Saturday, October 11, 2008

Apology Part Two

I started to reply in the comment section to JR's comment to the "Apology" post below...It became so long that I decided to just post it here. Here are his questions with my response:

So given these historical realities, I have two questions.

First, why do you apologize for "the church" as a whole without recognizing those who sacrificed so much? You make the absolute blanket statement that "the church was silent", so do you think those who stood up against these horrible things do not count as "the church"? Why or why not?

Second, since you have taken on yourself to apologize on behalf of those who were sinful in their silence, or active participation, do you also accept the thanks on behalf of those who were obedient and worked against these evils? Why or why not?


Thanks for the response. I almost wrote something about this before I posted it. To be brief and honest, I wrote this when I was 25 years old and looking back I am struck by how little I knew back then. I was transforming from a middle American xerox'ed version of an evangelical kid to a Jesus follower searching for my own voice as a church planter in Las Vegas. The apology was very much a response to people in Las Vegas who were constantly telling me their frustrations with the church which ranged from historical perceptions/realities to personal pain and dysfunctions. Before the day I wrote this, my tactic was always to separate myself and my church from their issues with the church. i.e. if they were abused by a priest, then I would say "I'm sorry that happened to you, but we aren't Catholic, etc." or I'd put the blame on the individual priest and talk about how our church is structured to best prevent things like that from happening. If they brought up The Crusades, I'd rant with them about the corruption of the church "back then." The problem was that I was separating myself from my story in doing this. I'd quickly claim St. Francis or Mother Theresa, but I would deny notorious Christians and Christian movements throughout history.

(At this time in my life I was a young church planter with a church full of recent converts and seekers in their early twenties.)

I found it much more true (effective?) to apologize to those considering Christ for the sins of "my people" toward them. Most people in my church were ready to accept Jesus but not ready to be absorbed into the Christian story. That concerned me. I also learned to teach them to take ownership of the sins of our past even before they converted. At the very least, this set a specific tone in our young church.

The comment about the Holocaust and slavery were rooted in two real conversations that I had that year with an African American and a Jewish American. I knew even then of the stories of devout Christians in Hitler's Germany, including Eberhard Arnold and Karol Wojtyla who were heroes of mine...I also knew a little about the underground railroad in the years of American slavery. I know more about these things now, but I think my reaction would still be the same today. Some Christians did stand sheepishly by while people died. Many did not - many were martyred, but some took the easy way out. Some Christians were convinced slavery was evil, but elected to take no action because it would cost them politically or economically. Those sins should be repented of in our generation because of the wounds still festering in our nation.

So, your first question is spot on. If I were to write an apology today it would have come out differently. I was torn between editing/updating this one to match who I am and where the culture seems to be ten years later, but I decided to simply fix a few grammatical errors and let it stand as I frantically scribbled it in my prayer journal that morning a decade ago. The section you hi-lighted is one that I would edit, but not omit if I undertook the task.

If I were to rewrite it today, I would certainly also address issues of homophobia and islamophobia which have become more pronounced in the church since I wrote this. This particular year I'd probably apologize for those who have entwined the story of Jesus so tightly with their own political party that they have damaged the reputation the gospel. I might apologize for other things if I started scribbling again...maybe I should do that, but this is more of a statement of what I was truly sorry for ten years ago. Most of it holds up.

Your second question is one I have never been asked. It's interesting only to say that I've never found someone looking to be thankful to the "church" at large. I'm certainly more uncomfortable receiving thanks than I am offering an apology. At the risk of sounding trite, I suppose any thanksgiving should be somehow directed to God and not toward me or any other follower. Jesus constantly teaches us to repent and confess, but doesn't spend as much time teaching us how to receive praise...I would assume because that is reserved for God alone.

If the question is rooted more in how I view myself, then I'd want to clearly state that I didn't offer the apology as a "leader" of the church, but as a member. I feel like all of us can, and probably should, apologize to the world for the times we have failed the world. So, if I receive thanks for those heroic followers, I suppose I would do that also as a member, not a leader or self-appointed representative. If someone walked up to me and said, "You are a Christian and Mother Theresa's story changed my life. I just want to thank your people for what they have done for me." I suppose I would say, "You're welcome. But Mother Theresa herself would want you to know that it wasn't her story, but Jesus' story that changed your life." I guess that's how I'd deal with it.

Good questions...I'm going to watch football now!


Micah said...

Very nice, Joe. I was inspired by the original confession but had the same difficulties JR had.

This is a VERY good follow-on.

J. R. Miller said...

Thanks for your response Joe and I appreciate the thoughtful approach.

We may still have a different take on offering apologies, but overall I am thankful for your heart for the Gospel brother.

Jakob said...

I've been reading through your old posts and just finished this one. I'm a gay man, I'm not a Christian, but have been going to the Vineyard for years. That you mention addressing homophobia in an apology is important. It brings tears to my eyes, actually. I've had absolutely vile stuff said to me by Christians, stuff that I know would never come from Jesus' mouth. I've never heard an apology from a Christian, let alone a pastor, I never heard an apology for propagating hate or for being quiet and passive while hate spreads and leaves its mark. I don't know what your apology would look like, but simply wanting to address it in what you'd add is not only powerful but healing.