When I read about shootings at the Game Stop and at a house party last week, I became angry to hear that so many locals were killed or wounded by gun violence in our neighborhood.
I was angry because it hit so close to home. These shootings weren’t in some far off slum, but happened near places where my family frequently shops.
As I prayed about these feelings, I started to ask a different question, one related to my calling as a clergy person “on mission” in an economically and socially diverse county: How have I failed these young people who were perpetrators of such crime and violence?
I certainly know that we are all responsible for our actions. The only person who can pull a trigger of a gun is the one who holds the gun. But, as a Christian who is called to be God’s “light to the world” (Matt. 5:14), how did I fail to shine a light to people who have chosen such unwise decisions before they even reached full adulthood? That I failed the victims and their families?
As a clergy person who speaks on behalf of my profession and the “Church” (with a capital “C”) in my community, I feel that I need to repent for failing these young people, the many like them who are tempted to live such senseless lifestyles, and the victims. (We are certainly our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, and their blood cries out from our soil.)
I repent that we clergy have been so focused on building our churches, we have failed to build stronger families for the sake of our young people. God’s basic unit for a stable society is not primarily the church, but the family.
Many children in our community grow up in single-parent households or in poverty, and there is a lack of appropriate resources for negotiating conflicts when they arise. I applaud non-profit agencies like Family Promise that fill the gap and are rallying churches to this cause.
I repent that we clergy have focused for far too long on the ministries of our churches rather than being missional churches. Missional churches rarely focus on programs for the sake of self-serving attendance; rather, these churches reach out to the community in creative ways, like those that support tutoring or life-training programs.
I repent that we clergy have neglected to intentionally implement reconciliation in a diverse county. This diversity creates ongoing tension and affects our children. One step towards reconciliation is to make race and class relations in the church a part of God’s healing process for healthier communities. Martin Luther King, Jr., once encouraged churches to “be rid of every aspect of segregation” because it is “a blatant denial of the unity which we have in Christ” and “destroys community.”*
Trinity Baptist has tried to break this bad habit by sharing our building with an African-American and a Moldovan congregation. We fellowship together when we are able and work towards greater partnerships in our businesses, schools, and families. We define our differences and similarities and agree to disagree at times, but always work towards unity in all things.
I repent that we clergy have focused more on individual salvation than on the redemption of entire neighborhoods. Many of us still think that when we save one person at a time that that’s enough. God works in the lives of individuals, but God also brings about His redemptive purposes in the midst of political, economic, and social systems, especially where justice and inequality is concerned.
This means that we must change the way we read Scripture. We must focus on Scripture, not so much to win a “culture war” or to reinforce our own status quo opinions, but to teach others how to read the Bible for themselves and bring about a variety of “readings” from the margins of society. We must read the Bible with our children and with others who differ from us.
I know that these confessions might mean little in the short run; it will take us a long time to adapt to the needs of our county. It will take even longer to cut through our theological and political differences in order to see the greater good that can be done for the sake of God’s ever-expanding Kingdom.
In spite of our own failures, we can keep repenting and confessing so as to allow God to transform us and work in our lives–and in our community–in new ways. Our young people are depending on us.
Martin Luther King, Jr. “Paul’s Letter to American Churches,” in Strength to Love (New York: Pocket Books, 1963), 160.