Refreshing Repentance

A value many Christians (and by extension, their churches) hold dear is “reputation.” It’s easy to see why this is NOT a particularly godly value. Is anyone perfect? Is any church? Of course not – so constant work at maintaining a clean reputation is always deceptive, always a lie, always corrupt. God values authenticity instead – repenting when wrong, and allowing right to speak for itself instead of boasting. It’s always disappointing for me to see how much spin, advertising and numbers-boasting happens in churches paired with the inevitable cover-ups, gag orders and such that help keep dirt under the carpet and out of the public view.

What happens when a church decides to pursue authenticity instead? I can only speak for myself here, but I find it is refreshing. I find it inspiring. I find myself wanting to be more a part of that church, since my church is not a place this happens much. To see a church confess to wrong and apologize encourages me:

  • Authenticity is possible in church businesses
  • Being real isn’t a “turn off” to people of faith – instead, it attracts people
  • Obvious coverups and looking the other way still offends people, even people of faith
  • Individuals can value authenticity, advocate for it and praise those who pursue it even if their local church congregation doesn’t
  • Church and corporate confession can help heal divides, maintain humility – the frank admission to the world that our practice doesn’t always represent God well is a powerful antidote to the “self-righteous” attitude outsiders often see in churches

This recently happened on a global scale – and while we don’t know what fruit it will bear, the seed has been planted. Hopefully more church leaders will be bold enough to consider wrongs their own churches might need to repent for, in a bid to increase transparency and value the authenticity God values instead of always padding their reputations in fear and lack of faith.

On March 20th, a Reuters article detailed the Pope’s request for forgiveness for the role the Catholic Church played in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

Read that again.

We Rogue Millennials are always eager to talk about church abuses, corrupt church leaders, the atmospheres of guilt and shame they tend to cultivate, the attitudes of complacency and dependency they develop in their attenders, and all other sorts of offenses “organized religion” and institutionalization tend to arrive at. Yet these may be small potatoes compared to some of Christianity’s greatest abuses through history. From the Holocaust to the Inquisition to countless genocides, Christians have often been caught with their hands covered in blood.

It reminds me of a poignant passage from C.S. Lewis’ “Four Loves” –

“Patriotism towards the [church] can very easily borrow the transcendent claims of [heaven] and use them to justify the most abominable actions. If ever the book which I am not going to write is written it must be the full confession by Christendom of Christendom’s specific contribution to the sum of human cruelty and treachery. Large areas of ‘the World’ will not hear us till we have publicly disowned much of our past. Why should they? We have shouted the name of Christ and enacted the service of Moloch.”

It is extremely rare to see a church pastor take the stage to apologize for corporate abuses against outsiders and insiders alike – and it is remarkably refreshing when it happens. Yet, we know it is not easy – who wants to own the darkest parts of their past? Who wants to take responsibility for what others did in your faith’s name? It’s easier to wash our hands of the past and pretend like we’re better somehow. “Yeah, I know the Inquisition happened – but I wasn’t a part of it, and it’s not like we would do anything like that today.” Except that we do things like this every day in our churches, leveraging shame and guilt and name-calling instead of the love and grace we were commanded.

Rogue Mills applaud the Pope for taking a monumental step: in being willing to own part of our tragic history, in being willing to apologize for failures and abuses, and in being willing to take a humble and honest part in discussions of what has gone wrong and how we can move forward. Admitting wrong and apologizing doesn’t magically fix everything – but it’s a first and essential step in seeking forgiveness and reform. And it is an essential step in winning the support of millions of Millennials, part of what Lewis called “large areas of ‘the World’ [that] will not hear us till we have publicly disowned much of our past.”

Any generation that desires transparency, honesty, authenticity and humility in churches is a generation close to Christ’s heart – he advocated for these same things against priests who had led Temple worship astray. We pray to see more of these sorts of statements in the future, particularly in our own churches – and if we never do, may we take this as a cautionary tale to lead the way: to always act with humility and integrity among those God has asked us to lead, those given us as flocks to care for, the “churches” each of us are responsible for, whether that is friends or family or strangers.

You can read Reuters article Here.

Pope Francis poses with Rwanda's President Paul Kagame and his wife Jeannette during a private meeting at the Vatican
Pope Francis poses with Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame and his wife Jeannette during a private meeting at the Vatican March 20, 2017. REUTERS/Tony Gentile

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