Nursing a Grievance

Today’s post brings together two interests of mine: church conflict, and apology — and it involves a church here in Michigan.

A church member had a conflict with church leadership, and the leaders issued her an apology. Sadly, it does not seem to have resolved the conflict and the member says she will no longer attend this particular church. Also, sadly, the conflict made the news.

While most church conflicts center on leadership, worship styles, or finances, the issue here is breastfeeding.

At the Naz Church in Brighton this past Father’s Day, Amy Marchand sat down on a bench in the church hallway and began breastfeeding her 1-year-old while waiting for her 4-year-old twins to finish Sunday school. Marchand does not use a cover when nursing, and church members reported that both breasts were exposed. That evening, a female church leader posted a private message to Marchand on FaceBook, advising her to use designated nursing areas from now on. Marchand said she felt shamed.

In keeping with biblical principles (Matthew 18:15), Marchand met with the senior pastor, Ben Walls, to discuss the issue, but it was not resolved, so Marchand brought her attorney to the second meeting. What Marchand heard the pastor say, according to the Detroit Free Press, is that her behavior was “immodest,” and could cause men to lust and stumble. She said what she wanted was a public apology, and a change to church policies on how to handle nursing mothers.

The pastor said that, in 30 years of ministry, many women have nursed their babies at church and this has never been a problem until now. The church has designated three different spaces for nursing mothers, but Marchand said none of them were convenient because she wanted to meet her twins when they left their class, but her baby was hungry.

The most telling sentence in the article is that Marchand felt that church staff were more focused on her “immodesty” and whether she might sue, than on her real issue. It sounds like the parties were talking past one another. Philippians 2:3-4 advises, “Look not only to your own interests, but also those of others.” Did church staff seek to understand how Marchand viewed her behavior? Did Marchand try to understand the church’s perspective? Nursing mothers want to feed their babies as necessary, without regard to appearances. Churches want to protect attenders from viewing others who are partially-clothed. Once the parties’ interests are identified, it becomes apparent why the Michigan Breastfeeding Anti-discrimination Act, which Marchand argued to the church, was irrelevant. The church’s objection was not to breastfeeding, but to exposure – the lack of bodily cover – , which the statute does not address. It also becomes clear why the church’s argument about protecting men and boys from lustful thoughts was not persuasive—that’s on men and boys, not on nursing moms.

This is a delicate issue, and  no doubt all parties sincerely tried to find a peaceful resolution. Unfortunately, they missed it.



An Amazing Use of Mediation

The “mediation” between Michigan State University and victims of sports doctor Larry Nassar keeps unfolding in ways atypical of mediations. The latest irregularities were revealed last week: not only was the mediated agreement made public (rare, even in cases involving public entities) but it included provisions involving the Michigan legislature (possibly unique).

The settlement, reached in May and approved by the MSU Trustee Board in June, was made public when it was filed in US District Court in Grand Rapids on July 13, and is expected to be approved by Judge Gordon Quist this week.

According to mlive, it included this under a list of “conditions precedent”:

“Michigan Legislation.

(1) Michigan Senate Bill 872 (2018) either shall

(A) fail to be enacted into law because it is withdrawn, defeated by vote, or otherwise fails to pass, or

(B) be amended to reduce the timeframe to bring otherwise time-barred Nassar-related claims to 90 days following enactment of Senate Bill 872 (2018); and

(2) Michigan Senate Bills 875 (2018) and 877 (2018) shall fail to be enacted into law because they are withdrawn, defeated by vote, or otherwise fail to pass.

The parties agree that this condition has been satisfied.”

The agreement was thus tied to the actions of a third-party, which seems risky for an agreement of this magnitude. Because it was labeled a “condition precedent” in the agreement, I don’t think it was an attempt to “bind” a third-party to the mediated agreement, as some have argued. But, even though the agreement purported to have some level of confidentiality, if this condition were leaked to the Legislature, it may have felt pressured to act on pending legislation. Whether or not the Michigan Legislature knew about this provision, it cooperated with it – Senate Bill 872 was adopted after being amended as specified, and Senate Bills 875 and 877 have languished in committee.

Without getting into the politics, it’s a fascinating use of mediation.


A Look at the Elon Musk Apology

Elon Musk apologized yesterday for accusing a British cave diver of being a pedophile. The diver, Vern Unsworth, is one of the heroes who assisted the Thai boys trapped in a cave the last couple weeks. Musk had offered to bring his mini-submarine to the cave site, confident it would assist in rescuing the trapped boys; Unsworth apparently didn’t think it would be helpful, and the two exchanged mean tweets. Musk tweeted last Saturday that Unsworth was likely a pedophile, and he decided yesterday to apologize for that:

“His actions against me do not justify my actions against him, and for that I apologize to Mr. Unsworth and to the companies I represent as leader. The fault is mine and mine alone.”

The good parts of this apology:

  • Mr. Musk is taking responsibility here, especially with the line about it being solely his fault.
  • He’s addressing not just his immediate “victim” but the secondary ring of people who were offended, namely, his companies’ employees and investors. (USA Today reported that Tesla shares fell after Musk’s attack on Unsworth.)


The not-so-good parts:

  • It isn’t exactly clear what he is apologizing for. He says simply, “my actions.” Accusing someone publicly of being a pedophile is defamatory — serious stuff. A vague phrase like “my actions” leaves listeners wondering whether he really knows what he did that was so offensive.
  • He just couldn’t resist the temptation to shoot an(other) arrow at his “victim” in his attempt at an apology. Any aspect of blame-shifting usually undermines the sincerity of an apology. Mr. Unsworth said some nasty things to/about Mr. Musk too, but the initial apology is not the place to point that out. It would’ve been better if Mr. Musk had simply said, “There is no way to justify the terrible thing I said of him.”


Advice on Apologies in Litigated Cases

A Canadian litigator recently offered some advice regarding an apology in litigated cases. Canada has a federal “apology act,” much like many U. S. states, which makes a statement of sympathy or regret inadmissible to prove liability. But the law has limitations, that lawyers are duty-bound to point out to their clients, lest clients think this will get them off the hook. For example, if the offender saves his apology until trial, it is not protected and can be used as evidence of liability.

Michigan’s “apology act” is limited to medical malpractice actions. It doesn’t have the specific exception about trial and deposition testimony that Canada’s act has, but it is limited to protecting statements made to the victim and the victim’s family, so a statement of sympathy made in court might not be protected under the statute.

Nevertheless, a sincere expression of regret can go a long ways towards preventing a lawsuit in the first place.


Roseanne Barr Acknowledges God in Apology

A month ago, Roseanne Barr tweeted a very derisive comment about former President Obama’s close advisor Valerie Jarrett. When Ms. Barr was criticized for her tweet, she blamed it on the fact that she had taken the sleep-inducing drug Ambien. One consequence of her tweets is that ABC removed her from the new hit show that bore her name.

Ms. Barr quickly issued a brief apology: “I apologize to Valerie Jarrett and to all Americans. I am truly sorry for making a bad joke about her politics and her looks. I should have known better. Forgive me-my joke was in bad taste.” Yesterday her friend Rabbi Schmuley Boteach posted an apology he recorded in a recent interview with Ms. Barr. It included these comments:

“I said to God, ‘I am willing to accept whatever consequences this brings because I know I’ve done wrong. I’m going to accept what the consequences are,’ and I do, and I have. But they don’t ever stop. They don’t accept my apology, or explanation. And I’ve made myself a hate magnet. And as a Jew, it’s just horrible. It’s horrible.”

Barr said of her tweet that she “didn’t mean what they think I meant.” She noted that she has black children in her family. “I never would wittingly say that a black person is a monkey. I just wouldn’t do that.” She is presumably trying to refute the assumption that her comment was racist, which she insists she is not.

“But I have to face that it hurt people. When you hurt people even unwillingly there’s no excuse. I don’t want to run off and blather on with excuses. But I apologize to anyone who thought, or felt offended and who thought that I meant something that I, in fact, did not mean. It was my own ignorance, and there’s no excuse for that ignorance.”

She also addressed the Ambien tweet: “That’s no excuse, but that’s what was real.”

“I’ve lost everything. And I regretted it before I lost everything.” She said this presumably to curb the suspicion that she was apologizing only because she’d lost her TV show.

Ms. Barr was weeping through much of the interview. From the perspective of analyzing an apology, “tears” are an interesting factor. If the words and tone are right, tears can amp up the “sincerity” quotient. But many listeners – especially, in my humble experience, men – tend to deem a tearful apology less credible than a non-tearful one.

Roseanne Barr’s apology is pretty good, for a public apology. She specifically addresses the offense, takes full responsibility for it, and acknowledges the consequences–sort of. If her comment about God truly is a prayer for help to accept the consequences, she’s on the right track. Many of her words sound like an explanation, which isn’t always helpful in an apology. She does not offer what she’s going to do to prevent such offenses in the future — for example, forswear Twitter. And one wonders if she apologized privately to Ms. Jarrett.


Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: