The Institute of Religion and Democracy (IRD) is all upset again (still) – this time about a confessional letter, read at a World Council of Churches (WCC) assembly. The letter asks God for forgiveness for the United States’ policies on war, the environment, and poverty.
In an email press release, IRD president Alan Wisdom complained, “This penitence is false. These church leaders are not confessing their own sins; they are trying to confess the sins of George W. Bush, who never asked them to perform that service for him. Nor did the members of their own churches ask them to make this kind of statement on their behalf. This letter is a blatant political abuse of the sacred Christian rite of confession.” Later, he said, “Of course, confession of sin is a duty for all Christians, but it is our own sins that we should confess – not the sins for which we wish to fault our political opponents.” (Emphasis mine.)
So, the IRD is upset because someone is trying to confess other people’s sins on their behalf. Or are they actually upset because the alleged sins being confessed are not something they consider to be a sin? Either way, the IRD has no trouble at all calling some behavior sin, even when it is not their own. Granted, I have never heard the IRD offer to actually confess another person’s sin on their behalf, but they have no problems whatsoever in naming other people’s sins for them.
So the theological questions at hand are these:
“Who has the right to name and then to confess sins, the sinner or another person?”
“What is the role of corporate confession of sin, and in what context should it be used?”
“Do we all have to agree that an act is sinful in order for it to be sinful, especially the sinner involved? Or is it enough for just a percentage of people to name something is a sin for it to be one?”
These big questions can be simplified into this one:
“What pronoun should be used in confession, ‘I,’ ‘we,’ ‘you,’ or ‘they’”?
I tend to stick pretty much with the first person and not so much with the second and third. When I use a first person pronoun, I am actually confessing. Using second or third person seems more like condemning. The WCC letter mentioned above uses all first person pronouns, and is as such a proper confession, whether the IRD likes it or not.
Later, I’ll write a little bit about issues that arise in using singular pronouns versus plural. (Don’t you just love grammar? :)