I Beg Your Forgiveness

About two weeks ago I was at Indiana Yearly Meeting, where the main speaker was Jan Wood, who is well known among Friends. Maybe some of you have had the opportunity to hear her speak. She’s from Northwest Yearly Meeting, and wherever she goes, she has a very powerful witness and message that she brings about the importance of confession and repentance, and how healing it can be to confess not only our personal sins but the sins of our people. This is something I’ve experienced in Rwanda, and I’ve seen how transformative it can be. From her ministry at Indiana Yearly Meeting I felt that my message to you this morning came clear to me, and it’s a message of confession.

I think many people here carry deep wounds from damaging religious experience in our past. I know I do. Those wounds may be closed over, but for many of us I think there’s still some shrapnel trapped inside. Sometimes when we talk to each other as a community and we seek God’s will together, those wounds become activated. That shrapnel causes a new sharp pain. An old wound can become a new pain or a reminder of pain. I know that happens for me, and I believe that many of us have experienced religious trauma in our past that becomes a factor, an obstacle, or just something that we bring into this room together.

Taking the challenge that Jan Wood presented, and that I felt God calling me to embrace, I want to confess to you the sins of my people. Who are my people? I identify as a born-again Christian standing in the evangelical theological tradition, and I want to speak to you today as a Christian and on behalf of my Christian people. Whether I agree with them or not, whether I have done any of these things personally or not, doesn’t matter, because these are my people and if I choose to stand in the river of faith and identify with it, then I bear the sins of my people as a personal responsibility.

Therefore, on behalf of myself and my people, I confess that we have done terrible damage in the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. On behalf of myself and my people, I confess that we have denied the full humanity and spiritual gifts of those who are different, that we have used the loving and liberating word of God as a weapon. On behalf of myself and my people, I confess that we have claimed that some people are not worthy to be used by God in faithful service. I confess that we have behaved as if some sins are graver than others and some biblical texts are more rigidly applied, bringing hypocrisy and inconsistency to our own biblical scholarship.

On behalf of myself and my people, I confess that we have hijacked the symbols and texts of Christian faith and drastically narrowed their meaning. I confess that we have used violence in the name of the Prince of Peace. We have accused those who read the Bible differently than we do of not being loyal and obedient believers, or of not loving the Bible as much as we do. I confess on behalf of myself and my people that we have cared more for spiritual and otherworldly salvation than for justice and suffering and liberation from oppression. We have been consumed by our fear of how we might be contaminated by our fellowship with you. We have arrogantly believed that we have a full and complete understanding of the will of God and the proper application of the Bible in every context.

We have been judgmental, uncompromising, harsh, and uncharitable. I confess that we have desecrated the name of Jesus by acting in ways of which He would be ashamed. I’m so sorry. I humbly repent and beg your forgiveness. In these and so many other ways, Christians, people who love Jesus, have presented a counter-witness. We have pushed people away from God, from the love and the liberation of God, instead of drawing them closer.

On behalf of myself and my people, I beg your forgiveness.

Eden Grace

Eden Grace is a member of Beacon Hill Meeting, New England Yearly Meeting. Since 2004 she has been serving as the Field Officer in the Friends United Meeting Africa Ministries Office in Kisumu, Kenya. She has a Masters of Divinity from Episcopal Divinity School and is active with the World Council of Churches. She and her husband Jim have two teenage sons.