It is important to note that I began writing these words on the National Day of Prayer. I am reminded of Thomas Jefferson’s statement about how he “trembled for” his country over the issue of slavery. He reminded his readers that “God is Just.” Christians in this day will almost reflexively respond that God is also merciful. Today I want to write about the ugly legay of slavery in the United States. It was the impetus and excuse for slavery in the Emglish-speaking world before the twentieth century. It is the impetus and excuse for genocidal policies in southern Sudan. My topic is racism. And to paraphrase President Coolidge, I am against it.
No sin can be healed until it is confessed. Racism, like the sins greed, lust, and pride is deeply rooted in the persons it infects. Many white citizens in the south eastern United States would prefer to think that racism is a matter of “the ancestors have eaten sour grapes while the children taste the bitterness.” Unfortunately, we are like those to whom the Prophet Ezekiel spoke, “the soul that sins shall die.” We regard slavery as a great sin without coming to terms with underlying racism that was the basis of slavery in the US.
An interesting avoidance technique used in dealing with racism is to caricature. We can claim not to be racist because we do not fit the cartoon character of the red neck in the sheet and pointy white hat with the fiery cross in one hand while holding a noose in the other. This image of the racist allows us to overlook the remarks that are made in our presence. When I worked in a clothing factory, a remark was made about how “this black girl” was causing a (white) woman’s (white) daughter some trouble on another line. Curiously enough the woman claimed she was not a racist. Why then did it matter the other woman was black? Another (white) woman made the same claim after telling me aspirins were white because we want them to work. Before church one Sunday morning an elderly (white) congregant told me a truck carrying the world’s largest lump of coal was blocking the interstate. It was taking the coal to Mount Rushmore to make an image of President Obama. And yet, we are still not racist? The simple fact is I no longer believe white american people who make the claim and demonstrate opposite attitudes. God is merciful. But, when we deny our sin, we tread on divine mercy and cheapen grace. The “practical” result is that distrust, harshness, and ill feeling continue to build resentment within our own hearts and minds.
The build up od resentment occurs with every kind of unrepented sin. C. S. Lewis likened this phenomenon to the avoidance of all matters dealing with money for one who lives in financial embarrassment. The resentment has as its’ goal the destruction of the one who holds it.
Someone may argue now that the ultimate form of racism is genocide – the ultimate destruction of members of another race. And yet, peace will never come “when they are all gone.” The perception of peace when it (whatever it is) is all ours is only an extension of “when it is all mine.” The resentment this kind of hatred produces will remain until the person who holds the hatred destroys his or her self.
Confession allows each person to acknowledge the problem exists and is a part of who she or he is. Pardon comes to allow each one to wrest the sin from his or her being. It is the same solution with covetousness – greed or lust – and pride. There is an old adage that “confession is good for the soul.” It may be true. However, one should be warned that when confession is done properly, it can hurt like Hell. The good point is that this feeling of Hell will only be short-lived.