“For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God…”Genesis 3:5
Like many of my white brothers and sisters in recent weeks, I want to be part of healing racial pain in our country. And similarly to many of my white sisters and brothers, I feel uncertain about what action is righteous and my responsibility.
I started with listening, as tends to often be my default mode. Purposefully, I tuned in to black women and men. I read and watched and listened to Austin Channing Brown, Lisa Sharon Harper, Jemar Tisby, Chanequa Walker-Barnes, Bryan Stevenson, and many other wise teachers. Their words reshaped the history I was taught in school, the misperception that the 2020 protests are happening in a vacuum, and the illusion that the universal church I serve is innocent.
The concept of racism in American history has been reaffirmed by American religion in the most horrific ways. If you want to read more about that, I recommend Tisby’s book and Walker-Barnes’ book. Both deal with the white church’s active role in creating and sustaining racism. The church has been and still is actively harming image bearers of God. In the name of God, we the church have claimed that God made those in black skin to be less than those in white skin. In the name of God, we the church have degraded culture that looks different than our own. In the name of God, we the church have murdered. The good news of Shalom for the earth has been tainted in white hands; we the church have blood on our hands.
The sinful work of racism has been done in the name of God through the hands of Christians. Therefore, confession and repentance are the work required of the church now. What do we, and me, have to repent of? We wanted to be like God. We wanted power to wield as we saw fit.
Sometimes power is enforced with money; making sure that white hands hold more of it than black hands. Sometimes power is enforced with violence; torturing black bodies. Sometimes power is enforced through knowledge; preventing the enslaved from learning to read and underfunding predominantly black school systems. Sometimes power is enforced through fear; white police officers pulling over black drivers for minimal offences and those black men ending up dead or in prison for life. In every instance, white held power over black. White church, we wanted to be like God. And that is sin. Sin requires confession to expel it from our soul. Sin requires repentance to repair the harm we have done.
A confession for the sin of racism
Blessed Jesus, you offered us all your blessings when you announced:
Blessed are the poor in spirit but we have been rich in pride.
Blessed are those who mourn but we have resisted sorrow for our sin.
Blessed are the meek but we are a stiff-necked people.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness but we are filled with lustful power.
Blessed are the merciful but we are harsh, dismissive, and impatient.
Blessed are the pure in heart but we have impure hearts longing for dominance.
Blessed are the peacemakers but we have been warmongers and not sought reconciliation.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness but we have been the persecutors.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me but we have hardly made it known that we are yours by our bigotry and hatred and complicity.
We plead with You to give us contrite hearts forgive our sins and give us passion for the work of repentance.[i]
I want you, white church, to change the way that you use money, wield force, understand history, vote, and fear God’s beloved children who wear dark skin. Those individual changes build to revolutionize a system of racially motivated oppression. But I want those changes in behavior to come from a redeemed heart that seeks to be like the God revealed in Jesus who “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped but instead emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…” [ii]
[i] This confession is adapted from one found here: https://www.monergism.com/corporate-confession-sin-and-assurance-pardon
[ii] Philippians 2:6-7, NRSV