Three months ago, I came across a post by blogger Christena Cleveland that has triggered something stunning deep in my spirit. In a way, Christena said the obvious. At the same time, she exposed what I’d been blinded to, and desperately needed to see.
Every time I read the piece, I think, at once, “Of course!” – and “Ah ha!”
(FYI: The post came to my attention via the Twitter feed of another blog, By Their Strange Fruit, which I found via the Between Worlds post, “101 Culturally Diverse Christian Voices.” Thanks, everyone!)
Christena launches her post with an in-your-face title: “Dismantling the white male industrial complex.” Then she writes with a draw-you-in tone. Her article affirms:
WHITE MEN ARE NOT THE SECRET WEAPON (to dismantling racial injustice in the church and beyond) … BUT JESUS IS
Of course! I knew that. Long before seeing Christena’s post, I would have told you I knew that. But reading her words, I had a profoundly “Ah ha!” moment. Suddenly, I realized: I had looked to white men for what Jesus alone can give.
Running into brick walls
In late 2011, I published We Confess! The Civil War, the South, and the Church, an in-your-face, yet draw-you-in, exploration of white-church complicity in injustice – pursuing the reasons behind it, the fruits of it, the way out. I wrote in the first-person, acknowledging: I confess for what I and my ancestors have done.
For more than two years, I earnestly, persistently, sought:
- people to join the confession, and
- ways to broadcast it more widely, including pursuing funding for a documentary film to be produced by Miller Bargeron, Jr.
All those months, I continually asked Jesus what to do and how to do it. Yet, again and again, I ran hard into solid brick walls. What stunned and perplexed me most was that, each time I tried to move forward, I did so thinking, “This time, the way will be open before me.” Thus, I was moving full-speed-ahead when I hit the wall.
Now I realize: Every time I believed the way forward was finally opening, it was because I had connected with a white male leader whom I thought would rally the troops, burst through the gates and lead the charge. Surely, this man would see the importance of this confession. This man would humble himself to acknowledge the truth. This man would courageously involve others in doing the same.
Time and again, I was wrong. Indeed, when presented with the message of We Confess!, most of the men vanished – just as I charged ahead, believing they were charging too.
We Confess probes deep. It offers detailed, heartfelt confessions. While these confessions might be offered by other peoples in a variety of situations, the primary call to confess is to whites in the US church, both men and women. So it’s certainly not wrong for me to invite white leaders of both genders to participate. Yet, I confess my sin of pinning my hopes on white men, instead of Jesus, even when I believed I was trusting Jesus alone.
The light-bulb moment
By July of this year, I was battered and depleted from slamming into so many walls. My resources had dwindled. I had lost hope. Then, I read what Christena had written:
The truth is that the battle for justice won’t be won when white men finally join the fight. The battle was already won on the cross. Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is at hand. It’s here. It’s happening. It’s already been set in motion. We’re inevitably moving toward a world that reflects the prophetic reality of the resurrection. Justice will be done. All things will be made new. And Jesus graciously invites all of us to partner with him in that movement. We all can play a crucial role. But let’s never forget that Jesus is the secret weapon. Jesus has already determined the outcome of this battle and he will use whoever is willing to accomplish his plan. The Kingdom of God is at hand, whether white men participate or not.
Christena described “a different strategy” for seeking racial reconciliation and justice:
- Turn toward the Holy Spirit – wait for, listen to and follow him.
- Turn toward the oppressed – listen to, learn from and follow them.
“Of course!” I thought. “Ah ha!” Oh how much I have to learn.
A new way forward
Ever since We Confess! The Civil War, the South, and the Church was published, people from the white church culture rooted in the Bible Belt have told me, “The church just isn’t ready for this message.” They mean, “Even now, 150 years out, we still aren’t ready to face our stuff.”
What a dangerous place for us to be. Because God is ready. God is sounding the call for a confession and repentance that deal with injustice at its roots.
In spite of everyone and everything that says otherwise, I hope and pray that the Lord led me to write a book named We Confess because fellow confessors are out there, white people who know how desperately we need to make this confession, and who are ready to make it. I’ve met a few of them.
What’s more, I’ve met people who have suffered grave injustice at the hands of the white church culture and who have delighted in hearing this confession, as long as they see the accompanying changes that true repentance brings.
Eagerly seeking to see genuine confession and repentance happen on a larger scale, I’ve learned, up close and personally, just how high and thick are the walls that stand in the way.
Recognizing how I’ve missed the mark, I’m deeply grateful the Lord is both correcting me and redeeming my sins and mistakes. Regaining my breath, I want to get up and go forward again, but this time, by the Holy Spirit, to discern between the illusion of an open door and the truth.
Lord Jesus, you alone hold the keys to defeating injustice at its root. You alone open hearts that are closed to self-examination, out of pride or fear. You open, and no one can shut. With all my heart, I want to partner with you, and with others who are following you, in the forward movement you initiated through dying and rising again. By the Spirit, for the honor of the Father, show me where you are turning the key and throwing open the way.
. . . . . . .
Read the full article, “Dismantling the white male industrial complex.”
Look inside/get: We Confess! The Civil War, the South and the Church
Learn more about the “We Confess …” film.