This apology reminded me of the prayer of confession in the 1999 Christian Reformed Church's booklet "Pastoral Care for Homosexual Members." The booklet includes the 1973 report from the Committee to Study Homosexuality. The pastoral sensitivity and moral nuance of this document are remarkable, especially given that it was written 40 years ago. The committee concludes that same-sex sexual activity is sinful, but that the church bears the enormous responsibility to be educated, to be welcoming, and to take measures to be a community of embrace, holiness, and mutual care. In 1999, the Committee on Pastoral Care for Homosexual Members acknowledged that the church had fallen far short of the promise of the plan laid out in 1973. As a result, the report included this prayer of confession and repentance:
Lord, our gracious God,
We have sinned against you.
We have not done the things we ought to have done.
We have not kept the promises we made.
Instead of trying to become a place where persons who love you
and are homosexual could find a gracious dwelling,
We confess that we have continued to build walls.
We have avoided them.
We have been cruel.
We have called names and used insulting language.
We have wished that they would just go away.
Truly, Lord, there is little health in us.
We have wronged these children of yours,
these brothers and sisters of ours,
And we repent of our sins.
We are sorry for what we have done
and for what we have left undone.
Lord, forgive us our sins through the blood of Jesus.
Dear heavenly Father, we love you.
We love you for keeping your promises,
And we want to be like you.
We want to keep our promises.
Help us, Father, to do so.
Help us to love our gay and lesbian sisters and brothers.
Help us love with words and deeds.
Strengthen our resolve to listen to their stories,
to share their pain,
to learn from others,
to walk together on life’s journey.
Lord, we have questions.
We do not know everything.
Give us the grace not to act otherwise.
Give us the humility to attend to what we do know.
We do know that life is more complicated than we wish.
We do know that we need your forgiveness for the past
And your grace for the future
As we continually struggle to be the church,
Faithful to your Word,
Faithful to each other.
In Christ. Amen.
Why is a prayer of confession like this so important? From my angle, Christians who hold that same-sex sexual activity is wrong need to acknowledge the sinful attitudes and actions that we've often had toward the LGBTQ community. Now, a prayer of confession is a bad idea if your main goal is public and political posturing (which only makes some Christians look ridiculous, as on a recent episode of The Daily Show). But a prayer of confession is a good idea if you're trying to cultivate a community characterized by honesty, openness, and realism about our sins. And if the church is going to grow in sexual holiness, we need all the honesty, openness, and realism we can get. Only confession can shed the light on sin so that sin can be dispelled by the power of Christ.
See, it's not just the prodigal son who needs to be reminded of the Father's love, but the older son as well. As G. K. Chesterton said, "There are two ways of getting home; one of them is to stay there." The parable of the prodigal son turns that around, because there are two ways to leave the Father's house, and one of them is to stay but never understand the love of the Father. Let's not forget that both sons sin, but only one of them actually confesses.
Final disclaimer: I hope it goes without saying that one can't say everything about a topic on any given post.