Apologies for an Underdeveloped Faith?

I wonder what might happen if the church said sorry to its members, past and present for lack of spiritual direction?

I found myself ruminating on this question after listening to the apology to the stolen generation of indigenous children in Australia.

I am certainly not suggesting that the church's lack of spiritual oversight to "the flock" is in the same league as the horror of forced family break-up. But the events of 13 February 2008 raise interesting questions about past acts which lead to future dire consequences.....and whether the simple act of saying sorry may open doors to resolution like nothing else ever will.

The specific dire consequence I am referring to here is a sense of spiritual bankruptcy that seems to exist, certainly in many mainline denominational churches in Australia. In these environments we see many wonderful people, often deeply involved in their wider communities, but in no way able to connect their stage-managed, don't-talk-about-it-after-the-service, only-on-Sunday church experience to anything that is going on in their Monday to Saturday living. It's no great surprise of course. Those who study the sociology of the Australian church tell us that most people above fifty have been taught to regard faith as private and their faith experience as something delivered in steady measure by an expert. Some have broken that mould, some are breaking out of it but still many more never will. It's a travesty and although I had no direct part in causing it I am sorry about it.

Those who did cause it, of course, were the councils of the church and the clergy who participated in a limiting, top down approach to spiritual development. Don't get me wrong. This is not a finger pointing exercise. These were the great faithful and the saints of the church who had no idea that their approach would lead us to the place of eventual spiritual poverty.

I once attended a lecture by an eminent, liberal, mainline theologian from the USA. He said something to the effect that we should not disparage old methods of faith development, no matter how flawed they may now seem. His reason was that these were the methods of the church, so somehow God must have been in them. Part of me hoped I misheard him. Part of me thought, "Now I know what liberal, mainline triumphalism looks like."

But part of me wondered whether, broadly interpreted, there was a deeper truth in his words. Maybe, in the way this world works; in the way God works in the world; in a way we may never really understand, we needed to be that sort of church so that we might realise there was another place to go. And maybe saying sorry that we were that sort of church, and we had that sort of affect on people's spiritual lives, may give us permission to let go of that church, and be more at ease in finding that other place.

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