This evening, I read an essay in Friends Journal entitled, “I Beg Your Forgiveness,” by Eden Grace, a seasoned Quaker missionary in East Africa. Eden explained that she felt prompted to ask forgiveness on behalf of her people – Christians – for the ways in which we have not lived up to the faith that we profess. She faulted the Church for our judgmental attitudes, spiritual pride and failure to act for justice. She concludes her essay with these words: “On behalf of myself and my people, I beg your forgiveness.”
A short time later, I came across a video of Chris Tse – a spoken-word artist from Canada – reciting a piece which begins and concludes with the words, “I’m a Christian. I’m sorry.” In his spoken word poem, Tse goes even further back than Eden Grace, alluding to the Crusades and New World genocides carried out by men who professed Christian faith.
The video by Chris Tse was posted by a friend of mine on Facebook, and by the time I saw it there had been one comment. The commenter suggested that Tse, if he was truly sorry for the things done in the name of Jesus, should stop being a Christian.
This is what I was afraid of.
While I can resonate with many things that both Eden and Chris expressed in their own unique ways, it makes me nervous when Christians start making apologies to the non-Christian world for the historical and present-day sins that are committed in the name of Jesus. While no one can deny that horrible things have been done in the name of Christianity, I wonder whether it is a good idea to accept all of the blasphemies of Western Christendom as being legitimate expressions of the Church that we are now responsible for as Christians.
This is a tough question, I know. The truth is, whether or not Pope Urban II or Christopher Columbus were really disciples of Jesus Christ, they propagated death and misery under the banner of Christianity. Just as atheists must grapple with the historical fact of Stalin, Mao and other secularist dictators, we as Christians must take seriously our responsibility to clarify – and demonstrate – the true nature of the Christian faith. We must renounce evil, not only as we see it in historical figures, but also in all the ways it is manifested today in the Christian community. We must turn away from greed, hypocrisy, racism and homophobia.
But does that mean taking responsibility for every criminal empire that has justified itself through a twisted interpretation of the Christian tradition? How about the many today who justify war, systemic injustice and oppression with the name of Jesus on their lips? Whose conduct am I responsible to apologize for? At what point do we say; “No. I am not with them; never have been.”
This is a very personal question, but also one that we might consider wrestling with together as Christian communities. What response can you give? How might your church respond? What do we have to apologize for?