Today’s Church is far from being what it was meant to be. Its spirituality has got nothing to do with those who suffer and with those whose lives are in constant danger. Being obsessed with the idea of the “institutionalization,” it has systematically alienated those who do not conform to its ideologies, theologies, and practices. The Church has become an exclusive community, and worse, it prides in being one. Unfortunately, we, at least most of us, find ourselves being part of such faith communities and churches.
Think about how churches (and religious leaders) have perceived and interpreted recent events. Every natural calamity, as long as it does them no harm, is viewed as God’s judgment on the rebels and perverts (yes we know who they are referring to: the Gays and Lesbians and also people of other faith communities). Being part of the Church has given them an unquestionable sense of privilege to spit venom on disenfranchised communities, and this venom is justified by ignorantly and deliberately appropriating scriptures to their defense.
In doing so the Church continues to violate diverse peoples and communities. No matter what happens to these communities (on a daily basis), the Church never makes a mention of them, let alone include them or mingle with them. If at all the Church has something to say about these communities, it will be said in the garb of charity and outreach, as with it comes a sense of moral victory and self-righteousness. The only other form of ‘service’ that the Church engages in is by justifying the violence done to these communities as a result of their ‘sinful’ and ‘unchristian’ lifestyle. Therefore, the Church’s only aim is to draw people into repentance for only then can it graciously impart to them a “self-assumed divinely ordered right” called forgiveness. What makes forgiveness the sole property of the Church? If the Church is only called to forgive others, the Church is by default sinless, pure and holy. If our minds are sane we would realize that this is one big steaming pile of baloney.
In June 2016, speaking to a few reporters, Pope Francis said, “I think that the Church not only should apologize… to a gay person whom it offended but it must also apologize to the poor as well, to the women who have been exploited, to children who have been exploited by (being forced to) work.” While I do agree with the Pope, I think the Church should not just apologize but seek forgiveness. Being Gay, Lesbian, Black, Dalit, Woman, Person with Disability, isn’t a sin, nor a fate, nor a result of some unconfessed past or present sin. Rather to be homophobic, xenophobic, sexist, casteist, and racist is a sin. Truly the Church has violated many.
The problem with the Church, as stated by one of my friend, is its failure to meet people where they are and meet people only in terms of where they ought to be. In doing so the Church portrays itself as a saviour to the world where its sole aim lies in making lives straight (note the pun). But I believe the Church must repent of its “religious sins” and seek forgiveness from the very same people it has violated. Jeremy M. Bergen calls this the “Ecclesial Repentance.” He says, “When acts of repentance include an apology or a request for forgiveness, there is an explicitly dialogical moment in which the Church awaits a response from those affected by its actions.” This act of repentance need to be public because the Church’s violations have also been public.
When the Church humbly and remorsefully seeks forgiveness it not only experiences the grace of “being forgiven” but also appropriates from itself to the other the power to absolve sins. The Church then moves from being a forgiving community to becoming a forgiven community. We have always been taught to believe that reconciliation and healing begin only when we repent of our wrongdoings. For a change, let the Church be the first and the only one to repent. And let its sins be absolved by the violated and the “unforgivable.”
Should the Church really repent? By all means. I do hope that one day we will be able to say, “Hey! Here is a truly repentant Church!” But until we must ask and keep asking: “Where is the repentant Church?”