Lance Armstrong in Oprah’s confessional

We Lutherans believe in confession and absolution.  That happens in every Divine Service, and, when someone is particularly troubled with a sin, the individual confesses to a pastor, who brings Christ’s forgiveness.  This is an evangelical version of what Roman Catholics do (instead of requiring acts of penance, our pastors forgive sins in terms of the Gospel).  (See John 20:21-23.)  Anglicans and Orthodox also have something similar.

In our culture, though, Oprah Winfrey is our priest, or rather priestess.  She is the one who took charge of all of our religions to organize our national worship service in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. She has her index of books that we are to read. She teaches us our morality. And now she serves as confessor for one of our heroes who has fallen from grace, with champion cyclist Lance Armstrong confessing his sin of doping on her show.

Of course, there are differences between Oprah’s ritual and Christian confession. The latter is intensely private. All Christian confessors, including ministers who do not employ a formal rite but simply do informal spiritual counseling, are committed to the highest standards of confidentiality, observing the “seal of the confessional.” Oprah, though, broadcasts Lance Armstrong’s confession–and those of other celebrities she interviews–to millions of viewers who witness and scrutinize and voyeuristically enjoy the sinner’s humiliation.

Another difference is that the sinner confessing transgressions in a Christian context wants God’s forgiveness. Oprah’s penitent wants the public to forgive him. Or his sponsors to forgive him.

And what Oprah does not do and does not even try to do is give absolution, to pronounce God’s Word and Christ’s promises so that the sinner knows for certain that his sins have been forgiven. That you can’t get from Oprah.

For an account of what Armstrong said to Oprah–he didn’t seem to exhibit much remorse–see this.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Pete

    Lance, schmance.

  • Booklover

    Oprah also pays her guests large sums of money to appear on her show. Bleh.

  • kempin04

    “We Lutherans believe in confession and absolution. That happens in every Divine Service . . . ”

    If anyone wants to springboard to a tangential topic, we could always discuss whether confession and absolution really belongs in the worship liturgy. Is that a reflection of lutheran theology, or is it a practice that got picked up along the way? (It’s SORT of related, since you are talking about confession and absolution. I’m not sure if I could work Oprah into it, though . . .)

  • http://www.cyberbrethren.com Rev. Paul T. McCain

    I turned it off after ten minutes. What an arrogant pathetic individual. The whole thing was and is disgusting.

  • TE Schroeder

    I didn’t watch it. Mostly because I was not interested. Partly because I did not need to run headlong into feeling smug and superior to Mr. Armstrong. (Ha, ha! I didn’t do that. I’m better than him!)

    Oprah’s interview and Armstrong’s confession were nothing but entertainment. Why else would it have been broadcast — for two nights, no less?

  • shell

    kempin04@8:21,
    Confession and Absolution in the Divine Service certainly “got picked up along the way,” but is there a reason why it would not be a “reflection of Lutheran theology”?

  • Joe

    I didn’t watch because I have never cared two figs about him. The only reaction I have ever had is anger at the fact that the US Postal Service was wasting money sponsoring an athlete. News flash, the post office is not getting it but handed to it by FedEx and UPS because of a lack of name id.

  • elizabeth

    I didn’t watch, but I wondered if anyone has asked, or looked into how this might have affected his cancer. Either for better or worse.

  • Kempin04

    shell, 10:25,

    I’m not saying that the practice is at odds with lutheranism. (I have a higher opinion of previous generations of lutherans than that.) I don’t even have a formed opinion on the matter. I was just hoping to have a general dialogue. Lutheran theology of worship is intentional. WHY was confession added to the worship service, and are those reasons still compelling? Do the circumstances that brought it about still stand? Is this the best liturgical approach to address the issues we currently face? These questions have been rolling around in my head, and haven’t heard anyone address them yet. I have some of my best theological conversations here, so I though I would throw it out there for discussion.

    Or not. This is the Oprah/Armstrong thread after all.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    I didn’t watch it either. But that’s because it was the Oprah show.

  • mikeb

    RE: kempin’s discussion of confession and absolution in the Divine Service

    A question for you learned Lutherans and especially the pastors among us:

    I’ve heard stories from the old timers about reporting for communion on Saturday night at the parsonage, confessing and receiving absolution and the privilege of communing the next morning. Anyone who did not report was not communed. Entire families would go confess though I don’t know if it was private or corporate. Any idea if this was a widespread practice? Seems to me this is creating a law, a duty to go to confession and I’m not sure about the theology of it.

    And while we’re on the subject of C/A. Our church regularly uses the service prepared by Martin Chemnitz–it’s not in the hymnal–which places confession as a part of the Service of the Sacrament portion of the liturgy. I particularly appreciate the exhortation that if one is not truly repentant that the pastor, in the stead and by the command of Christ, withholds forgiveness. Pretty powerful language and I’m glad its there as a reminder of the serious nature of what’s going on. Does anyone else use this order of service?

  • Mary

    Check out the book published by CPH, “The Blessings of Weekly Communion” by Kenneth W Wieting. I can’t remember if it touches on confession and absolution apart from the discussion of communion, but it’s a great read!

  • JonSLC

    Re: kempin and mikeb on confession
    First, to mikeb’s point: Announcing prior to receiving Communion was a common practice, and certainly had much to commend it. It could, however, be seen as a law and prevent repentant believers from communing at times. That said, it’s wise for us to constantly evaluate parish practice and see how we can better encourage confession and absolution, both for its own benefits and also as a preparation for receiving the Sacrament.
    Also to mikeb: Do you know where I could obtain a copy of the Chemnitz liturgy you mentioned?
    To kempin: One benefit I see in including confession and absolution in the public service is maybe tangential: it serves as a clear summary of the law and the gospel. This summary serves both the Christians who are present and also guests who are investigating Christianity. “I have sinned; Christ forgives.”

  • passing throgh

    Gee, I wonder if all the snarky sniping here would be transformed if Bill O’Reilly or Shawn Hannity were doing the interviewing, not the liberal Oprah?

    Ya think? Methinks it’s a no brainer.

  • SKPeterson

    passing through @ 1:33. The sniping would probably be almost exactly the same. Then again only about one-third of the posts on this thread even mention Oprah, and then several only in passing. O’Reilly and Hannity are about as popular as Oprah in these here parts. Infotainers at best. Unusually uninformed infotainers at that. (Was that good enough sniping? I try.) I doubt Hannity or O’Reilly could even articulate or differentiate a confessional approach at odds with the one employed by Oprah, unless they decided to just attack Armstrong in some sort of contest as to who could be the biggest jackass. Mostly, though, they’d probably just prefer to pontificate.

  • sg

    Is there some kind of cultural pressure to confess? Does it have its roots in the Christian influence on culture?

  • David Rosenkoetter

    It’s a shame that much of pop culture has given so much ear to Lance ARmstrong’s plight. Maybe, his steroids helped his cancer. Maybe, not. There are substances legal for medical treatment but are banned in athletic competition because their potential for a disadvantage the user’s performance. With that said, it’s Lance’s reaction and denials that matter because they are common to all people since we are born in original sin. He was not confessing, as it were, in a penitent sense as we Christians see it. Whether private (before the pastor only) or public (in the Divine Service), confession is not something improperly drawn from us by public scrutiny. Rather, we, confess our sins, trusting that God will forgive us. He’s grounded us, through Baptism, into His death and resurrection. The improper motivation to confess is based from Law. The second is grounded in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

  • Kempin04

    Jonslc, 1:11,

    “One benefit I see in including confession and absolution in the public service is maybe tangential: it serves as a clear summary of the law and the gospel. ”

    The question I would ask is not whether it adds to the service–which clearly it does–but whether it detracts from something else. If, for instance, you were to wonder whatever happened to private confession, could the answer perhaps be: “It’s in the service now?” What does this do, in the long term, to help define the role of the pastor. Our confessions say that everyone should be “examined” before communing, for instance. I would like to hear more conversation about that. It seems as though we are ignoring a rather sizeable chunk of our theology on the pastoral ministry and the Lord’s supper–at least in practice.

  • Hanni

    That;s a great idea, Elizabeth. Deception is responsible for many things, stress, depression, extreme anxiety, etc., so sayeth a shrink I talked at one time. Lying is really bad.

  • helen

    sg January 18, 2013 at 2:14 pm
    Is there some kind of cultural pressure to confess? Does it have its roots in the Christian influence on culture?
    Didn’t watch. Why should I help improve Oprah’s ratings? Ratings/money for her and money for him are at the root of this publicity stunt. Calling it “confession” may bring in a larger audience, but it’s hardly that.
    Oprah’s “absolution” counts for nothing.
    And what’s the “confession”? According to NPR (it goes on when the “alarm” goes off) “everybody else was doing it”. I have read elsewhere that they couldn’t give his titles to second place “winners” because they were also up on or convicted of drug charges already. Time to ignore “cycling” as a sport, if you haven’t already done so. :(

  • helen

    kempin04
    You have a worthwhile topic but tangential here. Perhaps Dr. Veith will feature it and we can discuss it without the featherbrained distraction of Oprah!

  • oldcodger

    Here’s a link to a previous Cranach posting about Lance Armstrong.
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/geneveith/2012/08/lance-armstrong-and-two-kinds-of-evidence/

  • elizabeth

    That could be. I was actually thinking about the blood doping, or whatever else he did to enhance his athletic ability.

  • elizabeth

    Thanks oldcodger, that was interesting reading the comments. In one of those comments Jon did “wonder if there could be a connection between his type of cancer and use of anabolic steroids.” I though am more interested in if something he did helped his cancer. I saw an interesting program once that said there was a strong connection between cancer metastasizing and blood.

  • mikeb

    JohnSLC

    I can get an electronic copy just need to figure out how to send

  • JonSLC

    mikeb, thanks!
    Hmm, I’m not sure how to do that without broadcasting my address. Can anyone help us out?

  • Al Bergstrazer

    As CFW pointed out long ago, there’s Godly sorrow and worldly sorrow. Most of Armsrong’s parade of mea culpa’s are worldly sorrow, i.e.; ‘it stinks to get caught but what a relief its all over.’ But even in his public confession he is attempting to control the narrative and in so doing re habilitate his image and if possible resurrect his brand. His motives for the public airing of his dirty laundry become clear; he wants his lifetime ban from the sport reduced, citing that his contemporaries only recieved 6 month bans for giving their testimony. Of course Winfrey has not and will not absolve Armstrong of his sins, that’s not the point. The point of his whole exercise is for the public, for sponsors and the legislative bodies of the sport he desires to compete in to absolve him. Or if not an absolution then at least relent. It is also rather despicable when one thinks about it that Armstrong is now turning the narrative around, now that his guilt is on the table and not denied this allows him to argue that his accusers were not fair in their punishment of him. Again, this is a textbook case of wordly sorrow over one’s sins, this is secular confession; get it all out in the open, admit your wrongs openly, compare your wrongs to your peers if you must to keep them in perspective and deflect responsibilty, and then move on and pretend they never happened. Make no mistake Lance Armstrong is still well in control of his fate, and is using this appearance for his own purposes, and Oprah Winfrey is well in control of her situation as well because she has boosted her brand yet again with this interview of all interviews.

  • fws

    ok lets discuss it all.

    I believe that the order of general confession was added around the time of pietism. With it there was an additional practice of “announcing ” for communion, which was where parishioners could-should go to the pastor to sign up for communion, and by the way, if they felt sinful, have a conversation about that too. Where I grew up, this was a part of having communion 4 times (!) a year.

    As diretor of evangelism for my little congregation in Los Angeles, I developed a form of private confession and absolution and submitted it to my pastor, and we used it together for my private confession.

    That order of confession, only lightly changed, later was added to the current LCMS Hymnal. We started with the short form example found in the small catechism. THen… we very deliberately added in elements of the general confession. Why? This was to form a familiar bridge from that form of confession, back to the original form of private confession.

    The form was meant to be very short. Why? the focus is to be upon the Absolution offered, not on what it is we do in our enumeration of sins. That is the entire point. Shortness also means it would be easy to memorize. Right in the midst of the chãos of sin is where we most need the structure of a liturgy. So the confession of sin needs to be very very structured.

    I would urge you all to read Luthers Catechism, here. Note that the confession towards God is brief. And it is all inclusive. It is the part we DO NOT know and feel in our hearts but can, alone, know from Gods Word (cf Art I of the formula of concord here!) This is a confession based upon having the veil of moses removed from the Law. Paul calls this the spiritual preaching of the law. This is to confess the Law that we cannot keep , which is about that invisible heart keeping that is true fear love and trust . This heart keeping , we are told in apology art 18, is , alone, what the HS and Christ are necessary for!

    Then… the major part of our confession is about our transgressions, against our neighbor, that is a breaking of the natural law (“natural law”, for lutherans, is that part of the Law that the natural man is capable of doing, as diametrically opposed to the definition of that term according to St Thomas and roman catholic scholastics!). And that , we are told, is the Law transgressions that we can know and feel in our hearts. there is nothing here about sinning against God. It is ALL about our horizontal sins against our neighbor. And read it! just try to find those sins in some sin list in the bible! “I made my mistress(ie: boss) sad by something I said or did….”
    This is all worthy of considerable thought.

    My pastor was on the committee that developed that part of the Hymnal, and so our order for private confession was submitted, and with very few modifications was adopted and placed in the new Hymnal.

    I would vote to keep that general confessional form as a form a practice, and as a natural bridge back to the form of private confession which was and still is the genesis of the general confession.

    There is everything appropriate about leaving the general confession in the holy liturgy. Article II of the Formula of Concord says that we cannot, even in the smallest way, cooerpate with the the HS in our sanctification, but we can and must cooperate in our daily life of repentence. That life of repentence starts with a confession of sins, then clings to the Promise found in the absolution in baptism, the supper, the sermon and private confession… and from there moves to the New Man taking up the Law to live that life of mortification that is the killing of the Old Adam with the Law in the hope of the Promise in Faith, where our Life is.

  • fws

    interesting you would use this from Chemnitz.

    The Holy Supper is the most horrifying Law. “why should we frequently commune? so that we may be horrified at our sin….” (Luther Christian Questions and Answers in preparation for the Holy Supper, small catechism).

    what you get from the Chemnitz order….. do not forget also this: “He, alone, is truly worthy and well prepared [to receive the Blessed Sacrament] , who has Faith in these words, alone! “Given and shed, for YOU, for the forgiveness of sins”.

    It would be sinful, wicked and unLutheran to lake repentence, in the broad meaning of that word , a condition for urging someone to believe that the forgiveness offered in the Supper is somehow dependente upon. That is NOT what father Chemnitz meant at all.

    Proof of that: here PLEASE check out the Formula of Concord here , art V “Law and Gospel”. Chemnitz was its author. One must see the distinction, the important one, between the broad and narrow meaning of that word repentence. Repentence in the narrow sense is , precisely, the one you are using. It is about sorrow for sin, and a turning and fleeing from that sin in th0ught word and deed. Then, in the broad sense of that word repentence, the chief and most important part of repentence is to turn, alone, to Faith, alone, in the Works of Another as the only condition, alone, needed to avoid the wrath of God.

    NONE of us truly repent as we ought. None of us truly even has Faith as we ought. If either Faith or repentence are necessary for salvation , or the necessary preparation for it (as rome claims and lutherans reject), then we are all forever lost!

    “I believe that I cannot believe that Christ is my Lord nor come to him” .
    It is , alone, the planting of Faith in the heart that , alone, requires the HS and Christ.

    No Holy Spirit is necessary for sorrow over sin or for moral reformation or betterment.
    Yet this IS a repentence (repentence in the narrow sense!) that God does indeed demand of ALL men.
    The Natural Law, written in the Reason of ALL men, rom 2:15 is, alone(!), suffient for that task of repentence in the narrow sense! And this repentence, apart from Christ, will Always produce either a pharisee or epicurean despairing judas we are told by our confessions.

    So Chemnitz is aiming at repentence in the broad meaning. And then repentence is all about turning from sin TO Faith , alone, in Christ alone. That is , alone, the kind of repentence , that require the HS and Christ. And there, as with private confession and absolution, the focus needs to be on what God does in the Works of Another. Our enumeration of sins and our repentance is powerless to even be preparation for the gift of Faith. It is alone, the Gospel , that is the Power of God for that.

  • fws

    how is it possible to separate the two?

  • fws

    no Sg. that is from the Divine Law that is written in the Reason of ALL men. This urge to confess sins is fully within the knowing and power of the Natural Man to do. But the natural man, with his natural law, is dead to spiritual things. so natural man thinks he can confess and then make things right by doing… penance! Natural man is veiled by the Veil of Moses , and so is of the opinion that Gods Law can be satisfied by what we do, even if our heart is not in what we do.

    That is why Rome includes pennance as part of the sacrament of confession and Lutherans exclude it. And the spiritual part of all this that is veiled to natural man by the veil of moses. that is where Christ himself comes and unveils the Law preaching the Law in a spiritual way. This spiritual preaching of the Law is precisely telling us that the Law cannot be kept. why not? God demands that we keep the law from the heart. We simply cannot do that! The fact that we need to work at keeping the Law is proof of that! Those things we really want to do… fun, diversion, sex. we dont have to work at wanting to do those things do we?

    Sin is a heart problem. that is what is veiled to natural man by the veil of moses. And that veil is an act of mercy! That veil must NOT be removed until God sends a preacher. For then that preacher will unveil the Law ONLY when he also preaches those two words “given and shed FOR YOU!”

    If the Law were unveiled without and apart from Christ in those two words, the only kinds of sinners that can walk away from that is a despairing Judas. We would all be hanging ourselves in our garages in despair if it were not for the fact that the Law is veiled by the veil of moses and we think we can keep the law by doing it. So the veiling of the Law, until Christ, is Gods way of preserving humanity until he can send us a preacher.

  • fws

    of course we are! and see! God has filled the breach by moving men to reinclude it as corporate and general confession. Confessions: ” It would be wicked to discontinue private confession” . so it would also be wicked not to work to reintroduce it…. pastors can use the general confession towards that end! hint hint….

    wise pastors change things by addition rather than subtraction….. and then teaches their parishioners into the better practice. ex common cup vs indivitual cups…..

  • fws

    cfw is really referring here to the distinction, made in art V of the formula of concord, solid declaration, between repentence in the narrow sense (wordly, ie what the natural man can do without the HS and Christ,) and then repentence in the broad sense, which includes that wordly sense, but , most urgently, also that part that ALONE, the HS and Christ are necessary for. that is to turn , in Faith, to Christ alone, to make right what NO amount of pennance, or reformed life can make right.

  • fws

    Lance Armstrong CAN and should make a real repentence. that would include true moral change and reformation and to realize exactly what he did wrong and why it is wrong and change his ways and try to make amends to those he has hurt.

    it is important to see here, that NO bible, HS or Christ would be necessary for this in not even the slightest way. This kind of repentence, that God does, indeed, demand of ALL men, IS , fully, possible, with , alone the powers of natural man with natural law.

    It is alone, that turning to Christ , in Faith, trusting alone, in Faith, alone in the Works of Another, that Alone, requires the HS and Christ.

    art 18 apology to the Augsburg confession.

  • fjsteve

    Like others here, I didn’t get the impression he was terribly troubled over his sin. Nor did he seem particularly humiliated. He was troubled about being caught, about the idea of losing the Tours, and about the negative publicity. That’s not particular to Lance Armstrong, though. Not by any stretch. But to provide absolution (whether of the Christian or pagan variety) there should be at least a bit of repentance. Shouldn’t there?

    Anyway, his sin is between him, his teammates, those he tried to ruin, the USPS, and God. Oprah is just a side show.


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