What if Judge Kavanagh had Received Conflict Coaching?

Since the Honorable Brett Kavanagh testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, he has issued two statements of regret–an apology to Senator Klobuchar that evening, for answering her question with a question; and an acknowledgment in the Wall Street Journal today that his tone was sharp, and he said some things he now wishes he hadn’t said. Because he is a professing Christian, his statements of regret provide an opportunity to reflect on how some Christian conflict coaching beforehand might have helped him handle his Committee appearance differently. What if he had used Jesus as his model of how to behave when unjustly accused?

The phrase “conflict coaching” is a term of art in biblical peacemaking. It means, helping a fellow believer respond to conflict biblically, reflecting on their behavior in the light of Scripture. We all have blind spots, and a neutral person can help us see how well our behavior in the midst of a conflict measures up to the Christian ideals we profess.

Below are some questions a conflict coach might have used to help Judge Kavanagh take a different approach in the hearing. These questions start from Judge K’s perspective that he is completely innocent. They’re not designed to change his mind about that, so much as to offer a different way of behaving in the hearing, that would be less likely to result in regrets (and criticism). These questions assume that the recipient is a Jesus-follower who takes Scripture seriously.  [Just to be clear: these were never used; they’re just examples of how a conflict-coach might have approached this. I have no idea whether anyone tried to talk to Judge Kavanagh from this perspective.]

Conflict Coaching Questions

Q: You believe you have been wrongly accused. Can you think of people in the Bible who also were accused of a crime, yet innocent?

(Possible answers)

  • Joseph, by Potiphar’s wife
  • David, by Saul
  • Jesus, by Jewish leaders

Q: Can you identify one quality that person displayed under those circumstances, that you admire?

(These are just some examples)

  • Joseph (Genesis 39): apparently didn’t have a chance to defend himself to Potiphar, so never even had the chance to tell his side of the story; apparently trusted God while he was in prison, and God worked through Joseph; reading between the lines, Joseph must’ve forgiven Potiphar, and not allowed a root of bitterness to grow while he was in prison.
  • David (I Samuel 18 et seq): David resisted the temptation to retaliate—twice he could’ve killed Saul, but he restrained himself out of fear of the Lord; he could’ve used his power and authority to demolish Saul and Saul’s kingdom, but he chose to flee instead of starting a civil war; he showed respect to Saul right to the end.
  • Jesus (John 18-19, etc.): once arrested, spoke little; kept his focus on his goal of fulfilling the Father’s plan; endured the betrayals of friends Judas and Peter; constrained himself from exposing the Jewish leaders’ hypocrisy; constrained himself from lecturing Pilate; endured humiliation wordlessly; etc.

Q: Are there any qualities in these biblical examples that you want to emulate yourself? Which ones? How will you do that?

Q: How do you think Jesus was able to endure all that torture and humiliation? Not only was he innocent; he also had the power to end it at any time. What empowered him to persevere? Read Ephesians 3:17-19 to learn more about how great is the love of Christ for us.

Q: Given that one of your goals as a Christian is to become more Christ-like, how might you imitate Jesus in this situation? What aspects of Jesus could you adopt and implement? How is this even possible? Reflect on passages like John 15:5-25; Matthew 10:37-39; I Corinthians 5:20-21; Colossians 3:1-3, that talk about how we are transformed when we are “in Christ.”

Q: Are you feeling like you’re being persecuted? Do you recall how Jesus said to respond to that? See Matthew 5:44-45. How can you live out this verse in this situation?

Q: Not many people get the opportunity to defend themselves publicly against a false accusation; God is giving you a rare glimpse of what Jesus went through in his last hours before death. What does it mean to you to be able to identify with Jesus in this way? Are there any other ways in which you especially identify with Jesus as you go through this ordeal? How does that help you?

Q: What goals do you want to keep in mind as you go through this process? What image or picture could you focus on? Reflect on I Corinthians 10:31. How could you glorify God through this process? What would it look like if you made that your primary goal? What would be some things you would be sure not to do, if you’re trying to honor God?

Q: What characteristics do you want to display in this process? What adjectives would you like people to use afterwards to describe your behavior? “He was very ….” Think about the “fruits of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23). Do they play any role here? Is there one that you would especially like to display as you go through this process?

Q: What temptations or pitfalls do you want to try to avoid? How will you do that?

Q from The Peacemaker, by Ken Sande, p. 42: When this is all over, if God were to evaluate your behavior, how would you want God to complete these two sentences:

  1. “I am pleased that you did not …” or,  “I am pleased that you resisted the temptation to …”
  2. “I am pleased that you …” or, “I am pleased that, despite reasons not to, you were able to …”

Q: Are you feeling a need to talk back to your accusers? “Teach them a lesson”? Expose them? Consider Romans 12:14-19. Is it possible that God will take care of this in another way, so you don’t have to be His “mouthpiece”?

Q: Is it possible that, in the intensity of the hearing, you might say something you later regret? If you realize it in the hearing, how might you handle that? How do you feel about publicly apologizing if, for example, you give a response that is sharp, sarcastic, or disrespectful? Consider that “humility” is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). If you realize you’ve said something not consistent with the Christ-like attitude you’re striving to maintain, could you apologize right then? What might you say?

Getting to the Heart:

Q: Do you know what an “idol” is? One definition is that it’s a good thing that we want too much, for which we’re willing to sin to attain. So let me ask you a question for you to reflect on—don’t answer it yet, just think about this: Is it possible that you have made your desire for a Supreme Court seat into an idol? Or, is it possible that you have made your desire for a good reputation into an idol? What might it look like if you had? One sign of idolatry is that we’re in conflict with anyone who doesn’t worship our idol. The cure for idolatry is to confess to God that you have been worshiping something other than God; repent; and replace idol worship with worship of the one true God.

An Apology After the Hearing

The evening after the Honorable Brett Kavanagh testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he apologized to Senator Klobuchar regarding his response to her: “She asked me a question at the end, and I responded by asking her a question and I’m sorry I did that.”

This article has an interesting perspective on that apology. The author notes how an apology can short-change the opportunity to deal fully with an offense and all its effects. She asserts that studies show that people appreciate apologies even when they are incomplete or insincere. I’ve seen other studies establishing that a bad (incomplete, insincere, self-serving, etc.) apology is actually worse than saying nothing. (See, e.g., Jennifer Robbenolt, “Apologies and Legal Settlement: An Empirical Examination.” 102 Michigan Law Review 460, 497 (2003))

But it’s also true that people of goodwill often appreciate the offender’s efforts at an apology, even if its content is less than satisfying.

Could Brett Kavanaugh Apologize His Way Out of This?

Judge Brett Kavanaugh testified yesterday that he did not assault anyone, but he also admitted that he drank too much in his younger days. He insists that he never drank so much that he blacked out, but apparently his college friends tell a different story. So, what if Judge Kavanaugh acknowledged a memory lapse and admitted to the possibility that events happened as his female accusers have said? Instead of sounding like an alcoholic-in-denial, he would create rapport with many Americans who regret adolescent behavior, and just might persuade doubters that he’s no longer who he was then.

Here’s what he might say:

[Acknowledgment of offense] Like everyone else, I was stunned by the allegations from Dr. Ford. The behavior she described is so abhorrent that I instinctively denied ever doing anything even close. I honestly do not remember ever doing anything like this. As I have continued to reflect on this, I have to admit that I don’t remember everything I did while I was in high school and early college. As I testified, I drank too much. I did that too often. Although I don’t think I ever blacked out from drinking, and I don’t recall my friends telling me things I’d done while drinking that I did not remember myself, that may have happened. No one ever told me that I attempted to assault someone, so I still have trouble believing I am the one who did this; but I admit that there is a remote possibility that this could have happened.

[Responsibility] If I was actually the one who assaulted Dr. Ford, then I must apologize to her. I will do that privately, but I also owe the public an apology, since it’s a horrible act that I initially denied. The idea that I could behave this way is contrary to who I am, so it’s revolting to think I’m capable of this—but I know, as a man, and as the sinner God knows me to be, that I am capable of such vile behavior. It’s easy to blame the alcohol, but I’m the one who kept choosing to drink; I am responsible.

[Remorse] I am disgusted by the thought that I did this to another human being. I will regret it as long as I live. It’s especially painful to hear that Dr. Ford has suffered the effects of this incident for years, while I have been free of it. Now the tables are turned; I hope my apology will bring some measure of healing for her, whereas I will now carry the shame of this incident for the rest of my life. I wish I had made amends long ago for the sins of my youth, but I believe it’s never too late. I deeply regret the offenses I committed while in high school and college, and ask your forgiveness. It will not happen again.

[Repair] There are some who say I should withdraw from being in nomination for the Supreme Court. Indeed, some say that I should withdraw from the bench altogether. Frankly, in some ways that would be easier—and that’s why I will not do it. The fact is that I am not the person I was then.  I recognized at some point in college that my drinking was interfering with my goals, and I cut way back. In effect, I matured. Decades of service demonstrate this, and it’s corroborated by many colleagues who have observed my work for years. I hope my behavior when I was a teen does not determine who I am now, or will be the rest of my life.  I believe that what I and my family have suffered in the last two weeks is penance for my past sins, and I hope to move on. This episode has heightened my awareness of both sexual assault and the dangers of drunkenness, and I will continue to work against both.


It still wouldn’t be a great apology. One element of a good apology is being specific about the wrongs done, and Judge K does not want to, or cannot, do that. Another element is making some form of restitution, and I don’t know how he could do that here. Another element is to accept the consequences, and arguably for him to be a judge is rewarding rather than punishing his criminal behavior.

But perhaps his misery these last two weeks is punishment enough. If we believe in second chances, that we shouldn’t be punished forever for stupid, even criminal, things we did in our youth, then we could permit him to remain a judge. If he apologized.



Explanation as Apology

One of the more interesting items to emerge from the “me too” movement is a piece written (actually, originally recorded as a podcast) by Dan Harmon, in response to a tweet from a former employee, Megan Ganz, that he sexually harassed her when she worked for him. A few years ago, Ms. Ganz was a writer for a show Mr. Harmon created.

Mr. Harmon delves into his thoughts at the time, recognizing how his “crush” on Ms. Ganz put her in a terrible position. “I crushed on her and resented her for not reciprocating it, and the entire time I was the one writing her paychecks and in control of whether she stayed or went and whether she felt good about herself or not, and said horrible things. Just treated her cruelly, pointedly.” His piece is a fascinating look into the mind of a boss who has “feelings” for an employee, how the boss justifies his behavior–how it makes sense to him to behave in a way that is, objectively, sexual harassment.

Mr. Harmon’s piece is not an apology, per se. As slate.com author Marissa Martinelli notes, it’s more of an explanation than an apology. Its audience is not Ms. Ganz, but rather other men who might develop “feelings” for a woman they supervise. But it’s humble, insightful, and honest, without a hint of blaming the victim or an attempt to save face himself. Those are all ingredients of a good apology.

The result is that Ms. Ganz called the piece “a masterclass in How to Apologize,” and forgave him.

Lawyers Contributed to Priest Abuse Problems

One of the awful threads running through the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report on Catholic priests who abused minors is the role of lawyers. While there may indeed have been lawyers who helped the situation, the only ones mentioned in the report assisted in the cover-up, in one way or another.

For example, one District Attorney investigated an abuse case in the 1960’s. After interviewing a child victim and his mother, the DA wrote the bishop that, “in order to prevent unfavorable publicity,” the DA had “halted all further investigations into incidents involving young boys.” When the Grand Jury asked the former DA why he had deferred to the bishop, he said, “I really have no proper answer.” He admitted he needed the bishop’s support for his political career (p. 216). Prosecutorial discretion is a hallmark of the American criminal justice system, but this poor decision meant other children became victims of this abusive priest in Beaver County.

Other lawyers complicit in the cover-up represented the various dioceses. They helped bishops find ways to move abusive priests to other dioceses or out-of-state, and they insisted on non-disclosure agreements in the civil cases they settled, all to ensure that names and behavior of criminal priests would not be publicly disclosed. In some cases, they actively sought to discredit the victims “with unrelated and irrelevant attacks,” according to the Grand Jury report. For example, in one case in Allentown, the diocesan attorney found an informant who stated that the girl who alleged that she was a victim of the priest abuse was “one of the girls who had an affair with a coach at Central Catholic.” The Grand Jury noted that the “information that a Central Catholic coach may have been sexually abusing students was used as evidence against the victim, instead of yet another crime not reported to the police.” (p. 25) In a Harrisburg case where a priest molested five sisters from one family, the Grand Jury reported, “Diocesan lawyers argued that the Diocese was not responsible for the conduct of its agents.” (p. 168)

Although these attorneys purported to represent the diocese, it appears that they were representing only the bishop, and even the abusive priests – and not looking out at all for the well-being of the families that comprised the diocese. The Grand Jury found instances where the diocesan attorney recommended that the bishop remove a particular priest from his post, but it didn’t cite any instance where the attorney advised the bishop to report the abusive priest to the civil authorities.

Lawyers who represented victims suing the diocese were surely trying to seek justice for their clients. But many of these cases resulted in some monetary compensation plus a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). One wonders whether the victims might have preferred the opposite—they might have been willing to forego some of the money if the priest’s name and behavior were publicized. The Grand Jury report suggests that, at least for some victims, “justice” meant exposure, ending the secrecy (see p. 4). Being compelled to sign an NDA only perpetuated the secrecy surrounding these crimes.

A lawyer has an ethical obligation to render candid advice to a client, taking into account not only legal but also moral considerations (Model Rules of Professional Conduct 2.1). Were there lawyers who encouraged bishops to honor victims above priests, to remove offending priests immediately and permanently from positions where they had access to children, to establish safeguards and reporting mechanisms to prevent further abuse? The report makes no mention of this. Sometimes lawyers are the heroes who make sure justice triumphs – but not here.


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