Some of my ancestors were slaveholders. Do I need to confess the sin of their active participation in the system of American slavery?
My immediate reaction to this question has always been, “No!” because I don’t confess all the times they lied or cheated; however, reading John Perkins’s book One Blood: Parting Words to the Church on Race and Love challenged me to think differently.
Perkins writes, “The problem of reconciliation in our country and in our churches is much too big to be wrestled to the ground by plans that begin in the minds of men. This is a God-sized problem. Biblical reconciliation is the removal of tension between parties and the restoration of loving relationship.”
Ignoring racial tension isn’t reconciliation.
Denying it isn’t honest either.
I must admit that reconciliation is lacking, and then, I must turn to God for the solution. It made me realize that I’ve never asked God for the solution to problems regarding race, except for maybe to pray for healing in the lives of those who had been hurt by racism in the past.
The Lord led me to consider Nehemiah and Daniel. They both lived in times of societal unrest and racial tension. They both confessed the sins of their fathers.
Nehemiah confessed to the “sins of the people Israel” and said, “Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly.”
In chapter 9 of Nehemiah, the people collectively confessed both their own sins against God and those of their ancestors. Reading it, I can see that it was a good spiritual exercise to admit the sins of generations past so that they wouldn’t be repeated. Also, it was beneficial because the sins of the past carrried consequences into the present. The people’ confession acknowledged both the consequences and the initial wrong. Acknowledging their fathers’ disobedience helped the people to practice Godly obedience.
Perkins, and Nehemiah, challenged me to reconsider the complete definition of confession and to compare it with repentance. Confessing is an admittance of wrong. Repenting is a turning away from wrong. If I am not committing the wrong, I can’t repent; however, I can confess. I can admit that it is wrong, label it correctly, and condemn the actions of my ancestors when they took part in it. I can also examine my own soul for remnants of those same sins and repent of them.
I also considered Daniel. Daniel confessed the wrongs of his fathers and acknowledged present-day shame resulting from those wrongs, for both the people and for the reputation of Lord.
“As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this calamity has come upon us; yet we have not entreated the favor of the Lord our God, turning from our iniquities and gaining insight by Your truth. Therefore, the Lord has kept ready the calamity and has brought it upon us, for the Lord our God is righteous in all the works that He has done and we have not obeyed His voice,” Daniel prayed.Daniel 9
The wickedness of slavery has had widespread effect even into our own day, from poverty and broken families to violence and unrest. Perhaps we, as Christians, need to confess the iniquities of our fathers, repent of our own, and plead for God to bring reconciliation.