Confession of Compromise
Like so many Americans (and, really, global citizens), the events of the last few weeks have brought me to a point of self-study. Little truths that have been passively hanging out in the dark subconscious have come roaring to light. And really, that's a good thing--on a national scale, and for me, personally.
There's been a lot of back-and-forth about whether this is the time for the white community, and specifically the white Christian community to speak out...or to leave the space open for black voices while we listen. I chose initially to be a listener--mostly because I'm far too prone to blurt and post before I think, but mostly because I didn't know what I could bring to the conversation. What could I say that hadn't been said a hundred times, by voices far more powerful than mine? Through all of it, there seemed to be a piece missing. Something ignored, left buried. A place where we were looking away.
I don't know if I would have read The Color of Compromise if our nation hadn't come to this place of grappling with the definitions of Systematic Racism and White Privilege. And I might have decided to stay in my quiet little corner if not for a new hashtag--#whiteblessing. White blessing, in Christianspeak implies that being white is a status of God's undeserved favor. We didn't earn it, we don't deserve it, and yet...
If there was ever a work to dispel the myth of white blessing, it's The Color of Compromise. Author Jemar Tisby, in a smooth, highly readable narrative, lays bare the history of our nation--a history we all know about, but are loathe to face. He starts our story right at the beginning: "From their earliest days in North America, colonists employed religio-cultural categories to signify that European meant "Christian" and Native American or African meant 'heathen.' Over time, these categories simplified and hardened into racial designations." And, when we are living here nearly 400 years later, desperately trying to convince each other that Black Lives Matter--well, those categories haven't changed much.
The book leads the reader through the centuries, through painful periods of our shared history. Not just slavery (though slavery is bad enough), but the missed opportunity to reconcile after the institution was--constitutionally, at least--abolished. The failure of reformation, the birth of the Klan, the acceptance of Jim Crow, the resistance to the Civil Rights movement. And somehow, Tisby hits just the right note of teaching without judgement. There's nothing in the text that points a finger at YOU, WHITE CHRISTIAN. And yet, as it happens with most powerful writing, you cannot help but see yourself within the words, especially if you are, indeed, that white Christian.
For four centuries, when given an opportunity to speak up, to vote up, to gather strength in numbers in the name of the Lord, Christians chose to be silent. And, as we are brothers and sisters in Christ despite the passing of time (my deceased brother is no less my brother), we--us, today--share that complicity. I can already hear the defensiveness:
Why should I feel guilty for something that happened hundreds of years ago?
I don't have a racist bone in my body.
I don't see color.
And, the excuses:
Many slaves were eventually granted freedom.
Many slave owners were actually quite kind.
Many slaves were allowed to go to church and be saved.
And, so it's hard to reconcile. We don't want to acknowledge--I mean, really, really acknowledge--the racist sin of our past, because we don't want to be painted with that same brush. But, y'all...we're already painted with it. Because for centuries we've stood by like fence posts instead of grabbing up a brush and trying to re-design our country.
In thinking about what I wanted to say about this book (and it has grown way beyond a facebook post), my daily scripture reading brought me to 1 John 1:8: If we confess our sin, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sin, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Nothing is more unrighteous than the in-grained hatred of our brothers and sisters. And I believe we are at this point because we, as a church, have not fully confessed that sin. What is it to confess? To acknowledge. To say aloud. And I don't think it's enough to claim "I'm not a racist," without a full-hearted confession that historically, the American church was. All Christians? No, but our long-passed Christians were too in number and too weak in will to bring about any change. And it's not something we can categorize as being "back then," because according to the ongoing inequality in opportunity, economic status, education, and scrutiny, "Back Then" is, like, 5 minutes ago.
2 Chronicles 7:14--"If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land." We like to invoke this verse as a call to prayer--and it is. But we cannot ignore that first bit: We need to humble ourselves, and right now we have pockets of resistance to that. When we cannot take a knee alongside our hurting brothers and sisters, we are not humbling ourselves. When Christians argue for the preservation of the gods and symbols of a country devoted to institutional slavery, we are not humbling ourselves. And until we can step aside for even a breath to say that Black Lives Matter--period, full stop--without giving in to the need to insert ourselves into the sentiment--we have not humbled ourselves.
Christians are the people called by God's name. God promises to forgive our sin and heal our land--but He does not forgive what we do not confess.
Ephesians 5:11 charges us: "Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them." Tisby's book exposes them. We Christians must humble ourselves and confess them. His text is a revelation of the wicked ways from which we must turn, and clinging to the symbols and gods of the Confederacy makes it impossible to turn.
The Color of Compromise is a confrontation, and--often--a painful one. But if you know the sweet relief of grace, if you know that you are a sinner saved by grace, if you are truly desirous to bring our country beneath God's healing hand...it's a confrontation from which we cannot walk away.