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confession, racism, slavery, forgiveness

photo: canva

Yesterday, our sermon was on Daniel 9. Seemed harmless enough. It wasn’t…harmless, that it is. Taken in a larger context, it was even less so. It was about corporate confession of sin, specifically, the sin of racism. But you might not know the full context.

I take pride in my background of 7 years in Jamaica. When we went there, I didn’t think I was a racist. In many ways, I wasn’t. I abhorred the idea that in some parts of the U.S., people with a different skin color than mine had to use a different bathroom, sometimes even a different drinking fountain and frequently a different public school that was inferior in quality of education.

In that sense, I didn’t think I was a racist. But in some subtle ways, I was. My friend and neighbor, Walford Thompson, taught me through questions and interaction with books I was reading at the time, about my subtle racism. I will forever be grateful to him for what he taught me. We had many brutally honest and frank discussions and my subtle racist views were open to see. It was good to speak them aloud. That way they could be seen for what they were…and dealt with.

After 7 years, we returned to the U.S. (1977). Since then, we have pastored in many churches, raised our girls, watched our culture change. We lived in Miami, FL, Tyler, TX and the Peoria, IL areas. We are now retired in Huntsville, AL.

The lessons I learned from Walford have helped me often over the years as I related to church members with views different from my own, worked as a nurse and cared for patients and with people of all colors and points of view. I also discovered that racism is not only found in the white community. But that is a topic for another day.

The conversation is changing.

In the past few years, I have been more irritated with the racial conversation in a few areas. One area was that I should have to apologize/repent for the sins of my forefathers in regard to slavery and the ensuing sins that arose from the horrible evil. I felt that I was up to my ears in my own present day sin without having to borrow sins of past generations to apologize and repent for. Couldn’t we just move on? (To quote a recent comment from one of our presidential contenders.)

But I’m rethinking my position…and have been for about a year or so. The thing about a generational sin as ingrained as slavery was, is that it has its tentacles wrapped so deeply in the culture in unexpected ways.

Early on, it was going to be difficult to give up slavery because of the economics of it…on many levels. There weren’t many people who were willing to actually think through how to do it because it was the right thing, even if it cost them their way of life!

Then, there was the effect on the black family. Treating the slaves as chattle, meant that if times were lean or certain people became a drain on the economics of the “company,” slaves were sold, regardless of who they were married to or children of, sometimes never to be seen again! These were human beings, treated like they were nothing but a piece of furniture…to be used and sold to the highest bidder when they were either no longer needed or when it was beneficial to sell their children to make money in lean times.

And what about the inhumane treatment? For the most part, they were treated horribly. The exceptions proved the rule. Many were beaten into submission. Women were often raped by their white masters whether they were married officially or not. They were not treated as humans, created in GOD’s image. Even if they were treated decently (not beaten or raped), they had no rights to be self-reliant or even work toward that direction. They had no right to own property or vote or go to court if they were unfairly treated. They knew that if anything went wrong and it was their word against their owner, they had no rights to any kind of fair trial. It is something that is difficult for me to imagine.

Then, when they went to church, where all of us are on level ground before GOD, were they treated the same? NO! Unless they were in an all black church. They were either not allowed to join the church or had a special, inferior membership roll, they had to sit in a special location (the back) and generally were not treated as full and equal members of the church. That is horrid!

It is no wonder that this generational sin has had profound effects on our culture today.

We can point the finger and say that their resentment is wrong, but oh my goodness! If we look at history, we see all the ways they, as a people have been offended. It is horrendous!

If we follow the standard for reconciling with someone, we realize that “moving on” will prevent our looking at the many sins of commission and omission that took place in our history that affect our present. If we simply “move on”, we won’t be able to get to the root of many of the issues that affect our present day problems. Moving on causes us to ignore injustice. It prevents us from actually putting ourselves in the place of the person wronged to understand their perspective, or in this case, their history.

Moving on will prevent our looking at the many sins of commission and omission that took place in our history that affect our present. Share on X

Apart from Christ, there is good reason for resentment. The conversation goes something like them: Are you hearing my pain? Do you understand the hurt that is here?” Frequently, the response from many of us Christians is: “You need to forgive.” “It didn’t happen to you.” Or other unhelpful comments. There is no love or care expressed. We tend to be very bookish about the pain of others and want them to be tender toward us. It doesn’t work that way.

Apart from Christ, there is good reason for resentment. Share on X

They are wanting us to listen to the pain and we are trying to be precise about all the facts. It is not the way to reconcile. It is a sad sign of our wanting to be right, not of wanting true reconciliation. I have been helped by some of the thinking that has been taking place by our church.

Our recent denominational statement has been the result of unrelenting work on the part of African American brothers and sisters for justice and mercy

Our denomination has been working on this issue especially over the past year. It is easy to say, “It’s about time!” But there are always new aspects to these issues of race that all of us need to deal with. Many of our church sessions have been looking over their notes from the past (some churches are old enough to have been in existence during civil war and earlier, years). They have been writing statements about specific actions from their past and repenting of them. Whether it was over a specific event they should not have done or whether it was a sin of omission where they saw a member’s bigotry and did nothing.

This year, a statement that was written to repent and apologize for the part our forbearers played in this sin was approved. Our pastor preached on Daniel 9 yesterday and pointed out one precedent for this kind of behavior found there as Daniel confessed to sins committed in the past by the nation of Israel, even though he didn’t specifically partake of them. As a member of that nation, he felt responsible to confess.

We don’t just “move on” from this kind of generational sin. It is too deeply rooted. As I have read through the statement, I have found areas I can be challenged on in my life to apologize and confess and move forward in my growth in grace.

One of the primary things that has sparked the renewal and repentance in the PCA is the way our African-American brothers and sisters have patiently modeled the merciful, forgiving heart of GOD to us. Share on X

One statement that was especially telling yesterday in our pastor’s sermon was this: One of the primary things that has sparked the renewal and repentance in the PCA is the way our African-American brothers and sisters have patiently modeled the merciful, forgiving heart of GOD to us. They have been unrelenting in their work for justice and equally unrelenting in their gracious commitment to forgiveness. That has prompted us to feel safe to confess.

How awesome is it that the very people we need to seek repentance from, have reached out in love to us. They haven’t been blind to our failures. They have persevered in conversation and relationship to speak truth in love…with perseverance. What a profound testimony to hear as we as a denomination move forward to become more diverse and welcoming to those who are different.

Confession is a unique mark on the Church…historically. May it be true of us as a body once again.

I want to share the link to this sermon and the following confession, parts of which you will recognize in my post. Our pastor is Will Spink.

The following is the confession we read together at the end of the sermon.

Heavenly Father, we confess that we have sinned and turned aside from your commands and your heart. We have thought more highly of ourselves than of others different from us. We have harbored prejudice in our hearts, we have spoken carelessly, we have laughed hurtfully. And, God, we have failed to love our neighbor by defending our minority brothers and sisters. We have neglected to address broken systems, we have been satisfied with relationships with others like us, we have not longed for a multi-colored kingdom that you have promised us your kingdom is. O Lord, have mercy on us!

Heavenly Father, to us belongs open shame because of our unbridled materialism. We have sought security in created things rather than the Creator. We have been proud in our own accomplishments rather than grateful for your gifts. And, God, we have neglected the poor and the oppressed. In our fear and selfishness, we have not cried over their suffering or shown your benevolent heart at all times. O Lord, have mercy on us!

Heavenly Father, we have rebelled and failed to obey your voice. You have called us to share the good news of Jesus with all people, to make disciples of all nations. But we have busied ourselves with the temporal pleasures we desire and avoided the eternal souls of people created in your image. And, God, we have refused to risk discomfort, rejection, or even persecution for the sake of your name. O Lord, have mercy on us!

Forgive us, Lord, for these and many other violations of your holy law we have done as well as many other duties we have left undone. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O God. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. Amen.

(written by Will Spink)

This is the actual overture that passed.

An interesting commentary re this event.

I’ll have to finish the most hopeful part of this on my next post. This has gotten too long.