The Art of the Public Grovel

The Art of the Public Grovel: Sexual Sin and Public Confession in America

SUSAN WISE BAUER
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 352
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7rmx7
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  • Book Info
    The Art of the Public Grovel
    Book Description:

    Whether you are a politician caught carrying on with an intern or a minister photographed with a prostitute, discovery does not necessarily spell the end of your public career. Admit your sins carefully, using the essential elements of an evangelical confession identified by Susan Wise Bauer inThe Art of the Public Grovel, and you, like Bill Clinton, just might survive.

    In this fascinating and important history of public confession in modern America, Bauer explains why and how a type of confession that first arose among nineteenth-century evangelicals has today become the required form for any successful public admission of wrongdoing--even when the wrongdoer has no connection with evangelicalism and the context is thoroughly secular. She shows how Protestant revivalism, group psychotherapy, and the advent of talk TV combined to turn evangelical-style confession into a mainstream secular rite. Those who master the form--Bill Clinton, Jimmy Swaggart, David Vitter, and Ted Haggard--have a chance of surviving and even thriving, while those who don't--Ted Kennedy, Jim Bakker, Cardinal Bernard Law, Mark Foley, and Eliot Spitzer--will never really recover.

    Revealing the rhetoric, theology, and history that lie behind every successful public plea for forgiveness,The Art of the Public Grovelwill interest anyone who has ever wondered why Clinton is still popular while Bakker fell out of public view, Ted Kennedy never got to be president, and Law moved to Rome.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3002-2
    Subjects: Political Science, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. INTRODUCTION FROM PRIVATE TO PUBLIC CONFESSION
    (pp. 1-8)

    On the evening of August 17, 1998, Bill Clinton faced the American public with an embarrassing admission. Despite earlier denials, he had indeed been carrying on with a White House intern twenty years his junior. “I did have a relationship with Miss Lewinsky that was not appropriate,” he said. “In fact, it was wrong. . . . I know that my public comments and my silence about this matter gave a false impression. I misled people, including even my wife. I deeply regret that.”

    He regretted it even more when the House of Representatives impeached him for perjury. But two...

  6. PART I The Shift TOWARD Public Confession
    • 1 GROVER THE GOOD, BELSHAZZAR BLAINE, AND THE RAPACIOUS WOMAN
      (pp. 11-21)

      At the age of forty-seven, Grover Cleveland was just below the top rung of the political ladder. In fourteen years he had ascended from the post of Erie Country sheriff to the mayor’s office in Buffalo, and then to the governor’s mansion of New York. In early July of 1884, the Democratic National Convention nominated him for the presidency of the United States.¹

      Almost immediately, he faced a career-ending scandal.

      On July 21, just days after the convention, theBuffalo Evening Telegraphbroke shocking news under the headline “A Terrible Tale: A Dark Chapter in a Public Man’s History.” Cleveland...

    • 2 IN THE PRESENCE OF THE ELECT (WITH THE WORLD LOOKING ON)
      (pp. 22-37)

      The Reverend Kinsley Twining, having assured the public that Grover Cleveland was “certainly not” obliged to marry Maria Halpin, did not let the matter rest. Cleveland, he explained, was an honorable man, but he was no stranger to wild oats. He had been guilty of an “illicit connection” or two when he was “younger than he is now” (a conveniently vague phrase); in fact, he had fallen into a “culpable irregularity of life, living as he was, a bachelor.”¹

      Cleveland supporters cringed at this frankness, but the Reverend Twining’s words did Cleveland much more good than harm. Twining did not...

    • 3 AIMEE SEMPLE MCPHERSON AND THE DEVIL
      (pp. 38-55)

      At 7:30 p.m. on tuesday, may 18, 1926, the Angelus Temple in Los Angeles, California—a circular hall of concrete, topped with a dome and cross and flanked by radio towers—was filled with over seven thousand people who had come to see evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson’s color slides of the Holy Land.

      Less than four weeks before, McPherson had returned from a two-month journey that took her across Europe and into Jerusalem. In theory, the trip had been a vacation, forced upon the thirty-six-year-old evangelist by her mother and the staff of the Angelus Temple. McPherson was the linchpin...

    • 4 CONFESSION GOES PUBLIC
      (pp. 56-75)

      Forty-three years after McPherson’s triumphant non-confession, Ted Kennedy’s car plunged off the Dike Bridge and into the water below, drowning his passenger. Kennedy’s chances of winning the White Houses may well have ended at the moment his car left the road. But his attempts to explain himself after the event extinguished any possibility that he might recover from the scandal.

      As a lifelong Catholic, Kennedy found himself at cross purposes with the relatively new visibility of public confession. In Protestant hands, public confession had become detached from its moorings; no longer solely an element of the conversion narrative, it had...

    • 5 TED KENNEDY MISREADS HIS PUBLIC
      (pp. 76-94)

      On July 25, 1969, Edward M. Kennedy went on television to tell a national audience that he had been involved in the drowning death of a young woman.

      This televised statement was Kennedy’s second explanation; his first had been given to police a week earlier, the day after the crime occured. In that official statement, which had been published by theNew York Timeson July 19, Kennedy explained that he had been driving back to Martha’s Vineyard from Chappaquiddick Island very late on the previous evening, when he lost his way and drove off the side of a narrow...

  7. PART II The Age of Public Confession
    • 6 JIMMY CARTER, TRAITOR TO THE CAUSE
      (pp. 97-114)

      In July 1976, at the Democratic National Convention in New York City, Jimmy Carter was nominated as the Democratic candidate for president. Right after the convention, Carter agreed to meet with Robert Scheer, a reporter fromPlayboy, for a series of interviews. The decision to grantPlayboyan interview was part of a carefully considered strategy. Both Carter and his campaign manager hoped that thePlayboyinterview would show that Carter was a “regular guy,”¹ rather than a religious fanatic.

      Carter, an outspoken Christian, had grown up within fundamentalism, and now stood squarely in the camp of the neoevangelicals—a...

    • 7 JIM BAKKER SHOOTS HIS ALLIES
      (pp. 115-142)

      In the ten years after 1976, the “Year of the Evangelical,” the voices of the new evangelical alliance grew more and more audible to secular America. But the born-again were due for an embarrassment. On Friday, March 20, 1987, theCharlotte Observerbroke the story of TV preacher Jim Bakker’s adultery.

      Bakker had risen from humble beginnings as a puppetmaster on a children’s show (on Jimmy Swaggart’s Christian Broadcasting Network) to superstar status in the world of Christian programming. He owned and controlled the PTL (“Praise the Lord” or “People that Love”) network, which by 1987 was syndicated across the...

    • 8 JIMMY SWAGGART’S MODEL CONFESSION
      (pp. 143-151)

      On february 21, 1988—a little less than a year after Bakker’s “confession” to theCharlotte Observer—Jimmy Swaggart stepped behind the pulpit of his church, the Family Worship Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and confessed that he had sinned.

      First, he addressed his wife Frances: “I have sinned against you,” he told her, “and I beg your forgiveness.” Then he turned to his son and daughter-in-law and said, “Donnie and Debbie, I have sinned against you and I beg you to forgive me.” Next was the Assemblies of God: “To its thousands and thousands of pastors that are godly,”...

    • 9 CLINTON AND THE THREE PUBLIC CONFESSIONS
      (pp. 152-182)

      In 1998, the President of the United States was accused of adultery and perjury and began a nine-month journey towards confession.

      The confession was too long in coming, but when his words finally reached the American public, Bill Clinton pulled out every repentant stop. In two explicit acts of contrition, one broadcast directly to the American public and a second filtered through media reports of a Prayer Breakfast meeting, he managed to portray himself as an American among Americans, align himself with the poor and oppressed, avoid the appearance of being a predator, and place himself on the right side...

    • 10 UNAWARE OF CHANGE
      (pp. 183-206)

      The outcry for clinton’s admission of wrongdoing was matched, four years later, by a call from the pews of the Catholic church: a demand that the Catholic hierarchy admit its own sin in allowing known pedophiles to “minister” to children.

      The first nationally-known scandal involving priest misconduct had actually erupted ten years earlier. On May 7, 1992, the Boston station WBZ-TV Channel 4 broadcast a telephone interview with former priest James Porter, in which Porter admitted to molesting somewhere between fifty and a hundred children, both boys and girls, during his years as a parish priest in Fall River, a...

  8. CONCLUSION PREDICTIONS
    (pp. 207-218)

    In the fall of 2006, minister Ted Haggard—president of the National Association of Evangelicals, pastor of one of the largest neoevangelical churches in America, and outspoken opponent of gay rights—was outed by the male prostitute who had allegedly provided him with both sex and crystal meth.

    Within a week of the accusation, Haggard stepped down from his pulpit and grovelled. His written confession, read out to his congregation on the Sunday morning after his resignation, showed an almost complete mastery of the confessional ritual. He confessed his wrongdoing without excuse, but in a way that identified him with...

  9. Appendixes: The Texts of the Confessions
    • APPENDIX A EDWARD KENNEDY’S CONFESSION
      (pp. 221-224)
    • APPENDIX B JIMMY CARTER’S CONFESSION OF “LUST IN MY HEART”
      (pp. 225-227)
    • APPENDIX C JIM BAKKER’S ORIGINAL CONFESSION
      (pp. 228-234)
    • APPENDIX D JIMMY SWAGGART’S SERMON OF CONFESSION
      (pp. 235-239)
    • APPENDIX E PRESIDENT CLINTON’S STATEMENTS AND CONFESSIONS
      (pp. 240-264)
    • APPENDIX F BERNARD LAW’S APOLOGIES
      (pp. 265-286)
  10. NOTES
    (pp. 287-314)
  11. WORKS CITED
    (pp. 315-322)
  12. Permissions for the Texts
    (pp. 323-324)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 325-337)