The Treacherous Path of Forgiveness

Currently I’m reading Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith (Cannon, Harper, Jackson, Rah, 2014).

Having been raised evangelical, I can say with all honesty that we don’t really like or appreciate laments or confession in our communal worship. Sure we’ll allow for a few minutes of personal silence before communion, but let’s face it: large groups of North Americans dislike silence. So those few moments of silent internal reflection of relational sins barely pick up before the bread is being passed around. Laments are awkward. Confession is a catholic sacrament, and if there’s one thing we’re not it’s catholic! (you can’t see me, but I’m smiling right now)

I was raised in a strict evangelical home, but one that valued the equality of women and taught that social justice was not a doctrine; it was a lifestyle. I think my swing towards fundamentalism began when I left for Bible college. After four years of it, I knew everything of course. And I proceeded to live in such a way I thought pleasing to God, but in many ways flung mud at Her other precious creations. God needed to remove some hefty scales from my eyes. I thought I already saw things clearly. I thought I knew truth in its entirety. Many excellent qualities were born in me during my college years, but I must confess that a Pharisaical self-righteousness was also nurtured.

As I began to see things differently, I had to return to many people, confess, and ask for forgiveness. I belittled, thinking I was loving people; I judged, thinking I was imparting truth; I preached when I needed to have listened; and I certainly looked down on people who didn’t know the Bible like I did or have the same unflagging zeal. I won’t pretend like it was an easy journey; nor will I crow that every single person forgave me or wants to be friends with me again. That’s certainly not true.

Choosing to ask forgiveness is a difficult and humbling thing, but accepting someone’s response is like discovering a 60′ cliff to climb after hauling yourself up a mountain of switchbacks.

One of those cliff climbs has been engaging in the reconciliation process with First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples in Canada, and with Native Americans to the south. Realizing that modern evangelicals have just as much blood on our hands as any other Christian group, I struggled in paralysis: what could I do? What could anyone do? Sure I could ask for personal forgiveness, but how does that end years of racism, inter-generational trauma, or my continued profession of a Christian faith when it was Christians who committed genocide, ran the residential schools, and forced Jesus on a people who never really asked for him?

Suddenly the trek of forgiveness is more treacherous even yet.

“…the Puritans’ desire for land and wealth was a key catalyst of the Pequot War [the Puritans slaughtered the Pequot Tribe to near extinction]. With the great influx of settlers in the years that followed and the need for more land and wealth, the Prayer Town strategy was devised to remove indigenous people from their land. Thus the idol of wealth, which Jesus identified as a false God that sets itself up in competition with the priorities of God in Matthew 6:24 and Luke 16:13, is a driver behind the Puritans’ impetus to kill people who were made in the image of God and to steal their land” (Cannon, Harper, Jackson, Rah, 2014, p.76).

While there are individual, congregational and denominational exceptions, evangelicalism by and large has refused to see the need to lament our hands in creating the systemic injustices we see in our world today. In fact, I recall one Bible study leader in college declaring that the trauma First Nations peoples were experiencing was at the hands of “the Catholics”. Thus we absolved ourselves, washing our hands again and again.

Now not all evangelicals will trace their roots back to the Puritans (in fact, some of us would rather we not be associated with them altogether, but that’s another post for another day about loving the places you came from after a messy break-up). And not all evangelicals are conservative; and not all conservatives are harsh, unrelenting or doctrine-driven (and not all conservatives are evangelical, or even people of faith). It gets really confusing. But the reality is: we are responsible. We are. And with that, the reason to distance ourselves emerge:

(they killed white people too)

(they sponge off the system)

(there’s a reason they make up most of Canada’s criminal justice system)

(we sent missionaries)

(we sent food)

(we made schools)

(they are sinners just like us)

(it’s not like we did it; why dredge up the past?)

We’ll say nearly anything to escape the reality that our faith tradition murdered, stole, oppressed, and hated. We’ll say nearly anything to point out those specks in the Others’ eyes instead of dealing with the infected planks in our own. We’ll say anything to fill those awkward silences so we won’t actually hear the laments of the people we’ve hurt. We’ll even perpetuate doctrines of personal accountability to shove current circumstances of poverty and abuse back on the Other so we can wash our hands again.

When will we walk this treacherous road?





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