Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

“Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith”

Byron Borger


By Byron Borger

October 20, 2014


Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith Mae Elise Cannon, Lisa Sharon Harper, Troy Jackson, Soong-Chan Rah (Zondervan; 2014) $22.99

Perhaps you have seen that Facebook cartoon showing an indigenous First Nations person musing, “Speaking of bringing deadly diseases to our shores…” The cartoon intends to remind us, in the midst of the fear over the Ebola crisis, that white Europeans have wreaked havoc on local populations in the past, and that the horrific impact was only matched by the gross malfeasance. It is appalling to think about the intentional genocidal decimation of whole populations and the later abuses in North America such as the Trail of Tears, the sins of Kit Carson, the dubious treaties signed and broken, and the injustices of Native American schools and reservation policies.

Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith documents such abuses in overwhelming detail that might be disturbing to the tenderhearted. For many readers of Capital Commentary, though, spending time with its four good authors exploring the history of some very heavy stuff will be a significant experience. This is an important book for our organization.

Forgive Us brings together four esteemed evangelical social justice activists and scholars (two who are trained as historians), each telling the sordid tale of a particular group’s abuse and how the Christian church has been complicit in it. The authors in turn teach us about how US churchgoers have hurt native peoples, people of color, women, the GLBTQ communities, immigrants, Jews and Muslims, and in one powerful chapter, the creation itself. These informative chapters bring together important facts about how the church has been harmful.  As a reader, you will most certainly exclaim more than once “Why haven’t we talked about this before? Why did I not know this?” Perhaps it will drive you to your knees.

The authors are convinced of the Biblical truth that confession and repentance precede outbreaks of gospel good news and that understanding and naming past cultural sins is an essential contemporary spiritual practice. From its earliest days, the Center for Public Justice has called for confession of social injustice, rejecting the hubris of civil-religious pride that would resist admitting to national sin. Learning more – for the first time, or as a refresher – about these complex and harmful past policies, whose implications reverberate in the present, will make us better neighbors, better citizens, and more sensitive to language, feelings, and experiences of others in the public square.  It may help us truly become more caring and just people, appropriately transformed by at least some of the burdens of history that have implicated us.

This feisty quartet of scholar-activists has given us a great and difficult gift. They are all loyal church leaders, desiring above all that Christ be glorified and that God’s message be heard afresh. Indeed, one of the motivations for this book has been their profound personal sadness that too often the watching world realizes (better than many in the church) that the history of Christianity in North America has included great shortcomings like these. This move towards confession will hopefully be noticed by those estranged from the dominant expressions of Christianity and could bear fruit among those who carry within them wounds and worries about the church’s integrity. It might help the public know whether Christian social and political movements such as CPJ care enough about them and their concerns. For these practical reasons, reading and discussing and living out the suggestions found in Forgive Us could be a very important activity.

One thing should be made clear: the Bible teaches, and these authors remind us, that although social sin hurts our neighbors, our land, our culture, and even ourselves, it is first an affront against a Holy God. In Christ alone, through faith alone, by God’s grace alone, we can be forgiven and restored. Confession is an essential step, a response to God’s Spirit working among us, bringing to clarity our sin against God and others. This book includes a litany of confession after each chapter, and these liturgical aids could be useful in one’s personal devotions, in small prayer groups or fellowship meetings, or in more formal worship services. These poetic prayers are reminders of the heart of this book: the profoundly religious call to repent. Naming and confessing our sins, seeking absolution and healing from God, and being open to new opportunities to rebuild trust before those whom we have harmed could be, oddly, a great joy and blessing.  Read Forgive Us: Confessions of a Comprised Faith and thank the Holy One for grace and for these authors, scholars and prophets and pastors that they are, who serve us well by inviting us into this spiritual practice so necessary for a public faith worthy of the name Christian.

-  Byron Borger runs Hearts & Minds Books. Capital Commentary readers can get a 20% discount on books listed here by ordering through Hearts & Minds.

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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”