A young man walked onto the stage at the front of the crowded room. All eyes were fixed on him. He smiled awkwardly and wondered, can I really do this? What will people think?
Heart racing and palms sweating, he gathered up his courage and began to speak softly into the microphone.
“I’m a Christian,” he said, “and I have a confession to make.
“I apologize for the Crusades and political action being confused with Christian faith. I apologize for hate crimes being perpetrated in the name of Christ and for slavery. I’m sorry for everything that we’ve ever done that has made life difficult for anyone.
“But I want you to know something. We’re really not all that bad. I hope you’ll forgive us.”
As he exited the stage, people came up to him, congratulating him on his effort. “I don’t know if I would have had the courage to say that,” they said. “That was so humble of you.”
The young man blushed and thanked them for their kind words. “I just want to be real. Authenticity is important to me.”
You’ve probably seen, heard or read something similar to this before. The Christian confessional.
This idea was most recently popularized by Donald Miller in his too-young-to-write-a-memoir memoir, Blue Like Jazz. Miller describes setting up a confession booth on a college campus where he and others would confess the sins of Christendom and ask for forgiveness.
Since the book’s release a number of similar things come out of the woodwork, whether it’s a video of a guy confessing the institutional sins of Christendom on youtube or a pastor publishing letters he wrote to people he’s sinned against in a book.
While I don’t want to judge the motivations of people who have done things like this, I have to ask the question:
Is it really authentic to publicly confess sins you didn’t commit to people who were not sinned against?
Is it really even confessing when you’re stating something that you haven’t done?
Something I’ve been reminded of in my own life of late has been the deceptiveness of pride.
For me, one of the ways it manifests is by the confession of generic sin, with no concrete example. “Gosh, I really struggled to guard my words today. Pray for me about that, won’t you?” That kind of thing.
But am I that proud to honestly believe that I don’t have a specific instance of sin which requires repentance?
Is it really authentic for me to say that I struggle with guarding my tongue, but not say how I realized this when I’m speaking with the men I do life with?
Maybe I’m just projecting my own junk, but I wonder if our quest for authenticity isn’t a cover for doing the hard work of pursuing genuine humility?
In Luke 18:10-14, Jesus tells the following parable:
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’
But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted
The Pharisee thanks God for the righteousness that God has given him; that He has made him not like other men who are “extortioners, unjust, adulterers.” He even points directly to the tax collector and thanks God for not making him like him.
Think about that for a second. That’s a cold bit of business right there.
The Pharisee slams the tax collector. Right. To. His. Face. All while he’s thanking God and declaring how he fasts and tithes faithfully.
Is that any different that you or I apologizing for sins committed under the banner of Christ?
“God, thank you for not making me like the Crusaders, the slave traders, and the fundamentalists. I live in a monastic community and only buy products that reduce my carbon footprint.”
Is it possible that in the name of authenticity, we blind ourselves to our pride? That we forget our need to personally cry out, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
The problem is, there’s only one man who is perfect. And we’re not Him.
Originally published in 2010.