I have a hard time admitting I’m wrong. I can’t help it. For some reason it feels cataclysmic. I often catch myself trying to avoid it at all costs. I have lied, I have deflected, and I have sidestepped responsibility in order to avoid owning my transgressions. I also happen to not be alone in this. It’s part of the human condition.
Here’s what makes me a Christian: I have recognized the fact that I am broken, sinful, mistaken, lost, misguided, willful, prideful, and dangerous to myself and others. Further, I recognize I am powerless to change without God’s help. That truth has set me free. At the heart of the life of my community, the church, are these same recognitions. We recognize our brokenness. We are powerless to change with God’s help. That truth sets us free.
If all of the above is true (and I sincerely believe it is) why is it still a frequent struggle for the church (and individual Christians) to admit when they are wrong?
This is what I have been pondering these last few weeks in the lead up to Canada’s 150th celebration. As I think about Canadian history there is a lot to celebrate. Canada has contributed a lot of good things to the world.
Neil Young? Joni Mitchell? Margaret Atwood?
Jim Carey? Mike Myers?
Justin Bieber? Celine Dione?
Sorry. Unless you like them… in that case, you’re also welcome!
150 years of Canadian identity isn’t that long and we have lots to be proud of. But, like all human stories, we have also brought shame and horror into the world. One of our most horrifying “contributions” to the world is the systemic cultural genocide we attempted against the First Nations people through the Residential School System. What makes matters worse? It wasn’t just a government program. It was something the church actively and sincerely participated in.
This system devastated entire cultures.
It traumatized generations.
It decimated whole languages.
We were wrong.
And yet, I often see the church struggling to admit to this part of our history; especially during celebrations like the 150th anniversary of our confederation. In the following video Ray Aldred, a well respected leader in the Canadian church (who we heard from last week), has to say about this at 3:57:
“I think that sometimes the church has a hard time admitting that they made mistakes and they don’t know how to walk in repentance. They are good at telling other people how to do that they are just not good at doing it themselves…. one of the cool things about the gospel and forgiveness is that we can just embrace that ‘Ya, we’re guilty.'”
Later on in the video (6:10) Ray reminds us of something Dietrich Bonhoeffer proposed: people who can move beyond trying to pretend they are right all of the time are made free, in Christ, to take “personal responsibility” for the sins of society.
Why would anyone want to do that?
Well because that’s precisely what Jesus did. Jesus, was not guilty of any sin and yet he was able to take personal responsibility for the sins of the entire world! If we take his example as our own, he’ll show us how. I think this is key for people like me.
Here’s my situation: I was born among the European settlers to Canada. These are my people. As such, I am the unintentional inheritor of their legacy: their privileges (earned and stolen) and the consequences of their sins (intentional and otherwise) were conferred on me at birth. I did nothing to deserve them and I did nothing to choose them. This is the powerful proposal Jesus offers people like me through the gospel:
1) I can reject God’s offer and spend the rest of my life pretending nothing is wrong: trying to excuse, defend, ignore, or explain away the injustices of my ancestors. That path leads to more death and more suffering because I will be choosing to perpetuate, protect, and deepen their sin-filled legacy. In so doing I embrace and continue in their sin.
2) I can trust in the power of Jesus to free me from that legacy. The re-birth Jesus promises means a new identity for me. I am no longer just a child of the settlers. I am also a child of God. As I assume my role in my new family’s business — the renewal of all things — I am now free to live out new resurrection possibilities. People who are freed from having to prove they are also right are free to live in new ways. To build new bridges. To mend old ones. To begin the long slow process of reconciling the world we were born into.
The good news about the situation in Canada is this: We settlers are not alone in the work. Christians among the First Nations have also been set free by Jesus. They, like us, have been adopted into this new family, too. They, like us, are also employed in the family business — the renewal of all things. We each get to work together. Building new bridges. Mending old ones. And together working at the long slow process of reconciling the world we were both born into.Working together at the long slow process of reconciling the world we were both born into Click To Tweet
If Canada’s next 150 years are going to be better than our last 150 years, we need to take our brother Ray’s call seriously.
The church needs to continue walking in repentance.
It’s the only way we’ll free ourselves for the future.