Filling in the GAPS: Healing begins with Confession
- Heather Hedlund
- Culture and Justice
In my journey to understand and try to live out racial reconciliation, there has been one step that I think was key to my progress: admitting my own racism. I remember vividly the moment it became personal. For several years, my understanding of the persistence of racism had been growing through personal relationships with people of color, through news reports, and through magazine articles and books, and I was starting to recognize that racism was a real thing that people of color were experiencing regularly. But I hadn't yet implicated myself.
One day, I was listening to a story on the radio about the opioid epidemic. The guest pointed out that this was a public health crisis and talked about interventions to help people break free from their addictions. I was nodding along in complete agreement when he made a connection that hit me in the gut. In the 1980's, we did not view the crack epidemic as a public health crisis, but rather as criminal activity that we needed to wage war against. Before he even elaborated further, I realized that along with many others, I had fully supported treating drug use as a crime when it was associated with Black people and treating drug use as a health issue when it was associated with white people. Until that moment, I had never even realized that I viewed the same issue differently based on race. Recognizing and admitting my own sin – confession – was a crucial step in my journey.
As we continue to explore the steps to racial reconciliation using the acronym GAPS, we've been spending a lot of time on the P which stands for prayer, because it is such a crucial part of the journey. Last time, we saw how lament allows us to take the brokenness of racial injustice to God and seek his intervention. As we lament, God helps us to see our own sin, leading us to confession.
I find that when white people have conversations about race, we tend to want to stay far away from anything that might resemble confession. If there's even a suggestion that we might somehow be a part of the problem, many of us get defensive and assure others, "I'm not a racist." Why are we so uncomfortable with admitting that we might have racist thoughts or ideas, even if they're unconscious or unwanted? Robin DiAngelo attributes this to what she calls the "good/bad binary." In our society, I am either a good (not-racist) person or a bad (racist) person. Since no one wants to be identified as a "bad person," we do everything we can do deny our own racism. But here's where as Christians, we have a more helpful perspective. Pastor Daniel Hill points out that Jesus gave us a different way to look at this good/bad binary. In Luke 5:30-31, the Pharisees question Jesus about why he eats and drinks with "sinners." They're viewing people as either good righteous people or bad sinners. Jesus offers a different paradigm. He says, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." Rather than viewing people as good or bad, Jesus calls us healthy or sick.
Ever since the Fall, our world has been infected with sin, and none of us remain immune. Similarly, our culture is steeped in racism, and it has infected all of us, whether we are aware of it or not. We are all sick with the sin of racism. And just as with Covid, in some of us the symptoms are obvious, while others are asymptomatic carriers, spreading racist thoughts and patterns without even realizing it. At this point, you might be feeling the same way Paul did, "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:24-25)
The good news of the gospel is that we can bring our infected souls to Jesus, and he will heal us. Our healing begins with confession. 1 John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." Proverbs 28:13 says, "Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy." Psalm 32:5, "Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.' And you forgave the guilt of my sin." Psalm 103 tells us that the Lord forgives all our sins and heals all our diseases, and that as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As Paul said, "Thanks be to God!"
So far, we've only looked at this from an individual perspective, but racism has infected our whole society. Does confession have a role in healing our culture? I believe it does and that the Bible gives us some helpful examples. One of my favorite Bible heroes, Daniel, shows us that we can confess the sins of our nation and our ancestors, even if we weren't even around when the sins were originally committed. In Daniel 9 he prays, "O Lord, we and our kings, our princes and our fathers are covered with shame because we have sinned against you."
God honors Daniel's prayer of confession so much that even before he finished confessing, God sent the angel Gabriel to give him a promise "to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness" (Daniel 9:24). Daniel confessed the sins of his ancestors and his people in his own private personal prayers, but the Bible also gives examples of public, corporate prayer. In Nehemiah 9, the Levites lead the Israelites in a prayer of corporate confession. They confess the sins of their nation throughout history and all the way to their present time. It was crucial for the Israelites to confess their sins as a community so that with God's help they could break free from the sinful patterns of their past.
Confession is a crucial step in the journey of racial reconciliation. As Pastor Dudley said in a recent sermon, "You can't get well unless you admit that you're sick." Through confession, we admit to God and to others that we're sick. And through confession, God forgives us, heals us, and leads us into repentance, where we commit to changing our behavior. We'll explore repentance next time.