The quest for truth and reconciliation is a high and holy one that inspires us even with its flaws and imperfections. Those who have observed and participated in the first nations’ Truth and Reconciliation events across Canada have found it to be a sacred experience.
For many years I have wondered whether the Mennonite church would do well to publicly recognize stories of pain and humility experienced by those subject to congregational leadership in our churches. In particular, I am thinking of the treatment of many young women who found themselves pregnant outside of a marriage relationship. Most of us are not far removed from such a story and are aware of the injustice and frequently the resulting exit from the church.
If we addressed this question, no doubt many of the same dynamics that were present in the residential school stories would surface:
- That leadership meant well and was trying to be faithful
- That decisions in part reflected the cultural thinking of the day
- That there were, in fact, cases of thoughtful, hopeful responses.
Could we find a way to engage this question graciously today? A way that might avoid the scepticism that is often associated with public apologies, and that might lead to helpful, restorative conversations? A way that would rise above cynicism and employ respectful language?
Hopefully, there are individual congregations that have done this and would be willing to share their experience and wisdom with the larger church.
Jeremy Bergen’s book Ecclesial Repentance: The Churches Confront Their Sinful Pasts, offers some very thoughtful insight and could serve as a helpful guide.
It seems to me that walking humbly with our God means that we are a people willing to say we were wrong and to face the results of the wrongdoing. Each authentic step along this path will lead us to deeper celebration.
If the topic of pregnancy seems too daunting, maybe we could start with something smaller. For example, we could collectively apologize for teaching songs to our children that have imprinted into their minds some very questionable theology. Just saying.
Jerry Buhler is area church minister for Mennonite Church Saskatchewan.