I am just one of the six billion people who share planet earth. Like you, I am a citizen of this global village. Like you, I try to live my life in ways that reflect my beliefs and values. I am a husband and a father. I am a follower of Jesus Christ. I am American Protestant Christian. While I deeply value the tradition in which I was raised, I am more aware these days of how I and my tradition have failed to represent Jesus well. While we have had great moments — when Jesus is clearly visible in our attitudes and actions –we have also been guilty of doing the very things that bothered Jesus so much about the religion of his day. I am also a pastor. As such, I bear a larger percentage of guilt for the offenses of the Church.
Our congregation has been studying the story of Nehemiah from the Old Testament. Under Nehemiah’s leadership, the people realized that they were violating their own code of conduct from their own scriptures. Nehemiah confessed not only his sins and the sins of his people, but the sins of their ancestors. Today I would like to attempt, in a small way, to do the same. I ask for God’s forgiveness and for yours.
I ask for your forgiveness for not loving you as Jesus modeled and commanded. I apologize that we have loved our programs and traditions more than our neighbors. This is not what Jesus intended.
I ask for your forgiveness for our religious pride that has left you feeling judged and ridiculed, rather than loved and welcomed. I apologize for treating you like a prize to be won rather than a person to be respected. This is not what Jesus intended.
I ask for your forgiveness for the acts of corruption and violence done in and through the church throughout history.
I ask for your forgiveness for every pastor or priest who has ever served the church to get money, fame, or sex.
I ask for forgiveness for the thousands of church splits and denominational factions that have ripped the body of Christ in every direction except heavenward.
I ask for your forgiveness for our ethno-centric pride that has kept us from humbly learning from others around the world.
I ask for forgiveness for every Christian who has wagged their finger in your face, or shouted at you from their soapbox, with pride and hatred in their heart.
I ask for your forgiveness for every Christian friend you have ever had who never told you their spiritual story. I apologize for keeping relationship shallow, for avoiding topics of substance, and for hiding from you something has been life to us. This is not what Jesus intended.
Jesus intended for his followers to follow Him. That means the same characteristics that mark Jesus should mark the followers of Jesus: kindness, humility, generosity, peace, and joy. Jesus intends for his followers to be transformed, to live by faith, to be known by love, and to be a voice of hope. I apologize for not representing Jesus well to you.
Jesus lived and loved like no one else. He embraced the outcast. He challenged the hypocrites. He hung out with sinners. He pointed people to another way. The truth about Jesus – whether I have represented him well or not – is that He longs to welcome you, to rescue you, to forgive you, to work in and through you. That is what Jesus intends for us all, even us Christians.
I hope you will forgive me and forgive us.