The Christian discipline of confession — while common among Catholics, Anglicans, mainline Protestants and Orthodox believers — is largely absent in my own evangelical tradition.
If you attend an evangelical church in the United States, you are more likely to find cushioned theater seats than a liturgy of confession or hear a prayer of repentance.
While other churches use Lent to reflect on their sinfulness in preparation for Easter, few evangelical churches acknowledge Lent at all.
The 40 days of Lent have historically been a season for Christians to engage in confession and repentance. Lenten fasting (which has turned into giving up an indulgence like sweets or Netflix) was merely a way to facilitate self-examination by eliminating distractions and focusing on one’s inner life rather than outward comforts.
Lent is like an annual checkup for Christians; a time to take inventory of one’s soul, clean out any accumulated muck and prepare to receive God’s grace anew at Easter.
Of course, this healthy practice of self-reflection is not limited to one season or one religion. And many Christian traditions rehearse the rhythm weekly with a corporate prayer to confess how “we have not loved (God) with our whole heart, and we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.”
Evangelicals ignore Lent and avoid confession not because they don’t believe in admitting their sins. Asking for forgiveness, after all, is part of putting one’s faith in Jesus.
But for many white evangelicals, this is a one-time event at conversion. Some may confess in their private prayers, but the corporate practice of confession is often dismissed as an “empty ritual,” “too Catholic” or unnecessary because “God forgave all of my sins — past, present and future — on the cross.”
This confuses confession as something we do for God’s sake, instead of a commandment from God.
When self-examination isn’t valued and cultivated, it’s all too easy to see Christian faith as a battle between external agents of good and evil rather than an internal struggle against my own sin.
Without self-awareness, the great threat to the faith is always from those on the outside, never the existence of the transgressions of those on the inside.
Given the pandemic and political trauma of the last year — and the growing distrust citizens have toward one another — perhaps we need a national season of self-reflection and confession.
Perhaps an American Lent — a time to fast from partisan media, from blaming others, would make us mindful of the words of Vaclav Havel: “The line between good and evil does not run clearly between us and them, but through each person.”
I sense that need in my own soul, and perhaps such a season will cause all of us to take seriously Jesus’ command to remove the log from our own eye rather than focus on the speck in our brother’s.
Skye Jethani is a writer and speaker, co-host of the Holy Post podcast and author of “What If Jesus Was Serious?” This commentary is adapted for space and was originally published at Religion News Service.