N.J. Gov. Chris Christie, shown here in 2012, apologized Thursday for the epic traffic jam at the George Washington Bridge that was instigated by his aides and appointees.

N.J. Gov. Chris Christie, shown here in 2012, apologized Thursday for the epic traffic jam at the George Washington Bridge that was instigated by his aides and appointees.

N.J. Gov. Chris Christie spent two hours Thursday presenting himself as another unknowing victim of the epic George Washington Bridge traffic jam debacle.

Sad. Humiliated. Blameless for “mistakes” made by his staff and appointees. Determined to root out those who “betrayed” him.

I was struck by the tone he set from the get-go,  “taking responsibility” by firing deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly because “she lied to me.”

Lies? Mistakes? Whoa. What happened to firing Kelly for instigating and participating in #Bridgegate, the 4-day-long traffic horror show that gridlocked Ft. Lee, N.J., last September?

Was that a “mistake?” (Oops, I accidentally triggered lane closures on one of the nation’s busiest bridges. My bad! Sorry.) Or was it a sin? (Ha! Let’s gridlock Ft. Lee, where we don’t like the mayor’s politics, and ignore stranded kids, ambulance crews and commuters.)

I took the mistake vs. sin question to Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics and executive editor of EthicsDaily.com. He’s not weighing in Christie or political justice in Jersey for #Bridgegate. But he has interesting observations on the differences between an “oops” and an intentional, wrong action that harms others.

“One of the biblical definitions for sin is missing the mark. It seems to me that there is connectivity between a mistake and missing the mark,” Parham said.

But there are degrees.

“Mistakes would probably be considered problems that create no harm of the common good. If you misspell a word, in most cases that’s not going to cause profound harm or nick the public good,” said Parham.

“A sin, from a traditional Christian perspective, would be failing to do the right thing or deliberately doing the wrong thing. Intention makes a difference.” In church terms, they’re called sins of omission and sins of commission.

We all like to gloss over our errors and we do it with carefully chosen words. Just like some public officials, Parham notes,  we don’t say we lied, we just “misspoke.”  We want to direct attention away from our errors or bad acts.

That inclination to misdirect people is “also known as deceit. It’s a sign of human sinfulness,” said Parham. We’re human. We err. We hope for forgiveness.

As Chris Christie talked for two hours about how “mistakes were made,” do you think New Jersey-ites were moved to forgive him?

Why him and not his staff and appointees?

Politics aside (if you can), what’s your view on mistakes vs. sins?

Can we, should we, evade their consequences with fuzzy language?

17 Comments

    • Your acceptance has absolutely no ground. Christie deserves no respect. Like so many politicians, Christie is hiding behind his front guards whom he directs to do his dirty work. A solid study of our “political science” is vitally needed. As is good attention to current events.

  1. There is a monstrous difference between what Christie is lightly trying to color and cover as “mistakes” and deliberate, dirty politics. “Bridgegate,” like “Watergate,” all the other “gates,” and most of what is being done, rather, being undone and prevented by Republicans in Washington for the past three years, led by the group that calls itself “the tea party,” is dirty politics. It is a reflection of Christie’s own boorish behavior that he obviously thinks is cute and wins votes.

    Christie’s attempts at “cover-up” have the nasty smell of the dirty work of Catholic bishops during their cover-up of the sexual abuse of our kids. In churches or anywhere else in our society, this behavior is atrocious, downright criminal, and, in the language of the churches, sinful. The reaction of the real government, “We, the people,” should be to throw all the misfit rascals out.

    The lazy and uninformed electorate in New Jersey and throughout this country is to be blamed for bad and dirty politics and government. In spite of all such incidents, such sleazy politicians are elected and reelected. We the voters, we the electorate, we who put up with this rot, “We, the people,” we, the actual government, are to blame.

    And guess what, in New Jersey and elsewhere, “this is only the tip of the iceberg.”

  2. Rodger Aidman

    Nice article. I’m not inclined to call people sinners. But if Christie deliberately caused a traffic jam for political retribution, he committed an egregious abuse of the public trust. This is an impeachable offense.

    • At least it’s recognizable as dirty politics, and a really ugly way for anyone with the authority to behave. No one has the right to inconvenience others purposely. Given Christie’s track record of obnoxious behavior, is it beyond reason to consider him a bully and capable of having close associates who know his mind and would behave this way?

      Chris Christie has long been an obnoxious, bullying politician, and it doesn’t say much for the voters of New Jersey that they reelected him. That type of voter, lazy and illiterate, has become sadly representative of our national electorate. The blame in this case lands in the court of New Jersey voters just as it does at the door to Christie’s office. They rehired him after years of a display of unfit behavior.

  3. I believe the Governor. I know that he is much too smart to ever be involved in such a childish prank. I am sure he was devastated to find out that those closest to him, lied. This happens to the best of us. There will be an investigation, more facts will arise, but the governor will get through it – and be ready for his presidential race.

    • So you are essentially saying he was a poor leader who could not keep a handle on what his own employees were doing, in his name.

      Not very presidential.

  4. Charles Freeman

    Cathy, good article! I don’t believe in the reality of religious sin, but I will try to evaluate the seriousness of the Governor’s actions. Christie seems very aware of which side of the bread the butter is spread. It is quite unlike past actions on his part to attempt to damage a nonsupporter like the mayor. He took responsibility, and visibly tried to atone by getting rid of the miscreants. If you believe him, then he’s only guilty of hiring the wrong people, a mistake at worst. I’ve certainly been responsible for that kind of “wrong”, and every other person in a hiring position has been also. Unless there is “smoking gun” evidence out there somewhere, this incident is done. Christie doubled down on his expressions of responsibility by apologizing in the Mayor’s realm. However, there’s a small nagging question: how did his employees get the idea that such retributive nefarious actions were acceptable?

  5. I like the work to dilineate between “sin” and “mistakes.” I would like to ask a follow up question about sin being “failing to do the right thing.” Is Parham saying that this is about “choosing not to do the right thing” or would he include those things that are more along the line of “missing an opportunity to do the right thing?” For example, would driving past the person asking for change at the end of the freeway exit be a sin? In what context would it be and would it not be? Thanks.

    • Seeking forgiveness from God is far easier than making restitution to people you harmed. Apologies are cheap. Actual contrition, not so much.

      Firing a bunch of close aides and avoiding personal responsibility (either being directly responsible or for being negligent to let it happen without knowledge) is not what people do when they are genuinely sorry for events.

  6. If we’re talking about the issue of mistakes vs. sins, there’s two things I think:

    1) we’re all sinners in our own way. We all fall short of want God, society, and our own selves expect of us. We’re all flawed characters. This is why I am a bit uncomfortable with finger pointing in regards to sin: Chris Christie is a sinner like all of us are sinners. In the eyes of God, each of us is unfit for true love, yet it is bestowed upon us in grace: we should all be coming to God with our tail between our legs.

    2) Did he earn forgiveness? Forgiveness from whom? If you’re asking about God, that’s something we dare not tread on. That depends on whether Chris Christie has honestly and openly repented of his misdeeds, not for political or personal Ian but in humility. This is the start of forgiveness. Worldly acts – words, investigations, and so forth – are a helpful extension of this: but to be truly forgiven, we must not hide our sin from God.

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