For Our Caesars and our Herods, Forgive Us

by Andrew Stephens-Rennie

Jim Loney’s “Litany of Resistance” sure has made the rounds. Back in May 2007, we used it to close our “Ghost Stories :: Local Pain, Local Hope” event. It moved on from there, was borrowed by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw, eventually making its way into their book “Jesus for President.”

Numerous churches, coffee houses and auditoriums later, it became a main feature on their 2008 Jesus for President Tour. One year ago, when we hosted Shane in Ottawa, it seemed only appropriate to bring the litany home to Canada, and pray it together in the heart of our very own empire, within earshot of Parliament Hill.

We were church, that evening. Conservative and Progressive. Left and Right. Everyone in between. We were all there, wanting to go deeper. God’s family had packed into Dominion-Chalmers United Church, and after Shane’s inspiring talk, we prayed through that litany together.  At one point, we used the following words:

For Our Casears and our Herods

Forgive Us.

For some in this political town, these words were hard to swallow, and the images were hard to stomach. Some abstained from reading these lines in unison with the rest. Others mumbled along. Still others responded with anger.

As the evening ended, one woman came and found me in the a/v booth where I was sitting. I could tell from the look in her eye that she meant business. She demanded to know if I had created the slides for the litany. In fact, I had. Seeing the anger in her eyes, I didn’t know what to expect, and I didn’t know what particularly had angered her.

Whatever it was, I sensed that something had hit close to home. Many of the slides had been provocative – invoking the worst of human history and seeking forgiveness – warfare, residential schools, rape and exploitation and murder. None of these, however, had raised her ire.

“There are far worse people in the world than these,” she seethed. “You could have at least shown photos of George W. Bush. Our leadership is not perfect, but they’re no Caesars or Herods.”

What she said that night may have in fact been true. As I was creating the slides earlier that week, I wrestled with using these images, yet I stuck with them in the end.

It seemed to me then – as it does now in the midst of our current campaign fever – all too easy to cast the blame somewhere else. It’s all too easy to cast the blame on folks like Bush or Bin Laden, on Gaddafi or Chavez. These are the real offenders. They’re the ones sending this world to hell in a handbasket. Not our leaders. This is Canada!

But as Christians, as the church, as the body of Christ, we do not get off the hook so easily. We do not get to point a finger in somebody else’s direction. We’re not off the hook for the choices we make, for the people we exclude, for the products we sell.

We are certainly not off the hook for those members of our society we have carelessly shoved to the margins. We are not off the hook for the way we spend our money or the careless ways in which we live our lives. It’s all too easy to cast the blame somewhere else.

Certainly I don’t have a log in my own eye, do I?

That evening as many others filed noisily into the streets, I found myself in conversation with a woman in clear distress. I realized in that moment as I continued to walk with her through that visceral reaction, and deep wrestling, that we had done something right that evening. We had pointed the finger dangerously close to home. We had suggested that the problems this world faces require solutions that start right here. We are not exempt from the accusations of empire.

You know, this election, I’m not sure how much it matters whether I vote Conservative or Liberal, NDP, Bloc or Green. At least I’m not sure if such things matter if I don’t first pledge my allegiance to Jesus.

I’m not sure they matter if I don’t first pledge my allegiance to God’s upside-down, mustard-seed kingdom. I’m not sure they matter if my life is not continually being transformed by and conformed to the life of Jesus Christ.

Perhaps it’s in this light that I can say that it does matter who I vote for. Voting is made meaningless if we Christians fail to do so in the context of our faith, our relationship with God, and relationship to our neighbours.

This is about more than who to vote for. This is about how we live our lives. How do we demonstrate compassion? How do we enter into others’ sufferings? How do we take responsibility for this good creation with which God has entrusted us?

(How) do any of the candidates help accomplish these things? They certainly won’t accomplish them all. Which is perhaps okay. It gives Christ’s church something to work through in the meantime as we seek to embody God’s alternative kingdom, embrace God’s alternative economy, and pursue God’s way to lasting peace…the way of the cross.

Andrew Stephens-Rennie on FacebookAndrew Stephens-Rennie on Twitter
Andrew Stephens-Rennie
Andrew is a writer, dreamer and organizer with a keen interest in developing leaders in faith, compassion and justice.

He currently serves as the Director of Missional Renewal for the Anglican Diocese of Kootenay on the unceded territories of the Sinixt, Syilx, and Ktunaxa nations. He previously served as the Director of Ministry Innovation at Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, BC.

Andrew is cofounder and contributing editor at, and co-editor of "A Sort of Homecoming: Essays Honoring the Academic and Community Work of Brian Walsh" with Marcia Boniferro and Amanda Jagt.

6 Responses to “For Our Caesars and our Herods, Forgive Us”

  1. Scott McLeod

    Thanks Andrew! Its always hard to point the finger close to home, or even at home. But how do we move forward if we are not even willing to look at ourselves? Thanks for the reminder!

  2. Nathaniel Wiseman

    Thank you.
    For many years I have noticed & lamented Canadians’ proclivity to villify the USA and its leaders. I believe it is the manifestation of a guilty concience or self-righteous Pharasaim; and serves as a distraction from examining our own hands…which are still stained with blood.
    In Messiah Jesus,
    I join the prayers & lament for Canada…
    God Help Us!

    • andrew

      Nathaniel – Thanks so much for your comments. I think it’s really important for each of us to find the ways in which we are implicated in tarnishing the image of God, and in betraying the gospel. There’s not just one Judas out there (which is perhaps why confession is so central to many streams of the church), but we all fall short of God’s glory. While we can point fingers at others (and must, from time to time), if we don’t do this while being self-critical, I don’t know how change will come. By God’s Grace…

  3. John Deacon

    Thanks for your article. I have read it three times, testament to how slow it takes for me to get it, but also to allow it to seep deep enough to affect my thinking. As one still getting over Mayor Ford’s election, the likelihood of that bewilderment deepening if Harper wins, has me wondering where the blazes God is.
    That said, your article has reset my sights for where He might be found…in places other than the electoral process, building community and resolve among those our politics have abandoned, among those who rely on his alternative economy for resource, definition and hope.

    • andrew

      Hi John – Now that the election is over and Harper has indeed won, what are your thoughts? I’m challenged now to find ways in which I’m able to live up to the challenge I shared on this blog a month ago. Perhaps those of us who are trying to recover a prophetic imagination need to meet together more often to dream up new ways of responding to the challenges of the day.

      • John Deacon

        My suggestions would be these:
        Keep blogging. It inspires my imagination. If it goes further than that (i.e. an inspired activism) I will let you know.
        Be in community with poor people. This is somewhat a challenge for me living in Thornhill, but fortunately there are two communities very receptive to having me at least once a week – All Saints Anglican at Dundas and Sherbourne and the Christian Resource Centre in Regent Park.
        And then there are all the homeless people who are the real chaplains of King and Bay.


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