As I typed the response for yesterday’s post and reread our exchange, I found myself wrestling with some hard questions. My response called for confession, while Trillia’s response called for us to love our neighbors. I stopped for a minute and asked myself, “We do know that already, don’t we?” Most Christians I know understand God’s desire for us to confess (admit) and then repent (turn away from our sin). Most Christians I know understand that God wants us to love our neighbors. The sin problem is not so much with our theology (the word, what we know and believe about God) as it is in our practice. In spite of what we claim to know, we still continue to sin either by commission (the sin we purposely and knowingly practice) or omission (when we fail to respond in obedience to God’s command). The problem is that our hearts desires often do not align with the desires of God. God can certainly change our hearts through the power of the Holy Spirit. Receiving this transformation requires that we look in the mirror and ask, “Do I really want to be changed?”
Let’s dig a little deeper into these two areas where I hope we all desire real change:
Love of Neighbor. I first publically wrestled with this topic by noting that true love always has a sacrificial element. True love requires both a giving up and a lying down of self. If we claim to love someone and that love is not costing us anything, it’s not really love at all. True love sees the need of another human being and considers, “How can I infect their space with the Holy Spirit that is within me? How can I invite Christ to meet the need of someone who is empty or thirsty?”
Our natural inclination is not to love in this way. The religious person proved this when he asked Jesus, “Who is our neighbor (Luke 10:29b)?” This question reveals that true condition of the heart because the reality is: we all want to pick and choose our neighbors. In telling the Good Samaritan Parable (Luke 10:25-37), Jesus essentially teaches that the neighborly person is the one who responds in mercy. Merciful responses are filled with compassion, blessing, and favor for the other person. These are questions we can ask ourselves: When I engage a person of a different race or ethnicity is my immediate thought and response one of compassion? Blessing? Favor?
Want to know what a merciful response looks like? Read the gospel of John chapter 4 where Jesus’ interacts with the Samaritan woman at the well. The scriptures make it is pretty obvious that the Samaritan woman’s lifestyle is not respected in her society. In addition to her poor lifestyle choices, many Bible readers do not fully grasp the racial and ethnic divisions between the Jews and Samaritans as presented in the text. Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil takes great care outlining the historical dynamics of this passage in her book A Credible Witness: Reflections on Power, Evangelism and Race. (I highly recommend it!) The bottom line is according to every element of society Jesus had no business interacting with this person who was: 1. a Samaritan, 2. a woman, and 3. person with a poor reputation. Jesus understood all of that but he looked beyond those things to see a person in need. Dr. McNeil writes, “She [the Samaritan woman] was looking for and needed what we all need—someone or something that is real and lasting, that will help us to make sense of our life and give us a greater purpose (37).”
This is what we commit to when we truly love our neighbor—we commit to the reality that the gospel does change our lives for the better; we commit to the truth that the gospel gives us our life’s purpose; we commit to sharing the hope and reality of that truth with all people. To do anything less means we are not walking in the manner worthy of the calling we have received in Jesus Christ (Eph 4:1-3).
Confession. When I stated our need to confess in response to racism, I was stating the need from different perspectives. We need to confess the sin of racism as “America’s original sin.” Those who are beneficiaries of that sin need to continuously confess the self righteousness attitude that comes along with their privilege. Those oppressed by that sin should continuously confess to avoid bitterness and callousness of heart.
As I prayed on this topic over the past few weeks, God continuously took me to passages where godly leaders publicly confessed the sins of a community (in their case Israel).
Neh 1:6b “I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself, and my father’s house have committed against you.”
Dan 9:20 “While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel…”
Ezra 10:1 “While Ezra was praying and confessing, weeping and throwing himself down before the house of God, a large crowd of Israelites—men, women, and children—gathered around him. They too wept bitterly.”
These are all Old Testament texts but we see Jesus interceding on behalf of a group of people in the same way: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34a).” We see Stephen following Christ’s example, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them (Acts 7:59b).”
Concerning public confession, James encourages us to “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective (James 5:16).”
So the real question for me is not whether or not we should confess the sin of racism, but rather, “How long do we keep confessing?” I think the response is, “For as long as we keep sinning and being affected by the sin.” Confession does not bring condemnation for there is not condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1). No, confession is what humbles us and eats away at our pride. Confession is liberating. It frees us to truly love well.
If you are ever so bold, will you start radically loving your neighbor and confessing today?
© Natasha Sistrunk Robinson 2012 @asistasjourney #RacialRec