The Times of London once asked prominent thinkers of the day to submit a response to the question “What’s Wrong With the World?” Christian apologist G.K. Chesterton, whose brilliance was matched only by his wit, offered the following:
G. K. Chesterton
I wish such humility and self-examination was my first instinct when the Herald-Leader gave me the opportunity to add my voice to our community’s public discourse, but it wasn’t. Instead I sat down and wrote a very pointed cultural critique. However, just before submitting it, I was convicted by the audaciousness, not necessarily of my opinion, but by the timing of my opinion.
Within Christianity, repentance always precedes reproof. That is, our critique is fiercely inward before it ever looks outward. So before I offer my evangelical opinion to the broader culture, I would like to offer an evangelical apology to the broader culture. An apology that is long overdue.
I’m sorry that we have obsessed over the sexual practices of a culture, while ignoring the epidemic of these same practices in our churches. I’m sorry that we have obsessed over the redefinition of marriage, while ourselves redefining marriage to make room for the widespread divorces in our churches.
I’m sorry that we have obsessed over America’s greed and materialism, while the love of money is alive and flourishing in our churches. I’m sorry that we have obsessed over cherry-picked issues of injustice, while ignoring the ones we don’t want to think about.
I’m sorry that we have viewed culture as an opponent to be defeated rather than a neighbor to be loved. I’m sorry that the warmth and welcome we have found in our savior too often is not what you have found in our churches. I’m sorry that we who cling to the promise of God’s mercy can be so merciless to others. I’m sorry that in an attempt to make our churches more relevant, we have traded our rich transcendent identity for a cheap imitation of the world you know.
I’m sorry that the denomination I love and serve — the Presbyterian Church in America —was formed, not just with theological motivations, but also with racist motivations. Speaking of race, I’m sorry that Sunday mornings in the Bluegrass is our community’s most segregated hour. Speaking of Sundays, I’m sorry that the Sunday afternoon churchgoing crowd at restaurants is notoriously bad at tipping.
I’m sorry that our protest has been more fervent than our prayers. I’m sorry for giving shallow answers to your deepest questions. I’m sorry for throwing simplistic platitudes at your complex struggles.
And perhaps most of all, I’m sorry that this might be the first time you’ve ever heard a Christian say I’m sorry.
(It’s times like these that I’m glad my calling is not to commend the followers of Jesus, but instead to commend the Jesus whom we follow. And thankfully he is more than able to save and redeem the band of misfits that is his church.
In the future, I would love to offer thoughtful and helpful opinions to the Bluegrass community I love. But perhaps the most thoughtful and helpful thing I can offer is actually my apology. Not just as a kind gesture, but as a revolutionary concept.
What would it do to a community if everyone led first with an apology rather than an opinion? I believe that nothing changes a home, friendship, neighborhood, workplace, or even a city, more than the way of contrition.
So I’ll get us started.
The Rev. Robert Cunningham is the senior pastor of Tates Creek Presbyterian Church in Lexington. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.