Some of my conservative, white, male, evangelical friends are questioning why they are being asked to go on the record as being against racism. They are then quick to say, as if it goes without saying, that of course they’re not racist. Of course, any Christian is against racism.
But it seems to me that it is easy to forget that we are members of a group, and that group has a history. The fact is, as a group, we had our (long) moment in the sun. We were on top. We owned the culture in the United States for a long time: Whites in a white-dominated culture. Men in a male-dominated culture. A key Protestant group in a Protestant-dominated culture. We now feel that we are losing this cultural power, and that’s a hard feeling. It’s scary. It feels to us like we are now the culturally sidelined. Some, remarkably, now would even say an oppressed, group. So we get defensive. There’s backlash.
White Evangelical Males and The Civil Rights Movement
But here’s the thing when conservative, white, evangelical males were in charge and the Civil Rights Movement started, we had every chance to say, “Yes, we admit it, we’ve been wrong about race, we’ve not treated you as fully equal human beings, made in the image of God. We’ve not lived according to the clear message of the Christian gospel. Now we’d like to join you in correcting that.”
But this is not what happened. Conservative evangelical groups were not at the forefront of this cultural reformation movement. Racism lived in the heart of these groups. It was not confronted or called out. It was allowed to grow like a cancer. Of course, there were some counter-examples, but our voice on racism was not strong, clear, and uni-vocal. It was only later, because others fought this battle against racism, that conservative white evangelicals eventually and officially came out against racism.
The Need to Speak Up
And the fact is, in spite of the official statements, it’s still a problem. So yes, in light of Charlottesville, we are being asked to clarify our position: to be public and specific about it. It doesn’t go without saying. Saying is precisely what it needs.
Remember, we have a history, and it’s not stellar. Given our actions and our speech in the past, a watching world has every right to question our performance of the gospel.
In this situation some will want to resort to American-style individualism: “But I wasn’t there. I didn’t own slaves. I didn’t resist the civil rights movement.”
Biblically, we know this path to self-justification is bankrupt. We don’t live within self-made bubbles of isolation and independence. We are born into contexts. We are part of bigger communities. We are bound to others in many ways. Specifically, we are connected to those who carried our name in the past.Some will want to resort to American-style individualism, but self-justification is bankrupt. Click To Tweet
Humility and Repentance is the Path to Restoration
The voice of the Scriptures tells us that the path to restoration and health is always through humility and repentance, not pride and defensiveness. The good news is for us.
We can confess our sins, and those of our ancestors.The good news for us white evangelicals: we can confess our sins & those of our ancestors. Click To Tweet
We can stop, turn, and join those who are working still to overcome our national legacy of sorry bigotry and the dismissal of whole classes and races of people. A better vision, one of a society where all are acknowledged and treated as fully human, still lives. It is there in front us waiting to be embraced, waiting to be enacted.
Our model in this turnaround is another earlier community, of which we are also a part:
On October 31 the people assembled again, and this time they fasted and dressed in burlap and sprinkled dust on their heads. Those of Israelite descent separated themselves from all foreigners as they confessed their own sins and the sins of their ancestors. They remained standing in place for three hours while the Book of the Law of the Lord their God was read aloud to them. Then for three more hours they confessed their sins and worshiped the Lord their God.
The Levites then prayed to the Lord for the people:
‘… You warned them to return to your Law, but they became proud and obstinate and disobeyed your commands. They did not follow your regulations, by which people will find life if only they obey. They stubbornly turned their backs on you and refused to listen. In your love, you were patient with them for many years. You sent your Spirit, who warned them through the prophets. But still they wouldn’t listen! So once again you allowed the peoples of the land to conquer them. But in your great mercy, you did not destroy them completely or abandon them forever. What a gracious and merciful God you are!’
—from the book of Nehemiah (NLT)