Should We Apologize for Excommunication?

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Fifty years ago, our consistory excommunicated a man for snowmobiling on Sunday. The man in question passed away last month. Certain family members were deeply hurt by the harshness of the consistory of the day. Some remain in the church; others have left.

My sense is that some acknowledgement of wrongdoing would be deeply appreciated by some family members. Other elders say leave it alone, that we are disturbing old ground and that we cannot apologize for wrongs committed by others in another time and place.

I am interested in all feedback. Thanks in advance.

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Thanks John for the question.  I am thinking there was more to the story 50 years ago than a snowmobile ride on a Sunday followed by an excommunication.   If that was all there is to it, then yes, an apology is in order. 

That being said, listening to the hurts of those involved would be a good step towards some reconciliation.  Leaving the past alone because it is in the past has been a major roadblock in all kinds of situations for the church (first nations justice, abuse situations, church splits, etc).   We are called as believers to be peacemakers.   

In my own ministry experiences, I find that whenever we elders attempted to call someone back from waywardness as gently and lovingly as possible, there was usually a period where the person in question was defensive, and resistant and accused (usually by way of grapevine) the leadership of being harsh.  In these times I have also listened as other family members and friends come to me very upset with the elders for how they are allegedly treating their relative/friend, even as they most often have inaccurate information and do not know the whole picture. 

In such situations elders & pastors are often in difficult places working to guard confidentiality, to ministry the truth in love (keeping both those in play), and to minister to others affected who demand to be on the inside of all that is being said but who cannot be.  People will disagree with decisions made by Councils but we all need to be gracious enough to realize that we usually do not have the whole picture.  Councils need to err on the side of grace as much as possible but not to the point of actually endorsing what is sinful and therefore harmful to a person. 

We also have appeal routes to use in the CRC that should be communicated and facilitated/supported with those who feel they are wronged.  I have conducted funerals of persons who have breaches in the family rooted in the interaction between them and their former churches.  Most often I find it has to do with suffering through a divorce and the difficulties of how church communities have historically dealt with this. 

It is all very sad to see such unresolved conflicts enduring for so long.  Perhaps skill in restorative justice practices and peacemaking are more crucial to church leadership than precision in following the steps of a Church Order?  After all, we have been given the ministry of reconciliation that saves us all.

Colin.