –Matthew 16:18

Beloved of St. Peter’s, you are the Rock. Your faith and confession in Jesus Christ is rock solid. I have been continually amazed at how the Lord has used you to tear down the gates of hell. You have engaged in gospel mission to Honduras, hurricane relief in Pass Christian, MS, homeless ministry in Sanford and evangelism and Christian formation in Lake Mary, FL. God has been and is doing great things in and through you to bring about the reign of the Kingdom of God in our time. It has been my privilege, honor and love to be your Rector standing with you in faithful confession on the rock of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

So, in mid-August, my son Chase will be heading off to college at Palm Beach Atlantic University. Brooke, Ashton, Saxon and I will be moving that week to Houston. St. John the Divine has envisioned what they call an “audacious strategy” to develop a “world-class teaching center for faith formation and ministry development”. This is a very exciting challenge for me to serve with my spiritual gifts and calling. The Lord is doing great things, and we are humbled and privileged to be invited to serve in this new context.

I ask for your prayers in this transition and please know that you will always continue in my heart and prayers. I have nothing but gratitude and love for all of you and for God’s abundant life of grace with which we have communed together. We are truly blessed by you.

I am faithfully yours in Christ Jesus our Lord,

Charlie Holt+