Jarrod McKenna’s posted on the God’s Politics Blog about the “I’m Sorry Day” Australian’s celebrate every year as a remind that “there is no future without confessing and seeking to heal the pain of the genocide of Aboriginal peoples and the evils that created the stolen generation.” It’s a good short post and he links to, what looks like, an excellent new Aboriginal contextual theology book The Rainbow Spirit Theology: Toward an Australian Aboriginal Theology.
And I think we Americans, especially those of us who are Christians, need an I’m Sorry Day as well. With what seems like increasing intensity our “culture wars” continue to appeal to fear and doomsday, we continue to close our hearts to people who need us, we shout and curse those who live differently (whether for right or for wrong) then us, and yes, we kill in God’s name. Repentance and forgiveness are meant to be key markers of the faithful church, yet we have somehow allowed these practices to all but disappear in our communities.
As many of you know by now George Tiller, a doctor who conducted late-term abortions, was murdered Pentecost morning in his church while we he ushering on Sunday morning.
On Sunday morning, moments after services had begun at Reformation Lutheran Church, Dr. Tiller, who was acting as an usher, was shot once with a handgun, the authorities said. The gunman pointed the weapon at two people who tried to stop him, the police said, then drove off in a powder-blue Taurus. Dr. Tillers wife, Jeanne, a member of the church choir, was inside the sanctuary at the time of the shooting.
I didn’t hear about this until later in the day when I listed to some of Jay Bakker’s sermon where he expressed a mixture of grief and anger over what happened Sunday morning. I too am grieved over this death, in the same way I am grieved over aborted births. Killing of any kind is simply wrong.
But we should not be surprised that this kind of gruesome “Christian terrorism,” as I’ve called it elsewhere, continues to happen either. So much of the rhetoric around this particular topic, and a few others, are so hateful, so inflammatory, and in your face, that violence is the only possible end. Whether it is physical violence such as this murder, the violence brought on by severed relationships (whether family or friend), systemic violence that continues to oppress particular demographic and ethnic groups, or violence of language, it is not the way of Jesus. Matching wrongful behavior with more wrongful behavior continues the logic of the world, and ultimately displays our own disbelief in the power of God’s kingdom to bring about redemption and salvation amidst sin and destruction. When we lash out in violence like this we don’t show fidelity to the kingdom, rather we betray our own atheism.
Christian leader Frank Schaeffer wrote a moving piece this morning titled, “How I (and Other “Pro-Life” Leaders) Contributed to Dr. Tiller’s Murder,” where he confesses his, and his father’s, roles in this death:
In certain passages he [Frank’s father, Francis Schaeffer] advocated force if all other methods for rolling back the abortion ruling of Roe v. Wade failed. He compared America and its legalized abortion to Hitler’s Germany and said that whatever tactics would have been morally justified in removing Hitler would be justified in trying to stop abortion. I said the same thing in a book I wrote (A Time For Anger) that right wing evangelicals made into a best seller. For instance Dr. James Dobson (of the Focus On the Family radio show) gave away over 100,000 copies.
And since that time Schaeffer, and many others, have come to realize that this is going to far in the wrong direction and only contributes more to the problem them helping to come up with solutions that are rooted in God’s loving and peaceable kingdom. Schaeffer takes the remainder of the article to confess and ask forgiveness:
The same hate machine I was part of is still attacking all abortionists as “murderers.” And today once again the “pro-life” leaders are busy ducking their personal responsibility for people acting on their words. The people who stir up the fringe never take responsibility. But I’d like to say on this day after a man was murdered in cold blood for preforming abortions that I — and the people I worked with in the religious right, the Republican Party, the pro-life movement and the Roman Catholic Church, all contributed to this killing by our foolish and incendiary words.
I am very sorry.
And so I think we Christians need to follow suite and say we are sorry for contributing to death of all kinds, from the unborn to those (whom we may) feel are worthy of death. We are sorry for the hate speeches, the racism, the prejudice, the homophobia, and the fear we instill in our communities about those who do not live the way we do. This is not how Jesus would treat others, this is not how he would respond. This is not what the church was meant to look like. I am sorry, for my own lack of faith and my own violent responses to things I personally disagree with. I am sorry that to disagree with another often means to break fellowship with, to alienate, reject or push away from rather than to go the extra mile, turn the other cheek, and lovingly pray for our enemies. I too find it very hard to overcome differences and confess I need the Holy Spirit to help me in this area.
May we church have an “I’m Sorry Day” and offer freely the forgiveness we’ve been freely offered.