One of the most memorable stories in the Bible for me comes from 2 Samuel 12, when Nathan, a prophet, goes to David to tell him an important story about an unjust man.
David, appalled by this man’s wickedness, swears he will punish him. That’s when Nathan finally clues him in:
“You are the man!”
The story about the evil man is about him, and what David perceived as a report of an impersonal crime committed somewhere in his kingdom reflected reality in his home, and sins in his heart.
We can read all day about racism and white supremacy and think it distant, but if we never ask how it would be possible that God might also send us prophets to reveal that we, too, are guilty, then we miss something. We are destroying ourselves.
When I’ve tried to discuss this with people, particularly within insulated and mostly homogeneous white communities — be they in churches or towns with long, unspoken histories of racism, silent or overt — I’ve often heard people respond that they’ve “never done anything,” that they see “everyone as the same,” or that they don’t see a problem in their immediate circles.
I’m still a Christian, somehow by the Grace of God, and there is nothing less Christian than being defensive and asserting proofs of your cleanliness now or any other time. The disposition of people of the faith I claim should be one of humility and searching, not of boasting or perhaps worse: indifference.
Sometimes, I’ve had people ask me what white people are supposed to do, just walk around feeling bad? That’s not the point, although it is part of it. Feel bad. Feeling bad about hatefulness, devoting time to question your role in it is vital to caring about people more deeply and being willing to be changed.
For Christians, that process of self-examination is part of becoming “a new creation.” Defending our past, whether personal, familial, tied to nationality or region, isn’t allowed. We are told, over and over, that we must die to self to be made “renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of truth.”
Pray, and by that, I mean meditate on the certainty that you have sinned, and most likely, committed the sin of denigrating someone who bears the image of God because of the color of their skin. Whether you committed the error in your speech, failure to speak on their behalf, ignoring cries for justice, or otherwise, it doesn’t matter. God hates it when we mess with His creation, and we will not get away with it. Own it. Name it. Confess it and repent of it.
If, in this search, you realize you still have ties to any person you’ve hurt, even if they’ve not addressed it, be the first to do so, and ask forgiveness — even if you don’t think they’ll give it, or if you think they’ll tell you it’s no big deal.
And don’t think one time is enough. When we ask God to reveal our sins to us, it’s important to be specific and persistent. I have been guilty of ignoring this, and it’s not only detrimental to my brothers and sisters but to my own soul.
After prayer, someone might want to know what else we can do. First, listen and learn about how racism works, and how it has shaped the way we live and what we’ve come to believe is “normal” or “just the way it is.” I had a friend encourage me to revisit the history of my hometown. Unfortunately, I left before I started questioning why some areas in Ohio seemed so segregated when I was taught in school that it was such a progressive state. How we are raised, the schools we attended, the textbooks used, the churches we did or didn’t attend, the places we shopped, the parts of town we labeled “bad,” the jokes we thought were funny — they’re all part of how we were conditioned to see the world, and they’re worth examining to discover what is true and what is worth abandoning.
We cannot fix the problems we see so obviously in the alt-right in Charlottesville without addressing bigotry within our families, congregations, or groups of friends. These acts of violence don’t explode without their fuses, lit and burning long with too many of us politely watching, muffling gasps or stifling corrections or differing opinions.