This week I took some vacation to go to a conference in Atlanta, and I was privileged to experience a renewal of hope and a sense of belonging. I laughed, cried, hoped, sang, prayed, listened, and shared all through Monday and Tuesday – and all this with a close friend. Truly, I am blessed.
Then on Wednesday after my drive back to Ohio, I got to share my experiences with my parents who listened attentively and with joy. Doubly blessed as the days became even more holy when they were shared.
A few men and women in Charleston, South Carolina engaged in a not so different activity that same night. I’m sure they prayed and spoke of their own spiritual journeys, but the night was a tragic one for them – indeed the final night for nine.
I saw the news Thursday morning, and my heart sank. I saw that the killer had not been caught and prayed. Then I went to work, and honestly thought little of the incident for the rest of the day. I got distracted by the happenings of every day life – a distraction that at least nine families may never again know after a young white man stole it from them.
Now that I’ve had a bit of time to reflect, I have something to say to both my black brothers and sisters and to my white brothers and sisters.
To my black brothers and sisters, I am sorry.
You may read that as a sympathetic acknowledgement that this is painful and hard, but no I actually mean that I am sorry. I didn’t kill these people nor have I ever intentionally inflicted harm on someone because of race.
But . . .
I have seen a young black man and walked a different direction.
I have assumed that black people I don’t know are uneducated.
I have benefited from centuries of oppression, slavery, sanctioned discrimination, segregation, and prejudice.
For all of that I am sorry. I am sorry for my own prejudice. And I’m sorry for dismissing racism as history ignoring that the past bleeds into the present.
I am sorry for how my history textbook in high school lauded the principle of compromise inherent in this nation’s constitution and barely mentioned that one of those compromises was calling your ancestors 3/5 of a person. I’m sorry for how my ancestors regarded yours as property not as human beings. I am sorry for how so many of my white brothers and sisters even now display the confederate flag and speak of state’s rights and federalism and ignore its dehumanizing effect on you. I am sorry for Jim Crow – for the denial of rights and dignity and for the sanctioned injustice. I am sorry for how this nation’s longstanding housing policies after the Civil War continuing well into the 20th century allowed my ancestors to pass on wealth to future generations and kept your ancestors marginalized and separate. I am sorry for the subtler injustice that continues into the present. I am sorry for how my cultural heritage gave the space for a hate like this to fester, and now nine families are torn apart.
I’m mourning with you. I may not know this pain as poignantly, but as best I can I am joining you in it. This act and every racist act whether great or small is an affront to human dignity. I ask for your forgiveness for my own subtle racism of the heart and for the overt racism of the past and present on behalf of those who share my cultural heritage. I ask you to show us the grace we have so often denied you.
I’m seeking to live a life of repentance. In my heart, I will acknowledge the prejudicial thoughts that arise and seek a better way. When I say something offensive, I ask you to correct me with kindness and assume that I do not mean to be unkind. I commit to doing my best to listen and to heed.
To my white brothers and sisters, let us repent together.
That word often comes with a lot of baggage, but it simply means choose a new direction. I ask that you too acknowledge the sins of the past and the present. Yes, it is true you did not own slaves; you did not enact Jim Crow: you did not take part in the overt oppression. But you too have benefited from it, and I imagine you’re like me – guilty of a latent often disguised racism of the heart.
If you’re a parent, I ask you to tell your children about racism. Tell them about the past and the present. We must acknowledge the wounds of the past to avoid repeating them and to allow them to become scars. Expose your children to other cultures. Studies have even shown that even from infancy, children exposed to facial features other than their own are less prone to racism.
Finally, I ask you to share. Share this blog post and claim the words “I repent” as your own, write your own words of repentance, or share another’s work on this subject.
We will speak the most life into the hearts of our black brothers and sisters by acknowledging their hurt and our contribution to it.
I have ignored my own racism for most of my life. In the last year or so I’ve been seeking to confront it. Snap judgment prejudices do arise in my mind regularly – as I’m sure they do in you. Now, rather than burying them, I’m acknowledging them to myself and then setting my mind away from my fears toward a shared humanity.
To all of us, let us love one another.
All week, I’ve been listening to the song “Brother” by the band The Brilliance. The opening line repeated throughout says, “When I look into the face of my enemy, I see my brother.” We will make the ground and the hour holy if we look one another in the eye and recognize a common human dignity, the image of God if you are so inclined. Give the song a listen; I hope you are blessed by the humility it expresses.
As a Christian, I believe this task is a part of discipleship. Reconciliation is the engine of resurrection living, and reconciliation cannot take place without humble repentance, lament over desecration of life, and refusal to allow the powers of sin and death to dominate. We lay a brick in the kingdom of God every time we prophetically name evil, acknowledge our participation in it, and set our hearts on hope.
Lord, grant us the strength to mourn with those who mourn. May we see the grace of repentance and reconciliation.