Without quoting her source, Paula Deen drew on the New Testament in responding to critics disturbed by her use of racial slurs and ethnic jokes. Given that the Today Show couch is certainly one of America’s most popular confessionals – a place where people go to be heard, seek understanding and find forgiveness – it’s not at all surprising that she did so.
After insisting that she doesn’t harbor any racist thoughts, and that the whole controversy now swirling around her is the work of people telling “very, very hurtful lies”, she paraphrased John 8:7, telling Matt Lauer and the viewing audience:
“If there’s anyone out there that has never said something that they wish they could take back, please pick up that stone and throw it at my head so hard it kills me.”
Whether or not Deen got the quote right – she didn’t—and whether or not she got the sense of the original teaching right, which is also questionable, to say the least, she may be onto something.
Deen admitted that she sinned, and then, with her mangled use of John 8:7, reminded us of a number of important truths. For the record, I am no big fan of Paula Deen, nor am I looking to excuse what she did or said. I simply think that there is much wisdom to be found in remembering that we have all said and done things which we regret, that nobody should ever be defined entirely by a single word or deed – especially not their worst one — and that it’s always wise to add a measure of empathy to our demand for justice.
The choice here should not lie between giving Paula Deen a pass and seeking her all out professional destruction. A healthy public culture should be defined by the presence of both justice and mercy – accountability and rehabilitation.
What might it look like for Paula Deen to really come clean about what she did and said, while knowing that the public was as ready to offer a true penitent a true second chance, as they are eager to be titillated by watching yet another media personality melt down? It’s such a radical notion that I am really not sure. But I know this, it would look a great deal different than the current reality in which tearful excuse-making competes for headlines with sanctimonious hand-wringing, while we avoid honest confrontation with the little bit of Paula Deen in pretty much all of us.