Why should I have to repent? I’ve heard this question countleWss times from my white brothers and sisters In the Lord. In honest assessment, I believe the question is fair in its intentions but displays their frailty in understanding. I do not believe this question is always a question of protest that is asked to exempt my white brothers and sisters from fighting for the collective overhaul of injustices in our country, but I do believe this is a question that has left them with the understanding that the lack of personal responsibility frees one from being indicted as being a part of the problem, which in turn makes it optional for them to become a part of the solution with those who are seeking Justice.
Repentance has always been relational. God does not ask one to repent just to apologize for the wrong that has occurred, but he encourages repentance to restore a broken relationship between Him and the perpetrators, to restore the relationship between the perpetrators and the victims, to restore the proper balances of justice vs. injustice, and lastly to show grace and mercy to the perpetrator as God delivers or withholds direct consequences. If this is true of repentance, then here is why my white brothers and sisters should repent of systemic injustices.
- Repentance relationally and culturally separates you from systemic injustices.
In Ezekiel 18 God repudiates the proverb of sour grapes among the people of Israel. The proverbs of sour grapes stated, “ The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”( Ezekiel 18:1). This proverb was once used in Israel to illustrate how the sons of Israel should be held accountable for the sins of their fathers, which required them to repent for the specific sins of their fathers to break the destruction those sins had brought on the people of Israel. God no longer allows that proverb to be used in Israel and replaces it with this standard “ Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine. The soul who sins shall die”( Ezekiel 18:4)
This seems like a clear cut standard that says every individual should be judged for their sin alone, and not held accountable for what has happened in generations before them. I would say you have a 75% correct understanding of this passage if you walk away with that view, but there is something major missing in the 25% that was left behind. In the following verses, God then lays out conditions on how Israel frees themselves from the penalties and broken relationships that their forefather’s sins have caused. God says that “IF” a man is righteous and does what is just and right then he shall surely live declares the Lord. What does God mean by if a man is righteous? He begins to list some examples of righteousness below, and out of the 7 examples, 4 of then have to do with issues of societal justice. ( social justice)
- Vs 7: He does not oppress anyone but returns what he took in pledge for a loan.
- Vs 7: He does not commit robbery but gives his food to the hungry and provides clothing for the naked
- Vs.8: He does not lend to them at interest or take a profit from them.
- Vs. 8: He withholds his hand from doing wrong and judges fairly between two parties.
If one is to be seen as righteous before God by His new standard he does not have to repent because he is seen as the one that has caused the wrong, but he does need to repent to become one that separates himself and denounces the wrong. This leads us to our second reason
2. Repentance publicly affirms God’s definition of justice
This corporate repentance that is being requested from the White Evangelical church is not solely based upon blaming someone for the past wrongs of racial injustice or just finding a landing spot for this blame in those who are a part of the White Evangelical church. It is also aimed at getting our brothers and sisters in Christ within the White Evangelical church to publicly affirm that what is being called unjust by those in the African American church and minority culture is not just affirmed by the people of those demographics, but is affirmed and commanded by the God that we all serve.
In Ezekiel 18:9 God tells us that one is only considered righteous if “He follows my decrees and faithfully keeps my laws”. That man is righteous; he will surely live, declares the Sovereign Lord.” The fight over corporate repentance has led many who have been victims of injustice to wonder if the White Evangelical Church has the same definition of justice as God, and if they are following his laws or merely settling to be in line with the laws of this world. Corporate repentance leaves no doubt in the minds of the minority church in America that the majority church affirms the definitions and actions of God around justice, and will give up its identity in this world to be aligned with God and their brothers and sisters in Christ around a God-centered action based definition of justice.
3. Repentance offers more than solidarity, it shows Christ-like Love.
Solidarity is not the landing spot for a believer to aim for in this fight for Justice. Living out the depths of Christ-like love to establish justice is! One must walk in the footsteps of Jesus for the sake of what is right and must make himself uncomfortable in all of his biases, political views, and social world-views that have accumulated from his time of being entangled with this world. Christ-like love must dismantle the barriers our political parties, social classes, and life-agendas allow us to set up. Christ-like love is the goal not just because it shows the love of Christ to our neighbor, but it reminds us of the life and vitality we find in the love of Christ for our souls. One who loves like Christ feels His ever-presence daily, but one who loves like the world is absent of that secure and exhilarating feeling that affirms our identity and brings much glory to God. My friends, please take a deep look at what God urges the people of Israel to do at the end of Ezekiel 18:25-32. He strongly warns them not to distort or turn away from his definition of justice, which in return will end in death. God’s ways will always be just and we will always tend to architect our human structures of justice that war against his. Historically that has happened around whiteness in our country and needs to be corporately repented of and dismantled. So, my white brothers and sisters, when we speak of corporate repentance as your black brother and sisters, we are not individually indicting you but explaining that your whiteness in America is part of a system that the church has been entangled with historically and we need you to separate yourselves, affirm God’s definition of justice, and show me you love me with the love of Christ! That my friend is why you should repent!
Written By: Darren G. Greenfield