Confessions of Superiority
This past Sunday, I preached from Acts 16:26-40. In this message, I wanted to show, first, that issues regarding human social justice are not irrelevant to the gospel message, and second, that if Christians would be devoted more to the Kingdom of God than to the kingdoms of this world, we actually can show how the Church is able to offer the "liberty and justice for all" that seems to always escape us.
John Perkins's latest book, One Blood, is what put me on to this idea from this passage. Perkins mentions the story of the conversion of the Philippian jailer in chapter four entitled, "The Healing Balm of Confession." He speaks about the beauty of brokenness, including his own personal experience of how he came to confess his anger and hatred toward white people that came in part from the physical beating he endured from white prison guards decades ago. If only Christians could let go of their anger and "wash one another's wounds from the evil of racism in the church!" writes Perkins. "That could be the balm that heals us . . . that sets us free . . . that rekindles the light that has long been hidden under a bushel." But Perkins is surely correct when he adds that "those wounds cannot and will not be healed without first being exposed."
Perkins then sheds some exposing light on areas where both black and white Christians need to seek healing in confession. You'll have to read what Perkins says to other black Christians about areas in which they may need to confess sins. But to white Christians, Perkins urges us to confess "denying that racism exists, choosing to ignore the implications of privilege, and at times acting to reinforce a double standard." I know plenty of white Christians are agitated by this kind of talk, in particular with the suggestion that there even is such a thing as "white privilege." But I want to challenge white Christians who chafe at words like this to consider the possibility that racism still exists even within our own hearts.
Consider these words from John Piper, which Perkins cites. Piper writes about growing up in an obviously rascist environment where the only black person he knew was a woman named Lucy who worked as a maid for Piper's family. Note carefully Piper's confession.
And my relationship with Lucy taught me, in a suprising way, that it is possible to like someone, and even feel deep affection for someone and treat her graciously, while considering her inferior and as someone to be kept at a distance. This in turn has taught me that those who defend the noble spirit of some Southern slaveholders by pointing to how nice they were to their slaves seem to be naive about what makes a relationship degrading. I also cried when my dog got run over.
Piper's reflections are helpful and convicting if we'll seriously consider them. In so many ways I can see in my own heart the sordid belief that I am superior to other people, even other people I like. Parents can feel this way about their children. Husbands can feel this way about their wives. Americans can feel this way about pretty much anyone who comes from any other country. Is it any surprise that we might feel this way about people whose skin color is different than our own?
Why not admit it? Why not confess it? Doing so can be scary because it is certainly humbling, but perhaps it's the best place for us to begin as we seek to be reconciled with other brothers and sisters in Christ.