Years ago, I wrote about former state Rep. Rob Briley after he’d returned to the state House following a horrible episode associated with his arrest for drunken driving. I couldn’t help but think of that and a political failure of my own as I read the stories about Roy Moore.
The Power of a Politician’s Broken, Contrite Heart
It is not helpful to recount the sad situation that television news relayed to us the night years ago when Rep. Briley (D-Davidson) was arrested. Suffice it to say that his life had unraveled.
When he returned to the House months later, he went down before his colleagues to the front of the Chambers and made a beautiful statement about that night and the redemption that had come from having reached the very end of himself.
I wrote about it in my commentary that week in terms of the psalmist’s declaration that “a broken and contrite heart” God will “not despise.” I’ll never forget the legislative employee who spoke to me about that commentary, saying that it changed her view of what had transpired from, in my words, political theater to holy ground.
Offering an Apology for a Political Failure
I understand living with a failure in the political world. About fourteen years, my frustration over a political situation got the best of me, and I made a public statement that many took as demeaning those who worked in less-skilled, non-management positions.
My statement was all over the print media in our state. I started getting calls and emails telling me what an arrogant person I was; I was a lawyer with a silver spoon in my mouth.
My first reaction was political, to issue a press release trying to explain what I meant and that my statement had been taken the wrong way. It didn’t satisfy those who were angry and insulted.
But then I was convicted. It was my job to communicate clearly and correctly with the public, and I could see how the way they understood my comments would be offensive.
So I began responding to emails with a confession—that I could see how they could have taken my comments to be demeaning, and I outright apologized and said I was sorry.
I then explained that if the meaning behind what I had said was what they thought I had said, it would have demeaned my own heritage, for it was one of poverty. To think I might have done that grieved my heart, too.
I explained that my maternal grandfather had been a sharecropper in Alabama, whose “career advancement” had been spraying hot enamel on red-hot bathtubs coming out of the Crane Company’s furnaces in Rossville, Ga. My paternal grandfather was a subsistence farmer in Ringgold, Ga., who had gone broke in the Depression. And I told them that until my father graduated from college after military service, none of my ancestors on either side of my family had even gone to college.
The response to those emails was overwhelmingly positive. I recall that many said they’d never had a politician admit he or she had been wrong, and, by telling my story, they realized they had misjudged my intentions.
What Should Roy Moore Do?
I think of those things because Roy Moore has been accused of some terrible things. I don’t know if he did them or not, and we may never know for sure. But I do know that politics is an arena in which it is particularly challenging for a person to admit a wrong, even if it was four decades ago.
If Mr. Moore is innocent, his denials should be clear and unequivocal.
But if Mr. Moore did any of the things of which he is accused, even if it was only dating women much younger than he, then integrity and a trust in God’s providence should bring an admission of whatever is true.
Admissions are never easy; I know from experience. But an admission could allow the last forty years of his life to bear testimony to the fact that God does not despise a broken and contrite heart and that the grace of God can and has, from all we can see, transform a man who, like all of us, failed to measure up at some point.
Then Alabamians can cast their vote with a clear conscious.
David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.
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