By now it’s clear that we’re in the middle of national upheaval. One day there will be a clear “before George Floyd” and “after George Floyd.” But many in both our church and our nation are forcefully refusing to take the vital first step toward healing.
It’s time for us to repent.
At heart, repentance is simply turning. It’s acknowledging that we have either reached a dead end, or are moving in the wrong direction. We may not know anything about the right way forward, not yet, but we at least know this isn’t going to get us there. When Jesus said, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand,” he was simply saying, “Turn. There’s a better way right here.” That’s what “at hand” means: here. Repentance is a bedrock of the Christian faith, and an easy gauge of spiritual health. The freedom to turn, to accept correction with grace, is the essence of discipleship.
But the truth is, we as the American Church—especially, it seems, those of us who are white and part of the American Church—have become entangled in politics of power and dominance as some of us try to “Take Back America for God.” Some of us feel the need to qualify “Black Lives Matter” by saying, “All Lives Matter,” or insisting that protests themselves are the problem. Simply put, it’s time for us to turn away from all of this.
Perhaps especially, we ought to turn from the myth of a Christian nation. The truth is, throughout American history, the Church has been woefully slow to take up causes of racial justice, whether by promoting slavery, resisting the Civil Rights Movement, or now taking a stand against the oppressed and downtrodden. The reality is, America has built comfort on the backs of human suffering, used blood as a fertilizer for national wealth.
But injustice is no foundation.
Church, White Christians, we are not Israel right now; we are Rome. Systemic racism is real, and we have participated. This is not a time for defensive posturing or denial. This is a time for national repentance. This is a time to listen—both to God and our victims—and own our sin.
Please remember, when God came to Earth he was not white. He was also refugee. At every turn he opposed the use of violence and force, and showed special care for the oppressed, as he called them, “the least of these” (Matt. 25). The Kingdom of God is a mustard seed; let’s stop pretending it’s a bludgeon. Tear gas will not advance the Kingdom. Hate, fear, violence, force—these are fruits of the flesh (i.e. human effort). We must stop using them.
READ: Not Another Sunday: People of Faith Commit to Anti-Racism Work
God reminds us through the prophet Isaiah, “In repentance and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength” (Is. 30:15). Jesus himself says, “All who take the sword (force, violence) will perish by the sword (force, violence)” (Matt. 26:52). This is not a threat of divine punishment, but a principle of reality. We are seeing the fruit of it today.
Enabling the rich is wrong. Chasing worldly power is wrong. Choosing money over life is wrong. Critiquing the righteous anger of a people that have been oppressed for centuries is so utterly, obviously, horribly wrong.
It’s time to repent.
Church, we have failed to embrace the spiritual reality of the Kingdom of God, and in an act of practical atheism have instead resorted to hiring a strongman. But God’s “delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man” (Ps. 147:11). Our religious leaders have backed, time and time again, the actions of an administration that openly defy the teachings of Jesus, promoting an empire of violence and greed. We are complicit in this.
Had President Trump opened the Bible this week in front of that church, he might have turned to any number of passages that decry the practices of our country today. Listen to God’s words in Isaiah: “Is not the fast that I choose,” God says, “to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?” (Is. 58:6). Or: “Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right” (Is. 10:1-2).
As a nation and as a church, we cannot even begin to heal without first naming and grieving the victims of our national sins (and there are many), and explicitly turning away from the systems and patterns that have led us to this place today.
This is not a time for defensiveness, for half-apologies. This is a time for complete repentance. It’s time to sit in the dust and ashes. To look—honesty and courageously—at our failings as the body of God’s love.