The Union Recorder

July 3, 2013

COLUMN: An apology too late

Dr. Jay Hodges
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE — Nobody likes food with lots of butter in it more than I do. I love southern cooking with all the good stuff in it that is so unhealthy. So when I first tuned in to hear Paula Deen talk about how to cook southern style, I thought I would really like her show. Unfortunately, I couldn’t put up with the accent (just a little too southern) and I was not all that fond of what it was she was fixing, though I’m sure it was good.

I did a little research on Paula Deen and found out she was born in Albany, Ga., and went to high school there. Her parents died when she was fairly young, she was in a marriage that did not last long, and married again afterward. She finally moved to Savannah with her boys and raised them there on a shoestring budget. She suffered from fear of crowds, so to overcome it she began a catering business which developed into a restaurant from which she became famous.

We all admired Paula Deen until recently when an employee for whatever reason accused her of racism, saying that she used racial slurs and said bad things about women. While she denied that she had done these things recently, she confessed that in her past — some have said she said it was 30 years ago - she was guilty of using language that would be offensive today. She went on to say that she is not racist, that she has been much more sensitive in what she has had to say.

You know the rest of the story. Walmart is pulling her products off their shelves, and other sponsors are backing away. Food Network is cancelling her show. It seems Paula Deen is about to disappear into the shadows in shame. I for one am sorry about that.

I don’t know about you, but if someone wanted to make a case out of things I said 30 years ago, they could have a strong case, to be sure. Listen, I have gone back to read sermons I preached when I was in my 30s, and some of them are just embarrassing. I said some things that, if they were not untrue, they were misleading. I feel like I ought to go back and apologize to those folks.

But the truth is, at that time, that was the only way I knew to think. It wasn’t that I was being malicious, I was just stupid. I’m appalled at some of the attitudes I held back then, and I am embarrassed at things I said in public.

I began my ministry in Statesboro, Ga., and in the first couple of weeks I was the pastor of a small cluster of churches, they wanted me to leave. I had taken what was the “right” stand on a sensitive racial issue but I did it in the wrong way. I alienated those good people for a while until I could get things back on track. I would make other mistakes going along as well.

Paula Deen grew up in an environment at a time when racial slurs were all too common. We know today that such language was hurtful. It was just the way things were then. This is not to excuse her, but it is to say that we need to have a little more grace and understanding before we get too self-righteous. Who among us has not been insensitive in our language before we knew better? I suspect we are all guilty on all sides of the issue.

Oh, I think the Bible says that the standard by which we judge others will be the standard by which we are judged. I have an idea some folk have pushed the bar way higher than they think!

Dr. Jay Hodges can be reached at .