The work of the Social Justice Issues committee that I have been a part of for the General Assembly was brought to the floor of the assembly Thursday night.
Our work included a number of overtures asking the assembly to issue apologies on behalf of several racial/ethnic groups and members of the LBGTQ/Q community who had suffered injustices due (either directly or indirectly) to actions, policies or polity of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
What I took away from my work on the Social Justice Issues committee is, in the words of the estimable Elton John: “Sorry seems to be the hardest word.”
One of the first things that has to happen before an apology can be sincere is that the one who needs to issue the apology must first fully empathize and identify with the harm or hurt that has been done to the one who needs to hear it. Without this incarnational step, whatever is offered will be insincere at best or forced at worst.
I don’t know about you, but if someone is forced to apologize to me for something they’ve done to injure or offend, the only satisfaction I might get is watching them squirm while they do it. As awesome as that might feel in the short term, it does very little to heal the relationship.
On the other hand, I also know what it’s like to feel the pain of not receiving a well-deserved apology. It’s really easy to look at the person you feel owes you the apology with a jaundiced eye – and even easier to assume they not only don’t see you, but they also don’t really care that they’ve wounded you.
I choose to see the work of my committee on these issues as a step toward a more grace-filled, incarnational moment in the life of the PC(USA). In order for our diverse and varied communion to move ever closer toward full reconciliation and restoration with one another, we need to create space for incarnational understanding to happen.
As we debated the overtures from my committee on the floor of the General Assembly, I recalled the stories I heard from advocates who came and spoke to us. I remembered the passionate addresses by members of our committee, who became vulnerable and shared the pain and triumph of their own journeys.
I felt my spirit soar then, in spite of my sadness, and I had a vision — a glimpse of a world set right. It was one of those rare moments in the now when the not-yet shimmered visible.
When we are part of a community, we often have to live in the tension between the now and the not-yet. The not-yet will arrive, I am sure of it, but in the now we must hold on to one another, listen, empathize and in very real, incarnational ways find the strength to forgive and be forgiven.
Leon Bloder is a preacher, a poet, a would-be writer, a husband, a father, a son, a dreamer, a sinner, a pastor, a fellow-traveler and a failed artist. He is talentless, but well-connected. He stumbles after Jesus, but hopes beyond hope that he is stumbling in the right direction. Leon has been married to Merideth for 22 years, is the father of three awesome boys, and serves in ministry at the First Presbyterian Church of Eustis in Eustis, Florida.