OR: An Ode to White Christians
by Thom Stark
Every Sunday you go to church and you participate in a celebration of an unjust execution that took place 2,000 years ago, and you confess your sins and you consider your guilt. And you celebrate an exodus from 400 years of slavery that took place 4,000 years ago. And you listen to stories about sins committed by the Patriarchs and Israel and the Prophets and the Kings and the Apostles and the Early Church, and their sins are identified with your sins, and you live in their sins and you receive not acquittal but forgiveness and reconciliation. And you are taught that you are a sinner saved by grace. That you are guilty, and share in and identify with the guilt of your forebears, while walking in forgiveness. Every week you are confronted with your guilt and you participate in the pattern of transformation and reconciliation.
And then you leave church and you scream at black people for remembering their past and tell them to live in the present, and you deny that you are guilty, and refuse to be ashamed, and refuse to confess the sins of your forebears as sins in which you share, and you condemn those who see the past in the present, and those who remind you of your condition. You deny your guilt and refuse to look within yourself and around yourself. In doing so, you cut yourself off from grace, from reconciliation. You blaspheme the Spirit through whom you claim to participate in a suffering most ancient. You refuse to suffer now with those who suffer. You claim victimhood for yourself and never hold yourself accountable for anything but the most personal and banal of sins. Your religion is purely one of self-interest—you see sin and forgiveness as conditions of the individual. Heaven is a place prepared for you. Jesus belongs to you and you to him. Yours is a religion of cheap romance, devoid of justice.
You don’t know Jesus. If you did you would stop defending yourself and your own kind. You would stop pledging allegiance to a national flag and putting your hand on your heart for a national battle hymn. You would worship God alone and demonstrate your allegiance to God’s reign by eating with and listening to those you hate and fear. You would know that the past has always lived in the present and always will, and that we must remember the sins of our forebears in continual acts of confession, contrition, and reconciliation. You would understand that we are not autonomous creatures; we are the products of yesterday and the fashioners of tomorrow. When we participate in Eucharist, we join with all our ancestors and we identify with all their sins, and together we reenact the suffering of Jesus of Nazareth, who was publicly executed in the manner of thieves, rebels, and runaway slaves. If the past was not in our present, Christ and a cloud of witnesses would not be with us.
And if the past is not in our present, our ancestors’ sins remain unresolved. We have silenced again with lashes the voice of the slave who spoke his mind. We have murdered again the mother who tried to escape to find her son. If they are not alive among us now, we silence them all over again. The voices of the past are calling out to us, with Christ among them. We have access to them only through a living tradition. The living memory of the black and native communities connects us to this past. In order to confess our sins at Eucharist, in order to receive grace, we must hear the voices of the past speaking in the present. Habitually. Ritually. The people with whom you now have enmity are your only way to the table of thanksgiving. If you’re not sharing that table with them, you’re not at the table of the Lord.
I think you will always be blind and your heart will always be hardened to the truth.
You’ve had too many chances already.