In the Pentecostal Christian tradition, there’s a practice that has gained some ground over the past few years called identificational repentance. Taken from the examples of men like Daniel and Nehemiah in the Hebrew Scriptures (also known as the Old Testament), identificational repentance is when a group apologizes for the sins of its ancestors or when an individual apologizes for the sins of his or her family, church, or nation.
The term is a bit controversial because the word “repent” literally means “to turn the other direction.” Nobody can change his or her ways on behalf of another, so perhaps “confession” is a better word to use. Theology and semantics aside, the direction that Christianity has taken ever since the fourth century when the Church and State became one has produced an ugly monster that looks nothing like the movement that Jesus and the Apostles founded. There are many people trying to bring world Christianity back to its non-violent roots, but before that happens I think an apology is in order. So allow me.
I apologize for trampling on the teachings of Jesus and turning “love your enemies” into “kill your enemies.” I apologize for twisting Romans 13 to justify every single act of violence committed against my fellow man—as long as a “legitimate authority” perpetrates the violence. I apologize for listening to Augustine, Luther, and Calvin instead of the Apostles Peter, Paul, and James. I apologize for silly “arguments from silence” concocted by “just war theorists” to evade the clear-cut teachings of the Sermon on the Mount.
I apologize for the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Salem Witch trials, the religious wars of the 17th century, the genocide of Native Americans in the Western Hemisphere, centuries of anti-Semitism culminating in the Holocaust, and all of the American wars that we rallied around with our crosses and our flags. Speaking of the cross, words cannot express how sorry I am for turning what should be the supreme symbol for non-violent redemptive love into a banner for blind patriotism. I apologize for confusing the Kingdom of God with the Kingdom of America. I apologize for wrapping Jesus in an American flag and turning Him into a tribal deity that we ask to bless our bombs.
I apologize for the T.V. evangelists that fleece the poor and use the money to finance Jewish settlements in the West Bank. I apologize for rallying around the Iraq war, calling for pre-emptive strikes against Iran in the name of God, failing to speak out against torture, and demonizing those that advocate for nuclear disarmament and an end to wasteful Pentagon spending. Perhaps most importantly, I apologize for my complicity in expanding the culture of empire, an empire that looks a lot like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Rush Limbaugh, very little like Jesus.
I realize that some of the things that I have mentioned are stereotypes that not every evangelical, let alone Christian, falls under. Indeed, followers of Jesus have also done much good in the world. Even in the midst of all of the terrible things I just mentioned, there have always been Christians that have shown the world a different path. For every Oliver Cromwell there’s a Mother Theresa. What grieves me is that the clear-cut teachings of the New Testament have been so perverted by so called Christians throughout the centuries that many people might confuse the perversion with the real thing, and never give the faith that I love a second glance.
My hope and prayer is that through this heart-felt apology, the harlot church might be exposed so that the church of the enemy-loving, foot-washing Jesus might shine brighter. One of Christianity’s best-kept secrets is that the New Testament is in fact an anti-war, anti-nationalist document, and that Christians for the first three hundred years unanimously and categorically rejected violence and warfare in honor of their founder. Rather than cursing the darkness, it’s time for a dedicated few to rise up and reclaim the faith. It’s time for a Reformation!