The apology is (usually) a powerful thing. Sometimes it falls on deaf ears, but when it is sincere and contrite and is met with grace, it can change the world.
I have been in conversations both past and recent about what the church has done to people in the name of the gospel and it just makes me so angry. It’s abuse. Grand scale church leadership abuse has been in the news lately but the smaller, subtler, more nuanced cases are what’s on my mind today.
A few years ago I hosted a group of folks from the LGBTQ community and World Vision in my home to talk about a partnership with the WV AIDS Village experience. I’m not sure that much came of that, but what did come of that was much more beautiful and fruitful than I could’ve imagined. As we were having our conversations, some of the people in the room began to talk about the pain and rejection they’d experienced at the hands of the church and as they told their stories, I looked them in the eyes and apologized. I apologized for their pain, the feeling that they were less than the rest of us, and the message that God couldn’t love them. They were shocked. They didn’t know what to do. They wept. It’s not that I was doing anything remarkable, just doing something that should have been done a long time ago, and probably should still be happening on a regular basis.
Recently I’ve dealt with people, specifically women, who are dealing with more subtle, insidious types of abuse meted out by the church. The tough part about this is that these women are the victims of a cultural view of Christianity perpetrated by people who think they are honestly doing the right thing. As progressive as some of my friends are, they’re realizing some of the misogynistic crap that has seeped into their own psyches. Some friends are just now realizing the bill of goods they’ve been sold and are running in the opposite direction.
I’ve been processing what I’ve heard and experiencing genuine sorrow on behalf of my friends who are so hurt and damaged by what they’ve been told by the church about who they are and about about who God is, and I feel my best response can come in the form of an apology. If moderate Muslims are constantly called upon to denounce the behavior of the craziest members of their group, then I can do the same.
I’m sorry that through the use of masculine language for God we told you that you were not quite made in God’s image. Language is the key to culture, and our language says that God is all things male, so since you’re not, you must be missing something. You must be less than. You must be destined to be a second class citizen in church. You must cover your head, be silent, play piano, teach only children and clean up after pot luck meals. Using masculine language for God limits God. It puts God into our more manageable, patriarchal cultural box but it’s not who God is. God transcends gender and we all contain the stamp of God’s image in us. All of us.
I’m sorry that you were told that your body exists to serve your husband. I’m sorry you were told (either explicitly or implicitly) that you really weren’t a full member of the community unless you had a husband. I’m sorry that you were told that faith was something to be endured rather than relished. I’m sorry you weren’t told that God has such crazy, irrational love for you that God can’t contain it and it spills over in the form of beauty, and friends, and great food, and art. I’m sorry that you heard that you had to work more than you could celebrate. I’m sorry you were told that the kingdom of God is something to be achieved after you die and has nothing to do with the world now. I’m sorry you weren’t told of the gospel as a loving, courageous person who restores the outcast to full spiritual participation. I’m sorry that God’s desire to change the world through the church was sold to you as a burden, an obligation, and only for the select few who were in the right crowd.
I’m sorry. I want better for you, for the church and for the world. I will support you. I will listen to you, pray for you, sit with you and walk with you as you become who you truly are. You are beautiful, you are loved and you are valued. You matter. And I love you.