It’s probably an apocryphal story, but I do love it:

According to a popular story that has circulated for a long time, a well known London newspaper in the early part of the twentieth century (usually stated to be The Times) asked the question “What is wrong with the world?” and received many replies. The shortest was from G.K. Chesterton, simply consisting of “I am.”

We’ve witnessed a lot of terrible things in our lifetime. We’ve witnessed tragedies that, as the church in America, should have awakened us. From 9/11/01 to 1/6/21 we have had events crash into our lives that should have called the American church to awareness and then repentance.

Not “America.”

Us. The church in America.

Not just national tragedies, but church stories we have chosen to ignore. The sexual scandals of the Roman Catholic Church, to the scandals in the Independent Baptist churches, to the Southern Baptist Convention, to megachurches… All of which have largely gone unresolved within the Church.

Major issues exposed from 9/11 on: materialism, consumerism, etc. to nationalism, racism, and sexism.

At every turn there was an opportunity for repentance. A call from the Spirit of God to turn it around and come home. And with every opportunity came a refusal. We blamed “America” and it’s problems: liberals, gays, Muslim, immigration policies, and whatever else we could find to deflect our need of repentance.

“What is wrong with the world?”

We are.

It is us.

An unrepentant church.

My daily office reading has me in Jeremiah and every day I can’t escape the scathing parallel of an unrepentant Israel and an unrepentant church in America.

We even start pointing at each other: “Well, YOU may need to repent, brother!”

Even when we bring it down to the American evangelical falsehood of “individual responsibility,” we point the finger to the other guy!

After the tragedy unfolding on TV before us on January 6, our bishop sent a letter and drew our attention to The Great Litany. It is a powerful prayer guide and it begins with repentance. Not just personal repentance. Corporate repentance.

The “high platitudes” from folks who just didn’t know how to respond to the horrifying truth of January 6 were often: “We need to pray for America.”

No.

“What is wrong with the world?”

It is US. An unrepentant church is what is wrong.

We have missed the call of the Lord over and over. We are in the days of Jeremiah when Israel had been so hard hearted for so long that Jeremiah’s last calls for repentance and mercy would easily go unheeded.

Jeremiah 7 was in my reading today. It was the Lord saying, “If you think you’re coming to the Temple to worship while you’re still a hot mess… think again.”

They are rebuked for their treatment of the poor while they think they can do that and still go to the Temple for worship. They are rebuked for trusting in deceptive words when they are caught up in theft, sexual immorality, and chasing other gods.

We are fools to think we can deflect in this time. We deflect to “Pray for America.” We deflect to small legal procedures. We deflect to Christian Nationalism. We deflect to other people who need to repent. Other people who need to get things right.

We need to repent and call out just what that means:

Our fear of the “other”, whether it be immigrants or people who don’t line up with us politically.

Our blatant nationalism that raises our political view over our allegiance to the very Kingdom of God.

Our racism and our blindness to what we’ve done and been complicit to in our history. Our blatant refusal to acknowledge and correct what has happened because “I didn’t own any slaves.”

Our lack of care for the poor and marginalized.

Our lack of zeal for the presence of God, which we thought we pursued but were only looking for emotions that helped us feel better. We’ve been worshiping a therapeutic helper and called it God.

Our materialism and consumerism that drives us to celebrity pastors and narcissism in our church leadership.

Our thirst for political power and fame.

This list isn’t even that long! You should go through one paragraph of the Great Litany and see what else is needed!

“What is wrong with the world?”

We are.

Us.

The unrepentant American church.

Lord, have mercy.

Break us.

grayscale photography of praying hands
Photo Credit: Nathan Dumlao, Unsplash

One thought on “The refusal of repentance

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