Responding to Accusations of Racism: Confessing the Sins of our Fathers (And Our Own)

The news and social media seem to be all about race these days. Comments (not necessarily conversations!) range from criticism of police to criticism of the Black community. And surely there are plenty of reasons to criticize. And notice how it is so easy to identify and name the sins of those who are not us! And when others point out our sins, we tend either to get defensive or tell a story. Neither response gets us to where we need to go!

Pointing out the sins of others (individuals and groups) fails to promote healing and reconciliation. As Jesus calls us, we must start with our own log before removing the speck in the eye of the other (Matthew 7:3f). And our own log exists beyond our own specific misdeeds. We must also acknowledge the ways we have participated in and benefitted from the sins of our “own kind” (culture, ancestors, etc.)

Being Nehemiah

By all accounts, Nehemiah was a godly man. I suspect he was born in captivity and so therefore not culpable for the sins that got Judah carried off to Babylon. He was suffering, a servant to a foreign king). And yet, he was moved to confess the sins of his “ancestors” (v. 1:6) as his own. Later, when Ezra reads the law, Nehemiah and the rest hear it then confess the sins of Israel starting with the failures to obey God in the wilderness (chapter 9). They do not call out the sins of their captors (which are evident) or even their detractors but choose to stay focused on their own failings. Not content just to confess, Nehemiah and the returnees sign a covenant and make promises for specific and objective changed behavior going forward (chapter 10).

How might this apply to our current situation? Can those who are white (no matter the economic class) confess benefits of privilege not available to many of our brothers and sisters of color? Can we do so without deflecting to the flaws and sins of those who respond sinfully to racializations?

Can we acknowledge the massive impact of hundreds of years of discrimination and why it makes sense that resulting poverty, destruction of families, and hopeless still show up today? Can we own our sins with the detail shown us in Nehemiah? Can we covenant to be different? Will we call our families and communities to be different?

Maybe then we might be free to point out the sins of those who are “other.” Until then, let us let the Holy Spirit be the one to teach “them” about following Jesus.


Filed under Christianity, Race, Racial Reconciliation, Relationships

7 responses to “Responding to Accusations of Racism: Confessing the Sins of our Fathers (And Our Own)

  1. I don’t disagree with anything you said. I want to take that humble posture. I know I have at least one slave-holding ancestor, so it feels very real to me. On the other hand, I’ve been forced to apologize individually to someone of another race on three separate, public occasions (conferences of one kind and another), and that feels oppressive and unjust, too. It’s probably good for me, but it’s a struggle. Nehemiah helped his people to repentance, just as you are doing. Thank you. But then those same people turned and began to build something better together. I want to be part of that, as well, to create and look forward in addition to lamenting the past. You are a great example of that, so thank you again.

    • Thanks Louise. Forced confessions should not be part of this process. Sometimes conference speakers want to orchestrate an emotional experience, and that isn’t likely to serve anyone well. However, sometimes we can be in situations where we recognize that we aren’t ready to confess. And we should have the freedom to say, I’m not ready yet.

  2. Paul

    Is it possible that America stays stuck in the Karpman Drama Triangle in regards to poverty and racism? Is that why real change never seems to occur? See if you think this paradigm fits the national conversation.

  3. Fran

    Excellent, sobering, soul piercing thoughts and questions. Am reading the book of Acts right now and in light of what you wrote, am struck even more how the unity of believers in the first church leveled the economic field as all individual possessions were common property (4:32) and with confidence in the resurrection power of the Lord Jesus and belief that His abundant grace was for each one (4:33), there was not a needy person among them (4:34). What sacrificial love and care for one another. Sure makes me wonder how we might look like that again? When did those of us who make up the church, stop being the answer to Jesus’ prayer in John 17?

    Thank you for your wise and thought provoking words.

    • Fran, good thoughts too. Also, in Acts 6, when there was an ethnic conflict (Hebraic vs. Grecian), it seems that the leaders gave the power to the minority group (names listed are Grecian) to solve the problem rather than keeping the power or telling the one’s complaining to buck up.

  4. Tom

    This piece seem wrongheaded to me. It speaks of privilege and discrimination but virtually ignores willful disobedience to God’s laws by the less-advantaged. I think one main reason that there are such large, widespread and persistent dysfunctional communities in America is due to the discrimination of holding some people less accountable for their moral choices than others.

    • My post isn’t speaking to the disobedience by the less-advantaged. Rather, it is addressed to those who have been privileged. Other voices and posts can address the issues you raise.

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