[This stained glass window of the PCUSA logo is from First Presbyterian Church in Douglasville, Georgia.]
These days, I’ve been connecting with a variety of faith communities in my local area. I’ve spent more time with Episcopalians and Roman Catholics in particular, because they excel at holding multiple worship services throughout the week. It’s been a pleasure to meet folks in these communities and learn how they are serving the wider city.
Last week, I learned something which has stirred my thinking in a particular way. I learned about a worldwide movement currently taking place among Roman Catholic parishes. Pope Francis has declared 2016 to be the Jubilee Year of Mercy. Every twenty-five years, Roman Catholics practice special years of Jubilee. But from time to time, a Pope can declare a special year-long observance more spontaneously in order to focus intentionally upon forgiveness, mercy, reconciliation, and acts of service in the world.
As a result, this is now the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, and this special observance is weaving its way through the life of Roman Catholic parishes as congregations and individuals ponder and practice acts of mercy through forms of spiritual meditation, confession, forgiveness, reconciliation, and service.
In the midst of my ecumenical learning these days, this movement has stayed in my thinking. I wonder if it might be a conversation partner as a particular discussion is unfolding in my own Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) demonination. As we are preparing to hold our semi-annual General Assembly in Portland this summer, there is an overture coming from the Presbytery of New York City which seeks to issue a public apology to LGBTQ/Q individuals and their families as they were (and I would argue, many times, still are) marginalized and oppressed in our public debates, policies, and procedures. This has been especially true as they were barred from ordination and as their loving relationships were not recognized as valid and life-giving.
This overture has not yet been discussed and debated at General Assembly, but Presbyterians are already discussing it in the blogosphere and on social media. Some, including those who recognize harm done to LGBTQ/Q Presbyterians, are concerned that this public apology does not align with historical values to honor the freedom of conscience, as Presbyterians remain divided on recent changes in ordination policy and the definition of marriage . Others from the LGBTQ/Q community have concurred with the overture, stating the vital importance of recognizing the very real harm that has taken place through decades of exclusion, discrimination, scapegoating, and church prosecution. Still others, from a variety of communities, have wondered if relational acknowledgement and apologies are more powerful and effective than ones on an institutional level.
All of these lines of thought will be discussed and debated on the floor of the General Assembly. In the midst of the current conversations, this has made me wonder if the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) would benefit from a movement like the one Roman Catholics are currently experiencing.
What if the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) deliberately inaugurated a Jubilee Year of Reconciliation?
Without question, there are divisions in our local congregations, Presbyteries, and national bodies on a variety of conflicts, large and small alike. Beyond topics or “issues” (sometimes we focus upon those rather than human beings) we can all think of looming conflicts from our own lives involving real, human relationships that feel unresolved. . .
- What harm did I do when I argued with that person on the floor of Presbytery?
- What harm did I do when I made a person or a group responsible for the entirety of our church conflict?
- What harm did I do when I was defensive or dismissive during conversations about race?
- What harm did I do to pastors who were pushed out of our congregations?
- What harm did I do to candidates who were denied ordained ministry?
- What harm did I do when we let our power dynamics go askew?
- What harm did I do when I didn’t welcome that person into our sanctuary?
- What harm did I do when I put institutional survival over truth and justice?
We could go on and on with such questions, applying them to ourselves as individuals or communities. I wonder what it would look like,
if we spent a year apologizing for harm we have caused,
if we spent a year listening to stories of real pain on their own terms, and
if we practiced a process of truth and reconciliation,
not only creating an overture or apology in a written document,
but ushering in a large-scale movement of apology and reconciliation throughout our churches and local contexts?
What are your thoughts?