“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” —2 Chronicles 7:14
Confession and repentance are messy and painful, and they don’t come natural to us. Our human heart is in a natural state of denial. Without an external agent, God, we are unable to recognize our prejudices, offenses, and sins.
In the previous text God speaks to God’s people, those whom God claims as God’s own. We belong to the Creator and to each other. That means that regardless of how we perceive others, and regardless of how others perceive us, bonds that can’t be broken tied us up. The relationship we share is held together by the very identity of God. Mother Teresa reminded us “we have forgotten that we belong to each other — that man, that woman, that child is my brother or my sister.”
It is necessary that we understand that this belonging is mutual. I belong to you and you belong to me. There is no escape; we can’t change this relationship. It is only when I recognize others and welcome them into my life that the fullness of God’s identity in me is revealed. No one is an outsider. No one should be left out at the door of my heart; to do so is to deny my God-given identity.
I confess that I am guilty of the sins of prejudice and racism. Each one of us is guilty of these grave sins. As a nation, we have oppressed, violated, and rejected many who are our brothers and sisters; by doing so we have denied their God-given dignity and violated ours. Confession moves us to a place of humility, which is necessary as we seek to enter the presence of the Lord. Such corporate sense of humility and contrition before the Lord enables us to better understand the organic unity we share in the redemptive work of Christ.
According to the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, racism “betray[s] the very nature of God and the unity of creation,” and it adds, “The presence of racism within the church and within society, however, is clearly a continuing problem for Christians.” (Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, page 978)
From God’s perspective, there is only one way of addressing our sins: we must humble ourselves, pray, seek God’s face, and repent.
“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.” —1 John 1:8-10
But what a difficult proposition this is. How can we attain corporal repentance in the context of a nation?
Allow me to suggest a humble beginning, What if the church shows the way of repentance to our nation?
The words of God’s servant, Martin Luther King, Jr., are so loud and piercing: “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”
Corporate repentance is messy and complicated because the only way to arrive at it is by the way of inner struggle in the family. The Spirit of God is unequivocally calling white (especially white evangelical), black, Latino, Asian, and all God’s children to a moment of truth in our nation. The time of pointing fingers must end. Of what use is it to continue to hunker down and build more defenses? God’s work of reconciliation and redemption requires that we fully and unconditionally open our hearts to others. Future generations expect no less from each of us. This burden is on all of us.
How many more generations will pass until the day that our nation confesses in humility that we have sinned against God and against God’s children? How much longer will we, the leaders of the church, wait to call our people to repentance? Will there ever be a right time?
Who among us will have the audacity and the integrity to confess like Ezra, "O my God, I am ashamed and embarrassed to lift up my face to You, my God, for our iniquities have risen above our heads and our guilt has grown even to the heavens?”
The time is today. "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts …” —Hebrews 3:15
Carlos L. Malavé is a follower of Jesus and executive director of Christian Churches Together in the USA.
Image: Young man praying, Dream Perfection / Shutterstock.com