AdventWord 2019: 11. Confess
We humans get so many things wrong, but we also get a lot of things right; we are often cruel and make a mess of our world, but we also create glorious art and do amazingly kind things for others. I spent this past October traveling in Spain with 35 other UTO Pilgrims on the Camino and then in Peru with my wife. It seemed like an odd combination to many, but the Old World–New World juxtaposition was endlessly fascinating and thought-provoking. The age of European conquest led to the creation of magnificent cathedrals, art, and scholarship in Europe, but at the cost of horrifying brutality toward the conquered peoples in the New World and stripping them of their most valuable natural resources. And yet Christianity did indeed take root and still thrives in Peru, despite the shameful acts involved in establishing it and today brings comfort and faith to millions there.
The definition of “confess” we most often use is that of admitting our wrongdoings, as in confessing our sins, but its second definition is acknowledging or professing something as truth, as in confessing that Jesus is our savior. This Old World–New World trip has made me very aware of both meanings and how wonderfully and terribly they can intertwine in our lives. The Spanish conquerors felt absolutely justified in forcing the one true faith on the people they subjugated, compelling confessions of faith even if they killed the reluctant confessors. But eventually there were Spanish people of faith who could not justify such brutality to bring people to a loving God, people who confessed that their behavior toward the indigenous people was sinful and tried to get the Catholic Church to set kinder rules on how to win people to Christianity without killing them, even while other people of faith argued that any behavior was acceptable if it led to acknowledgment of the one true faith.
So, what’s my point? History is complicated and I don’t have any easy answers on how to judge the past or even the present. How do we obey Jesus’ command to evangelize and confess/profess our belief in God without leading to un-Christian behavior that requires us to confess/acknowledge that we have sinned? How do we confess and hold to our beliefs about God without brutalizing people whose beliefs are equally firm and faith-filled? I don’t know. But I do know that continuing to think about it is a good thing. Maintain certainty in your own confession of faith, but with just enough acknowledgment of your error-prone humanity to allow that someone else’s confession may be just as accurate. Hold firm to your own beliefs but allow space for God to work differently in someone else’s life. And continue to confess your own faith and your own failures.
Sherri Dietrich, of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine, serves as the board president of the United Thank Offering (UTO). To learn more about UTO, visit www.episcopalchurch.org/uto.