Dear people of Ireland, today we’ll vote on whether to remove the 8th amendment from our constitution. I’m not writing to you to tell to what to vote, I don’t have the right to do that. I’m writing to you to apologise on behalf of the church in Ireland.
The debate surrounding this referendum has been heated and hate-filled. At first I simply chose to switch off. I unfollowed everyone on Facebook. Everyone. (Yes, including you) Yes campaigners and No campaigners alike. It’s felt like everyone is shouting and no one’s listening. And the less heard people have felt heard, the louder they’ve shouted in trying to be heard.
This week I had a couple of friends come to visit and one of them stopped to talk to a Yes campaigner, simply to ask her what the referendum was all about and why she was campaigning for a Yes vote. What she shared wasn’t hate but pain. Pain at her voice not being heard, particularly pain caused by the church. After listening and asking her questions to hear her story, my friend told her that he works for a church and apologised on behalf of the church for causing so much pain. I don’t know if his words had an impact on her (though it certainly wasn’t what she was expecting to hear) but they certainly had an impact on me.
I am just one small voice among many clamouring for attention but for what it’s worth:
People of Ireland, we- the church- have failed you. God told us (not the Government) to take care of the most vulnerable people in society, especially women and children who are at risk of being marginalised. Instead of caring for you, mothers, when you found yourselves in crisis situations we punished you and took your children from you, selling them to the highest bidder. Instead of teaching you, children, we abused you and shamed you. Instead of loving you, orphans, we neglected and killed you. When you told the truth, we didn’t come clean. We are without excuse.
Jesus’ harshest criticism is for those who publicly side with God yet completely misunderstand His heart and misrepresent Him to others. In the parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus tells how the loving father runs towards his lost son. The crowd is also running towards the son, to condemn him and cut him off from their community forever. The father outruns them so that his son is met by love and not judgment. People of Ireland, when you turned to us we should have represented the father, our heavenly Father, and met you with love, welcoming you as family. Instead, too often we have been the crowd, meeting you with condemnation and no mercy.
Jesus laid down all of His power, His authority, and His own life in order to pay the penalty for our sin so that we, you and I, could be forgiven and adopted into God’s family. He does not turn anyone away. Instead of laying our lives down for you, we have used our power to abuse you.
The prophet Isaiah describes Jesus:
“He will not shout or cry out, or raise His voice in the streets.”
We have denied you your voice and shouted you down instead of listening to you and valuing what you have to say.
“A bruised reed He will not break, and a smouldering wick He will not snuff out.”
When you were bruised and vulnerable and weak we should have held you gently and comforted you. Instead we crushed you.
“In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; He will not falter or be discouraged til He established justice on earth. In His teachings the islands will put their hope.”
Jesus ensured that those who were suffering injustice were heard and vindicated. He sided with the vulnerable and protected them from those who were trying to crush them. Instead of protecting you from those within our ranks who sought to destroy you, we said nothing. We did nothing. We allowed injustice to win. We should have pointed you towards hope. Instead we shut the door.
We have failed you. We do not deserve your forgiveness.
I realise that this is too little, too late but I want to say it anyway: on behalf of the church, I am sorry.
If you have been hurt by the church then I realise that I am the last person you’d like to speak to right now. But if you feel like your voice has not been heard and you would like to share your story with someone who will not interrupt you, shut you down, or de-humanise you, I’d be honoured to hear it. I’ll have the tea ready, just in case.