I’ve written the following article for publication in The Coffeyville Journal on May 27, 2011. I’m posting it here because I wanted to provide the congregation with an opportunity for comments and suggestions before publication. The column is below:
In a recent book, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons cite some alarming statistics. Among them:
“Three out of every ten young outsiders said they have undergone negative experiences in churches and with Christians. Such hurtful experiences are part of the stories of nearly one out of every two young people who are atheists, agnostics, or of some other faith. … One-third [of young born-again Christians] admit that the way Christians act and the things they say make them embarrassed to be a Christian.”
As a pastor I’ve experienced both sides of the above equation and it’s in response to statistics such as those, and with the realization that such experiences are not limited to any one age group, that the following letter was written.
Dear rightly skeptical world:
I feel I should begin with a disclaimer before moving on to a confession and apology. I write, not as a local pastor or as an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, but unofficially, as an individual Christian on behalf of the universal church, to apologize, confess, and repent for all the un-Christian things that we, the body of Christ, have done in his name. Please forgive us.
As Christians we believe that the church is the body of Christ and yet we have often failed to be worthy of him. We are called to follow in Christ’s footsteps, but we have all too often gone our own sinful ways. We have failed to welcome all people as Christ welcomed them. We have been judgmental instead of humble, empathetic and forgiving, and we have preferred the world’s existing social hierarchies to the radically inclusive example of our Lord and Savior. All too often, we, as Christians, have been acutely aware of and outspoken in condemning the shortcomings and failures of others while downplaying, ignoring, or outright denying our own sin and shortcomings. We have taken our faith as a sign that we are superior people rather than exercising humility and recognizing that we are merely the recipients of a great gift. On behalf of the church universal, I ask your forgiveness.
I remain a Christian and an active participant in a local church (a church I love and deeply believe in) because I believe that together, Christ has called us to great, good, and wonderful things and because, by God’s grace, we sometimes actually manage to accomplish a few of those things. But I am aware, all too aware, of the many times we have fallen short. I, and others like me, remain Christians because without Jesus, we would be far, far worse.
My greatest fear is that by the all-too-common failure of Christians to live lives worthy of Christ we have greatly contributed to the disbelief of the world. The first is true, but the second does not necessarily follow. As someone else recently put it, deciding not to believe in God because of the misbehavior of the church is somewhat like getting into a dispute with Elvis Presley’s fan club and then dismissing the singer as a nobody. It comes naturally, but doesn’t necessarily make any sense. I am truly sorry for our failure to live as Christ taught us to live. I ask you not to hold God responsible for the evil we have done. By God’s grace, we are trying to do better.