Thinking of what we may need to repent of when it comes to racial reconciliation is a deeply personal question. It needs to be handled carefully and thoughtfully because, too often, we paint with a broad brush that just isn’t helpful. But, at the same time, we need to acknowledge that the reason that there’s not reconciliation is because of some kind of sin issue, or issues, that get into the mix. Sometimes it’s hard to see those.
You could think of, as the lowest common denominator, a willful ignorance—maybe because of where you grew up, what your experiences might have been, or just who you knew. In some cases, you didn’t know and it wasn’t anybody’s fault. In some cases (this has been true in my own life) I don't want to know.
Another thing might be the issue of pride. I come from Western Michigan and Dutch heritage. Having grown up in that environment, I’m thankful for that historical background. But along with that, there’s a historical narrative. It’s easy to think that my historical narrative is the only historical narrative. That can show up as pride for where you’ve come from or pride in what you’ve been told. That can create a barrier from entering into the conversation.
You could also think of the issue of prejudice—of painting too broadly people of different ethnicities. All of these people are like that. We take our limited experience and we project in a way that the Scripture talks about as being partial and making a predetermined judgment about people based upon how they look, what their background is, or what our experience has been with those kinds of people.
Confess and Confront
I think we also have to be honest that some need to repent of straight-up racism—in their heart they believe that their particular people are superior in their intellect, in their actions, in how they think. There’s this deep-seated level of quiet—but real—superiority. That’s been true throughout the history of the world. That’s not something that’s new in our day and age.
Racism is in our society and culture because of the lack of repentance of sin.
Another thing to repent of might be the lack of action. It’s easy to hear about racism or racial prejudice and not want to go there by confronting it or doing something about it. It’s easier just to give it a pass. In some cases, we need to repent for not doing enough to speak up and say, That isn’t right. Or we might ask the question of a minority brother or sister, How are you processing this? How are you doing? So, a lack of taking action might be something that we need to repent of.
When you think about that, there are a lot of things for us to consider, and I think it’s helpful for us to ask, Which of these issues (if any) do I really need to search my heart of and repent of? Racism and a lack of racial reconciliation is in our society and culture because of the lack of repentance of sin. Wherever sin gets in, it has long-lasting effects on how we think and who we are. It’s important for us to think through the question, To what extent can I help to rid even the smallest parts of this out of my life for the glory of God?
Mark Vroegop is the author of Weep with Me: How Lament Opens a Door for Racial Reconciliation.
Rather than allowing racial tension to drive a wedge between us or to frighten us into silence, lament can invite all of us on a journey toward seeking God’s grace together.
Divisions of mistrust and historical bias run deep. Without God, nothing will ever change. In our pain and our weariness, we know that only Jesus can change our hearts and unite the church.
Christianity is not declining contrary to many of our perceptions, whether we are secular or religious.
When we don't know what to say, lament can become a really helpful language to use.