I must confess that when I sit in circles of White and Asian people studying the Bible, I carry fear, suspicion and judgment. When I sit in churches surrounded by those who don't look like me, I am guarded in almost every way. I overexplain my thoughts because I fear being judged and misunderstood. I make sure to state my reasons for being present and my accomplishments and qualifications. My primary goal is to not fulfill what I judge to be their stereotypes of me in America today - black, male, angry, dangerous, uneducated. I am suspicious when they share traditionally liberal or conservative views wondering what is on their reading lists, what podcasts they listen to and what leaders developed and influenced them. I question if they're "really Christians." I judge every word they say and parse through phrases to discern if they understand not just personal sin and salvation but God's plan for systemic redemption through Christ. I struggle to feel seen and heard no matter the honesty of their efforts. Worse, this is before they have done or said anything and most certainly after they have sinned against me, there is no going back. Prominent pastors like Franklin Graham and Bill Johnson who made bigoted comments about police brutality, Donald Trump and my brothers and sisters of color I can't stand to read, see, or value their leadership. I harbor bitterness and rage the longer time passes and my desire to love and like them and those who believe like them becomes less and less.
What I find is that my fear of being prejudged and misunderstood turns outward and I judge, criticize and condemn my brothers and sisters instead of genuinely engaging with them as people made in the image of God. Instead of embodying what I long for, I perpetuate the thoughts and deeds that I detest.
Under my fear of being misunderstood and judged is my fear of rejection. So I reject them. This is false power. I'm afraid that if I show up fully, gifts and faults included, I will be marginalized by those with money and power so I might as well cast myself to the edges of society. At least then I chose my place. And since our country operates on a racial totem pole, that edge is not just outside, it's at the bottom.This is the twisted logic that prevents me from being reconciled to others, because I'm not fully reconciled to myself. And that most certainly holds reconciliation with God at bay.
The words of Carter G. Woodson resound in my mind as I write this: “If you can control a man's thinking you do not have to worry about his action. When you determine what a man shall think you do not have to concern yourself about what he will do. If you make a man feel that he is inferior, you do not have to compel him to accept an inferior status, for he will seek it himself. If you make a man think that he is justly an outcast, you do not have to order him to the back door. He will go without being told; and if there is no back door, his very nature will demand one.”
God, forgive me for the ways I judge my neighbors. Please turn my prejudice into love. Romans 12 says, "be not conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." God would you free from the temptation to reduce myself to less than what Your Cross and Adoption have afforded me to be; and keep me from reducing others the same way.
Conversely, when I sit in pews filled by those who share my dark skin, I assume poverty and lack. I immediately move into messiah mode and think of all I have to offer "these people". I take my internalized inferiority and project it outwards, crushing the image of God in my brothers and sisters because white supremacy crushed it in me. And, instead of seeing God's abundance I label it as scarcity. Thick scales are on my eyes. I am in need of an encounter with my Lord and be changed from Saul to Paul.
I engage with each person having my skin with an agenda in mind and try to decipher what theirs might be. I am there save, impart knowledge and teach. It gives me validation, value and a role. In "my" community I have a part and I must play it; because if I don't, I fear rejection again. Each interaction must be an endeavor for "us" to"move on up", "to make it out". When Jesus said of the religious leaders, "you blind guides" I see Him clearly talking about me. I criticize the American Dream with one hand and offer it with other. I prophesy against capitalism out of one side of my mouth and promote it with the other. Jesus is the savior for some and the dollar is the messiah for others. I embody the double-mindedness that breaks my heart when I see it in others. Selah.
Father, forgive me for my hypocrisy and unwillingness to yield to Your teaching. Forgive me for reaching out and deceiving myself into thinking I didn't need to be reached. How deceived I am that in one community I can feel paralyzing inferiority and in the other be moved to action not by compassion by a false superiority and obligation while fearing rejection by both groups. Father, would you help me to fix my eyes upon You and be rooted in my acceptance as a Son of God with an eternal place in Your Heavenly family - my skin and status not a liability but a cause for celebration.
Even more convicting than these is that when I sit with my non-Christian friends of any complexion and/or status, I keep up a wall of defense and silent judgment while waiting for a moment to invite them to Jesus. I am honest, but not too honest. I ask for input but don't really value their advice. Jesus was a friend to sinners. Thus, He is a friend to me. So, why do I build a fence and say I can't be a friend to "them".
God, I confess that the sin that holds all of this together is pride. I think of myself more highly than my wealthy lighter skinned neighbors and my dark-skinned friends and family. And I put myself above those who don't believe in You and only believe they're in my life to meet You, not for me to meet them. God, I am so sorry. Lord have mercy on me, a sinner. Thank you for being my savior and friend.
You are God, I am not. You are Messiah, I am not. No one else will save us. No one else will save me. You are the only one we will worship for eternity. They will not worship me. There is none like you. You are God, I am not. Thank you God that just like Isaiah, when we confess you forgive us, welcome us in again and send us into mission out of an adoption into your family. Hallelujah and Amen.
**Important Note** Asking God for forgivenessdoes not minimize or dismiss the passive and active sins of racism, abuse, violence, misogyny, land theft, greed and capitalism perpetrated and perpetuated by you and others towards me and others. Nor does it minimize or dismiss the tragic trespasses committed against you. These confessions are a proclamation that though you harm me, I will seek your health. Though you kill me I will bless you. I will not yield to rage and wrath but will be consumed by the ever present love of God. Because you who are not yet reconciled to God and to me know not the evil you do. So, like Jesus prayed for the soldier who pierced His side, I will pray for you who wish and do me harm. Not because your hatred doesn't matter but because the Love of God matters more.