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Posted on Wed, Jan 5, 2011 : 7:30 a.m.

A reversal: Church confesses its sins to the world

By Darcy Crain-Polly

Confessions are a great way to start off the new year. You reflect on what you didn't do well, who you disappointed or who you hurt. You confess these truths, to yourself or to God, and hopefully you move on to make decisions that don't repeat the offenses. These are what confessions should help us to do; absolve guilt so that we are no longer bound by it and are able to live life fully and generously.

Often we think of individuals who are flawed bringing their confessions to the Church. But the Church is far from flawless. This video offers a reversal, a chance for the Church to confess our sins to the world. In four minutes, it is far from comprehensive, but it attempts to show repentance and take responsibility so that we may move forward in the new year, being the Church of good news for the world.

Darcy Crain-Polly is the Associate Minister of the First Congregational Church of Ann Arbor.


Daniel White

Fri, Jan 7, 2011 : 2:17 p.m.

separation of Church and State as it is understood today would more than likely be a foreign concept to the authors of the Bill of Rights. Reread the establishment clause and tell me how it is correctly applied today.

Angela Todd

Fri, Jan 7, 2011 : 10:57 a.m.

I can't find my comment. Angela Todd


Thu, Jan 6, 2011 : 6:55 p.m.

"... the Inquisition... must be interpreted in light of the social and [ecclesiastical] upheaval that was going on at that time. As individuals and even groups sought to break away from the authority of Rome, the Church did what was necessary to prevent the scourge of heresy and schism...." This is why many have found organized religion so politically frightening, and why formal separation of church and state was demanded by Bill of Rights advocates at the Constitutional Convention. The Church as expressed through an ongoing Inquisition was worlds removed from ostensibly the same religion as practiced in far more empowering, life-affirming ways by someone like Dorothy Day. "... The original purpose of the crusades was to liberate the people of the Holy Land and the Holy Land itself from oppressive muslim control...." The Crusades were an incredibly aggressive, violent, vain and needless horror. Armies on all sides represented profoundly oppressive societies.


Thu, Jan 6, 2011 : 6:27 p.m.

The idea of 'reverse' confessions, offered willingly by social subgroups or organizations, is a good one. It has applications that go well beyond organized systems of belief. Public confessions would be a good thing coming from governments and businesses, and from members or representatives of various cultural traditions and social classes. Sometimes this sort of thing does happen, but not often enough, and it may occur only when denial of a checkered past ceases to be plausible to anyone. We may not be personally responsible for the circumstances into which we're all born — the hand we've been dealt — yet a responsibility exists to acknowledge our collective past, both the good and the bad. The recognition and evaluation of inherited legacy is a first step toward a more constructive, peaceful future. Those who lived before us didn't always have the foresight to deliver their regrets in advance, as was done by the late Kurt Vonnegut: "I have a message for future generations: Please accept our apologies."

Daniel White

Thu, Jan 6, 2011 : 2:49 p.m.

I must say that as a Roman Catholic I find this somewhat of an affront to the Church. I think historical context has everything to do with the events you discuss here. The original purpose of the crusades was to liberate the people of the Holy Land and the Holy Land itself from oppressive muslim control. What it became may have exceeded its mandate, but when you have Kings and nobles get involved this can happen. Also the inquisition was viewed as the most fair court in Europe at the time. Do not confuse the spanish inquisition (run by the monarchy) with the Holy Office of the Inquisition (now the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith). Jesus did bring a message of inclusion for ALL people, but only after they turned from their sins. To "include" the sin would be to smack of relativism.

Darcy Crain-Polly

Thu, Jan 6, 2011 : 9:11 a.m.

Yes, I am aware that the congregational denomination is a young one. I did not approach this answer as one from a specific church, but as a Christian who is part of the greater Church, and indeed it was the greater Church that was a part of the violence and injustice I spoke of. I am not opposed to personal confession and believe it is a very useful spiritual practice. However, the video was in response to the popular accusation that Christians do more finger pointing at others than they do at themselves or their institutions. It is a way to look at our own past so that we may forge a better future. Joe, I'd love to respond to your monotheism questions, thanks for your comments. Where would I find the question/piece you submitted?


Wed, Jan 5, 2011 : 1:13 p.m.

Darcy Crain-Polly, you have no idea how much this means to me. :) I am a full-on agnostic, believing that no human can honestly and actually know anything about God, or even whether there is one. I have some strong beliefs and issues related to the monotheistic religions of this world, all seeming to claim that they are right and others are wrong. I believe that religion, while currently doing many good things in society such as large scale charity and giving hope to those in need, has also been a major contributing factor, if not a direct cause, to the majority of human suffering throughout the course of our history. I am not at all singling out Christianity/Catholicism, but monotheistic religion in general in that it inherently and subliminally seems to promotes an us-them attitude. At this point I would normally begin rambling, but today is not the day. Thank you very much for the words in that video, they mean more to me than you could imagine. (p.s.) I contributed a piece recently asking questions about monotheism. I would highly value your input and comments.


Wed, Jan 5, 2011 : 11:51 a.m.

Heidi, Much of your letter DOES bring in badly needed historical context, and all churches are churches of sinners; BUT wrong is wrong, and what the Church did in ages past is not mitigated by what others were doing, or by the panic the church felt during, for example, the Reformation. The Church is called to holiness, and the fact that others were bad or were making war is not an excuse for wrongdoing on a gigantic scale, nor does it excuse the present sins of the Churches by saying, for example, that pedophilia is rampant in other parts of society (as some Churchmen, not you, have said). Context is fine, and we must all have mercy, but WRONG IS WRONG! More disturbing are your contemptuous remarks about "American tolerance". To me and my ancestors who came to this country to escape religious persecution, one of the GREAT thing about this country was our tolerance of other religions and "live and let Live" as a motto for the secular world. I smell the odor of a desire for THEOCRACY with no tolerance for diversity all over your article. If you want such a government, try Fascist Spain (oops, that's gone) or maybe Iran would hold promise if you could just force them to accept Jesus! I'm sure you wouldn't mind, since all you can say about the Inquisition is "not the church's finest hour." It was and is an out and out abomination for which I'm sure Jesus will hold his "followers" accountable, to say the least.

Heidi Hess Saxton

Wed, Jan 5, 2011 : 11:12 a.m.

I agree that looking closer to home is more constructive. How many of us, for example, squander resources that are desperately needed by those around us? How often do we give of our time to invest in the lives of others? How are we teaching our children to show respect and compassion for those in and from other parts of the world, so that they don't grow up thinking that they have nothing to learn from other cultures and traditions? Above all, how do we need to reform OURSELVES before we start pointing fingers at others?


Wed, Jan 5, 2011 : 11:02 a.m.

I appreciated the video very much. I was always taught that the Golden Rule was at the heart of Jesus' message. Loving thy neighbor as thyself is indeed a radical message. It may involve great bravery. It is heartening to hear leaders in the modern-day church repudiate the opinions and actions of those in the past who used the church to silence voices of those who stood in the way of the power of those who would use the church to expand their power and wealth. If we are to practice the Golden Rule, we must also look at institutional wrongs in such things as slavery and manifest destiny. Were these examples of the Golden Rule? What examples do we find today?

Heidi Hess Saxton

Wed, Jan 5, 2011 : 10:02 a.m.

My apologies, I didn't proof the second paragraph sufficiently before posting. It should read: "Why would you presume to apologize for offenses that occurred during a time when, historically, the Congregational tradition did not exist? And which, according to your own mission statement, you stand against on principle -- including a commitment to the traditional Christian understanding of marriage and family life?"

Heidi Hess Saxton

Wed, Jan 5, 2011 : 9:43 a.m.

I find it odd that you would presume to speak for the whole Church in making this apology, when it reflects more secular "PC" ideology of your own tradition than the actual Gospel as practiced by Christians for two thousand years. I also find it interesting that you would presume to apologize for offenses of what, historically, the Congregational tradition did not exist? And, according to your own mission statement, do not condone? This is not an "apology." It is a critique. The Jesus you speak of -- the make-no-waves, love everybody, milquetoast Christ -- is not the Christ of the Gospels. He was far more complex than that. Indeed, he was not tried by the civil and religious establishment of his day by being "nice." Yes, he came to show God's love for the world by through his life, his words, and his atoning death. But this Jesus was infuriating to the complacent and the morally compromised. Listen: From Matthew 10: "Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set a man 'against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one's enemies will be those of his household.' "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." Issues such as the Inquisition and Crusades are commonly cited against the Church without any attempt to place these events in their proper historical context, when the relationship between ecclesial and temporal power was much more... fluid. In this day and age, it would be considered "intolerant" to criticize the Muslims, for example, of inciting religious war by occupying the Holy Land or indeed attempting to capture a good part of southern Europe. (Have you ever been to Alhambra in Spain, where the Moors were finally drive out in the 14th century after centuries of occupation?) Yet the Church is often criticized for supporting the effort to liberate these lands from foreign control. Similarly, the Inquisition (not the Church's finest hour, I'll grant you) must be interpreted in light of the social and ecclesial upheaval that was going on at that time. As individuals and even groups sought to break away from the authority of Rome, the Church did what was necessary to prevent the scourge of heresy and schism to destroy the Church that had been entrusted to the original apostles and their successors. (No doubt this sounds heavy-handed to freedom-loving, ever "tolerant" Americans. Again, historical context is important.) I do have one question for you: While we are all beating our collective chests, at what point is the non-Christian community called upon to acknowledge its offenses against the Christian community, including the recent murders of Christian men, women and children inside their own houses of worship in Iraq and, most recently, Egypt? Where is the outrage about these atrocities? When are we going to read a column about THAT? You have missed the whole point of confession. Christ initiated the sacrament in order to give people the power to break spiritually toxic practices and realign themselves with the truth of the Gospel. The Lord's "inclusivity" did not permit those living depraved lives to continue in their sin, because this kind of disorder damages the soul. When he invited men and women to follow him, it always involved some kind of "turning" or repentance. (Think of the woman caught in adultery and the woman at the well, both in the Gospel of John.) While there are indeed times when the institutional Church has failed to live out the faith she professes -- both John Paul the Great and our current pope, Benedict XVI, have made public apologies for such instances -- in this case it is perhaps best to keep in mind the words of Christ in John 8: "Let you who is without sin, cast the first stone." If we do that, we might ALL begin to look a little closer to home for our next confession. It can only improve it.