“Teach your Church, O Lord, to mourn the sins of which it is guilty, and to repent and forsake them.” This is the start of the surprising prayer that accompanies the eighth station, and it was much in my mind as I painted the women of Jerusalem. I couldn’t help thinking of all of the people whom those who claim to act for the church have hurt throughout history. I painted a Jewish woman who was being deported to the death camps, and a native woman who had seen her culture destroyed. I also painted a Civil Rights activist, who was supported in her work and her dignity by the black church and some portion of the white church, while, at the same time, being denounced and attacked by representatives of the white church and its power. In all these cases, its possible to find Christians of deep faith who opposed the destruction and dehumanization of large portions of the human race, but we must acknowledge that the anti-semitism of Nazi Germany had deep cultural roots within Christian Europe, that the people who sent Native children to Indian schools and stole their land couldn’t conceive of a Church that didn’t look like themselves, and that the Klu Klux Klan and other hate organizations regularly tried to wrap themselves in the mantle of Christ. There’s great horror in all of this, and great sadness.
The women of Jerusalem meet Jesus on his way to the cross, representing all those who have been brutalized and terrorized by people who claim religious authority. There was a time in my career when I would have tried to apologize for the church, and find excuses. But I believe that repentance requires a great deal of honesty, and that we can’t atone for things we aren’t willing to admit. I love the church, and all it has given me and taught me. In the same way, I’m sure that Jesus loved the temple and the synagogue. Still, it was the religious authorities who inhabited those communities of temple and synagogue who sentenced him to death, and his church is often inhabited by people who are just as frightened, small, corrupt, and cruel. How can we not mourn our sins?