Sunday, September 25, 2011

Political Apologies, as in True Repentance: Ya know it when ya see it.

In Sunday School today we read this from Romans:
There is none righteous, no not one.
With all the Republican primary candidates trying to prove how "Christian" they are and how their opponents "aren't," this scripture comes as a friendly little reminder (most having forgotten all about the "no religious test" of the U.S. Constitution, Article VI). And it also reminds us of all the sad history of political apologies, I mean the apologies of politicians because nobody really apologizes for politics (take Cheney's book, for example). The non-partisan list of those politicians apologizing for getting caught in their various indiscretions goes on and on. I've racked my brain to think of one of those that I thought was really sincere, and I'm still thinking. So if anyone out there has any ideas on that, please let me know.

The thing is, we all tend to know when an apology or repentance is sincere. I have some personal experience in this regard. Besides repenting fairly constantly so I get in a lot of practice myself, I have been in many disciplinary councils and even as an LDS bishop hearing many confessions of all types. I can't tell any of those stories even by hiding the names because I would never want to reveal such a sacred trust. Yet there were some consistent patterns in those experiences that can be presented while still protecting all confidentiality.

The simple lesson is this. It didn't matter how big or little the sin, the repentance was exactly the same. That may sound a little odd, but it doesn't take a lot of spiritual insight or discernment in this regard. There were a lot of confessions that never needed to be made to a bishop. There were some big ones that most certainly did. It was the attitude and expression of the confession and repentance that were so clearly different in a defining sense of what was sincere.

I know some who have been through all the steps to get right with the church: confession; acceptance of church discipline; waiting out the time on loss of spiritual privileges; re-commitment to familial obligations or child/spouse support issues; even following the LDS Family Services Addiction Recovery Program, or fulfilling legal sentencing requirements. They are accepted back into good standing with the church and go on with their lives never really addressing the core issues that lead them into error and they completely miss the point of of what repentance is about.

And that is also very simple if a little painful. It's all about the broken heart and contrite spirit. That is why the truly penitent is so easily identified. It's much more than tears or the near-hysterical emotional flagellation of some preacher-types (think Jimmy Swaggart's crocodile impression.) Yet tears are often involved.

The best description outside scripture is in C.S. Lewis's The Voyage of the Dawn Treader when the boy Eustace, turned into a dragon as a result of his selfishness and greed, is healed by the Lion Aslan, a clear stand in for the Lord. Eustace is taken by Aslan to a sacred well and told to undress by stripping off his dragon skin to bathe and be healed. Eustace sheds one coat of skin, then another, and again digging more painfully each time. He can go no further and the Lion says, "You will have to let me undress you."
The very first tear he made was so deep and I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I've ever felt. . . .
And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn't like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I'd no skin on – and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I'd turned into a boy again.
That's why it seems so obvious to an observer. Even if we can only watch or assist in counsel and love, it is each individual who has to offer his or her own heart to the Lord to have it ripped open to be healed. Such a dramatic transformation is not easily missed.

Maybe this is why it's best not to mix politics and religion even disregarding he prohibitions of the Constitution and good sense. The really important things about one's relationship with God can't be faked, can't really be expressed openly, and if they were, they wouldn't tend to win any popularity contests in political polling.

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