Saturday, July 18, 2020
Who will be left. . .
Our leaders have always been flawed people and they always will be. We will judge between those flaws that disqualify and those that can be overlooked, but that judgment is largely subjective. The sins of Trump cannot be forgotten or forgiven by those who stand against him but the sins of Biden will be set aside because he is not Trump. On the other side, the sins of Trump are tolerated because he is not Biden (or, perhaps more accurately, not Hillary). It is a fools errand to try and sort this out with reason and logic. Passion is never logical or reasonable and the politics of today are passion.
The point of this post, however, is not to sort out the Trump vs Biden contest or predict a winner but to suggest that there is wisdom that comes from making mistakes. The man who never changes his mind is hardly a man you wish to lead you. The changes and chances of this mortal life require someone who can change and grow. The issue is what changes and how that person grows. For Christians it is growth in righteousness and it comes not simply from making mistakes (what we used to call sin) but confessing that sin, repenting of that sin, seeking the forgiveness of God, and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, seeking to amend your sinful life.
In a world where sin is no longer part of our vocabulary, we end up with rigid people who spend their time and energy excusing and justifying their own sins and the sins of those they like and refusing to forgive and forget the sins of those they don't. That is a very unhealthy world and one without hope. For more than anything else, the process of confession and the gift of absolution is an exercise of hope. God delivered this hope to sinners first by counting the blood of bulls, goats, and lambs as payment for sin. This blood had nothing in it to redeem the sinner but God looked at this sacrifice and this blood in view of the true Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world who was to come. His blood redeems and restores the worst sinners. More than anything else, this is the gift of the Church to the world. It is not simply good works in the shape of care for the sick, the aged, the orphan, the poor, and those in other need but the power to bring forgiveness and redemption to those who deserve none of it.
When the world refuses our vocabulary, it loses our gift. The point of this is not to rescue politicians from the sins of their youth or their foolish words or deeds but the power to heal. Among all the words of confession being demanded from the privileged, we hear too few words of absolution. After all, Christians do not confess because we might be forgiven but because we have been forgiven. God has condescended in mercy to count the sins of the Innocent Savior for the guilty sinner. That is the power. Confession may begin this cathartic process but confession is not the power or the end. Absolution is. If there is a way to rescue the impasses of the world and our deep divisions, it will be by teaching of God's forgiveness in Christ. Unity is not negotiated or achieved by compromise as much as it is the fruit of confession and absolution. We can agree to set aside our differences and work around our disputes but that will be a paper unity that will unravel at the first great test. The power of Christ's redemption is not weak but strong -- strong enough to bind us to God and to each other. Such is the gift of forgiveness that begins with God but extends through His people. This absolution does not overlook mistakes or excuse them or attempt to justify them. It confronts them. It calls them what they are: sins. It ends their shame, guilt, and power to divide with the healing power of God.
We will find ourselves at a dead end if our search for pastors requires them to be without sin. We will find ourselves at the same dead end if our search for political leaders requires them to be without flaw. That does not mean that character does not count. What it does mean is that we acknowledge both church and state leaders to be sinners. As great as the power of forgiveness is, that power does not mean that those forgiven may return to their offices or that this forgiveness means there are no consequences for those sins. In the Church those who are forgiven retain the privileges of full participation as the people of God. This may or may not mean that they retain their offices. That depends upon the public nature of those sins and it is within the wisdom and judgment of the Church to decide when and if that forgiven sinner may be restored to the offices once entrusted to them. It may be subjective and it may be a flawed process but confession and absolution are never neat and clean and are always messy. In politics, that judgment is made largely by the vote of people. At least in a democracy, this judgment is not reserved to a few but is retained by those governed. It is subjective. It is messy. Some are forgiven by the people and continue to serve and some may be forgiven over time but never restored to office. We have seen such examples in our past, even in our recent past.
All of this has been complicated by churchly processes designed to encourage confession and absolution while leaving much latitude to the ecclesiastical supervisors. Some folks want this to be neat and tidy but it is not. The older system leaned more in this direction of a court and a verdict than our current one. That is part of the problem. Reconciliation is a laudable goal but when wrongs are reduced to perfunctory I am sorrys, absolution begins to seem equally empty. Who will be left?
But where it has really become complicated is in the world. Social media has become the primary means of hashing out our disputes and there is little ability to confess and absolve on a medium better suited for confrontation, conflict, and control of the conversation. How many politicians were rescued in years gone by on the power of a good speech, filled with contrition and sorrow, with a promise to try harder? Now our leaders tweet their accusations, apologies, and absolutions and it is all forgotten as everyone moves on to the next best thing. Who will be left?