The Best and Worst Public Apologies of 2009

By Guest Blogger: Dr Jennifer Thomas Expert in Relationships

The Best: This year’s winner with 5 stars: Pastor Robin Phillips

Phillips is a former pastor who returned to give a 15-minute apology to his congregation 10 years after his dismissal for having had an affair with a church member. In his unprecedented public apology, Phillips used all five of our languages of apology.

Here is a quote from his apology:

“What I am here to do today is pretty simple. I am here to say I am sorry. I recognize the immeasurable pain, hurt and confusion I brought into this room- into your lives- into your families- into your hearts- and into the hearts of people that you love. My sin didn’t just cause a car wreck. It wasn’t a mere multi-car pile up. It was a train wreck and there were a couple of thousand passengers in those cars. A part of what made it so hard was that in that train wreck it wasn’t just you that got hurt. It was you and your spouse, it was you and your kids, it was you and your friends, it was you and your church. By having an affair, I betrayed you in the worst kind of way.”

The full text of Phillips’ apology can be found on my blog under An Unprecedented Public Apology

The Worst: This year’s loser with 0 stars: representative Virgina Foxx

In May 2009, a North Carolina newspaper reported that U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx wrote a letter of apology to the mother of Matthew Shepard, a gay young man whose name is on a bill adding sexual orientation to federal hate-crimes legislation.

Foxx was interviewed by WXII, a local television station, after withdrawing the word “hoax”, which she had used in describing Matthew Shepard’s 1998 murder. Foxx added that she sent a handwritten note to Jane Shepard, his mother, saying:

“If I said anything that offended her, I certainly apologize for it and know that she’s hurting, and I would never do anything to add to that.”

My analysis: The word “If” invalidates this apology. If I were to have given her apology even a single star, it would have been revoked with no”ifs, ands, or buts” due to the failure of Rep. Foxx to convey sincerity in her pitiful apology.


Dr. Jennifer M. Thomas is a motivational speaker and psychologist in private practice in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Jennifer is the co-author, along with Dr. Gary Chapman of The Five Languages of Apology. She consults with companies on leadership and relationship issues. Visit her website:

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