June 5, 2020

Repenting for Racial Prejudice in the Church

By: Brandy Ramminger

Two Questions

I have some more thoughts to add to the idea of repentance especially concerning racial issues in our Christian organizations.  Let’s start with two questions:

  1. Why am I saying sorry? Repentance is not a process that can be rushed. Nor is it something that should be used to ease our own discomfort. We know this right? It’s just a matter of putting our own teachings into action. We must be careful to not use repentance to absolve ourselves of wrongdoing and then place the burden on the wronged to find it in themselves to forgive when their anger has calmed down enough. Saying sorry because it’s the only action we see available when we feel compelled might not be a good move (more about that below). Feeling compelled to move is good. Finding the right action will take work. Repentance is good when done correctly. Even repentance can cause harm (more below). So ask yourself, “Why am I saying sorry?”
  2. What am I repenting of/for? This is another place where we can put our teachings into practice. When we teach on clean conscience, intercession, the fear of the Lord, hearing the voice of the Lord and many other foundational Christian teachings we talk about the importance of being specific in what we confess. Christians in our communities have told us they have been hurt by us. They have told us their blackness was not accepted in our churches and organizations. We must know what we are repenting of because WE HAVE WRONGED THEM. We must know what we are repenting of so that we can do it with respect and love. This will require us to do some hard work of answering the questions:
    • How has my church or organization harmed our black members?
    • How is my church or organization inhospitable to black people?
    • How have I personally perpetrated and/or upheld those two things?

Repentance

When we can begin to answer those questions and start seeing how our thinking, hearts, and actions have created an inhospitable environment for black people, then we can move towards creating actions steps to change and ensure we do not repeat our damage. Then we can fully repent and change our actions, and thereby practice what we teach about repentance.

100%, there is no way around it, we have to repent of white supremacy. It is in the foundations of our nation along with the Biblical principals. It is in our culture and therefore in our hearts, minds, and actions. This includes all white people, non-black POC, and even black people because white supremacy is an invasive evil. This also means that white supremacy is in the foundations of our churches and organizations. There is no way around it. We must be honest with ourselves and find it, call it out, and change our actions. Or we will continue to hurt any black people that come to work with us.

This is discipleship. Repentance and change. What am I repenting of? How will I change my actions? Will my sorry harm the person I’m apologizing to?

The Harm of White Apologies

I must start by saying that I cannot speak for black people nor say what they are or are not feeling. I will try to communicate to y’all as best I can what I have learned from black voices about the harm that white apologies, though sincere, can cause:

  1. Refer back to the first question. If I’m saying sorry in any way to appease my feelings, I will cause harm. If I am putting the work on the person I’m apologizing to, I will cause harm.
  2. Do I know what I’m sorry for? How have I personally wronged this individual? That must be included in the apology. If I have not wronged the individual or know how I have wronged, my apology will not be able to create healing.
  3. Do I have a personal relationship with the person? Do we talk regularly? Text regularly? This is something that is repeated constantly by black educators. They say it is tiring and at times traumatizing to receive texts and messages from white people looking to apologize or express their outrage who do not text or message them otherwise. Please be mindful of this. We may think we are doing good, but we may be adding an extra burden to our friends during an already exasperating time.
  4. Do I have a specific reason and action steps? An apology without a specific reason and actions steps for change can be an extra emotional weight to carry. It can act as a relief to us at their expense. We do not want to do this. Which means we have to sit with our disgusting, uncomfortable guilt for longer. Are we ready to repent?

Corporate repentance

What we need much, much more than individual repentance, which yes is needed and each of us must search ourselves to know if it is required of us, is corporate repentance. This will require:

  1. Learning what we have to repent of, which means among other things learning about the influences of white supremacy in our nation, American Evangelical Christianity, and our specific organizations.
  2. Acknowledging the harm we have caused both to the black staff who have worked with us and to the black people of our communities.
  3. Learning how to change our hearts, minds, and culture to not continue that harm
  4. Take action steps to change our churches and organizations. There are many, many resources available to aide in this step.
  5. REPENT when we can do it with respect and love. Repentance can be expressed before change is complete but it is not fulfilled and it is meaningless if change is not planned.

This is what was asked for by our black brothers and sisters. They asked for education and action. Let’s give it to them. Are we ready to repent and act?

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