We need to see

Today, we white Christians whose church culture has sprung from the Bible Belt desperately need to re-examine our roots. We need to recognize the areas where we and our ancestors have agreed with injustice and unrighteousness. We need to expose the ways we continue to let something shallow and misleading rob us. We need to see where we have deadened our oak taproots to pursue kings of our own making.

Please, Father in heaven, give us eyes to see.

Quoted from We Confess! The Civil War, the South, and the Church, © 2011 Deborah P. Brunt

Forgive us

Forgive Us

Twenty-first century evangelicals spend an extraordinary amount of time pointing out the sins evident in the culture. But instead of doing that, couldn’t the church make the confession of its own sins a higher priority?

Great insight. Great question, penned by the four authors of Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith. In the introduction to this new release, Mae Elise Cannon, Lisa Sharon Harper, Troy Jackson and Soong-Chan Rah acknowledge:

Many people have grown angry and frustrated with organized religion – and with evangelical Christianity in particular. Too often the church has proven a source of pain rather than a place of hope … Forgive Us acknowledges the legitimacy of much of that anger and recognizes that the church through the ages has experienced significant brokenness, a brokenness that demands to be acknowledged and repented of.

The authors add:

Many Christians today are unaware of the events that mark the American church’s greatest tragedies. In Forgive Us, we seek to provide brief, accurate, and compelling histories of some of the church’s greatest shortcomings … When the church has a holistic understanding of its failings, repentance is the appropriate response.

I’m personally acquainted with three of the four authors of Forgive Us. They know I’ve written a book with a similar theme and are aware how profoundly I agree with the statements above. When they asked me to read a preview copy of their book and, if I chose, to write an endorsement, I said yes to both.

In Forgive Us, the authors courageously explore a variety of ways that we in the US church have treated shabbily both the land with which we’ve been entrusted and people made in the image of God. Further, they offer heartfelt confessions, inviting others to join in, and they highlight signs of hope for change.

In a similar way (compelling history, genuine confession, reasons for hope), I explore the more specific subject of the church’s sins surrounding the bloodiest division and war to date in US history. My book is called, We Confess! The Civil War, The South, and The Church. Interestingly, whether you’re looking at the broader picture of Forgive Us or the deeper one of We Confess, some strikingly parallel themes emerge.

First, we in the US church culture tend to have an “us vs. them” mentality, and we do not treat “them” as we ourselves would want to be treated.

Second, we have a propensity for both denial and pride. As the authors of Forgive Us have written:

The American church often chooses to ignore its own tainted history and move too quickly toward offering solutions for everyone else’s problems.

Third, the pathway that we’ve believed too hard – the way of confession and repentance – is the only way out. It’s the path to healing, reconciliation, life.

Consider these reflections from Forgive Us:

Godly grief does not paralyze with a pervasive sense of guilt. Rather, it identifies specific ways we have turned from God and offers a holy opportunity for the restoration of relationship with God, others, and the land by reconnecting our hearts to God’s heart and then to the hearts of those we have made to suffer. Godly grief leads to cleansing confession and repentance.

Godly confession tells the truth about God, about us, and about our actions. It tells the truth about the repercussions our actions have for us, our relationship with God, our families, others, the rest of creation, the systems that govern us, and life itself …

Godly lament and confession should lead to repentance, and repentance requires an about-face in our actions and a deep change in our way of life.

Thank you, Mae, Lisa, Troy and Soong-Chan, for choosing the path of confession and repentance, and opening the way for others to come too.

Quotations are from Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), pp. 29, 31, 32, 27, 24, 25.

. . . . . . .

Look inside Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith

Look inside We Confess! The Civil War, The South, and The Church

Jesus, white men and me

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

Brick wall

© Brenda Clark

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:

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.” If so, 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 believe 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 already 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.

Now recognizing how I’ve missed the mark, I’m deeply grateful the Lord is both correcting me and redeeming my sins and mistakes. Now 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.

. . . . . . .

We Confess! The Civil War, the South, and the ChurchRead the full article, “Destroying the white male industrial complex.”

Learn more about We Confess! The Civil War, the South and the Church

Look Inside We Confess!

Learn more about the “We Confess …” film.

Give to the “We Confess …” film.

“My family never owned slaves”

Since writing, We Confess! The Civil War, the South, and the Church – and now working on a documentary film based on this book – I’ve heard lots of statements similar to the title of the 2010 post in which blogger Abagond offers a response we whites may not want to hear, but desperately need to know.

For generations, we’ve let our own defensiveness keep us from acknowledging and addressing what we’ve been party to and/or benefited from that deeply hurts whole groups of people and deeply offends God. Yet, much as we may try to do so, we cannot buy ourselves “a pass from American history,” nor from the racist fallout still occurring today.

Many of us don’t even see that we’re clinging to privilege (and fear and pride), but we’re all experiencing the results of it. For privilege built on grave injustice may seem a blessing, but always carries a curse.

Profound denial will keep us in a cycle of hurting ourselves, mistreating others and misrepresenting God. The only way out is to do what Abagond suggests: face up to these things and seek God’s ways to truly set them right.

oakalleyplantation

From Abagond post published 2/24/2014:

“My family never owned slaves” is something you hear White Americans say. Although not racist in itself it has the effect of turning a blind eye towards racism.

The statement by itself is true for most whites: even back in slave days in 1860 fewer than 2% of whites owned slaves! Slaves cost way too much for most people and in half the country it was against the law. On top of that millions of whites came to America long after the slaves were freed, like most Italians and Jews.

The trouble with the statement is not its truth but how it is used: to cut white people off from history. When they say black people live in the past and need to give the slave thing a rest, they are making the very same argument: history does not matter, it somehow magically does not affect anyone alive now. If we are affected at all by history it is only through our families, nothing else.

That is wishful thinking. America’s slave past still profoundly affects its present. Most white people, it seems, refuse to see that: it makes them uncomfortable. By saying “My family never owned slaves” they are trying to buy themselves a pass from American history, both past and present …

Read the entire post.

Confederate Memorial Day and cataclysmic storms

In April 2011 and again in April 2014 – on the date when the most state celebrations of the former Confederacy converged – major storms spawned deadly tornadoes and record-breaking floods across the Deep South.

Coincidence?

Blood-red cloudsApril 2011, states across the Deep South launched a four-year celebration of the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War.

Every year, eight Southern states still officially observe Confederate Memorial Day.

Yet, the God of covenant love has a different plan for this time – a plan that involves confession and cleansing, not celebration of needless bloodshed. To cooperate with him, we have to let him show us what we haven’t wanted to see: The awakened white church across the South in the early 1800s became deeply double-minded and led the region to secede, to go to war and to vow repeatedly never to yield.

Never means never.

Today, the Southern states that still officially observe a Confederate memorial day don’t all do so on the same date. Indeed, each state has chosen its own date (and some, their own name). Texas commemorates Confederate Heroes Day in January (with a second unofficial observance in April); North and South Carolina, hold their observances in May; and Tennessee commemorates Confederate Decoration Day in June.

Five states observe Confederate Memorial Day in April. The five observances don’t necessarily all fall on the same date. But in 2011 and again in 2014, they did.

April 2011
150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and (unofficially) Texas observed Confederate Memorial Day on April 26.

In We Confess! The Civil War, the South, and the Church, I wrote:

It’s May 2011. Last month and this, a series of disasters has plagued the South. In April, devastating droughts sparked wildfires in Texas and Oklahoma. Meanwhile, five severe weather outbreaks lashed the eastern half of the nation, breaking numerous records in terms of severity, destruction, and deaths. In the words of newscasters themselves, the months’ storms took the heaviest toll in “Dixie.” On the heels of the storms came the Great Flood of 2011. The Mississippi River overflowed its banks from Illinois to the Gulf Coast, nearing and topping 100-year flood levels and causing billions of dollars of damage, most of it in the Deep South.

Of these disasters, the tornadoes produced by far the greatest loss of life. A record-breaking 751 tornadoes occurred – 209 tornadoes more than the previous monthly record, set in May 2003. The two storm systems that primarily hit the Midwest caused great destruction, but no fatalities. Conversely, the three storm systems that plowed through the Deep South resulted in escalating numbers of casualties. April 4-5, nine people died; April 14-16, 43 died; April 25-28, about 340 died.

The April deaths from tornadoes or straight-line winds took place in these states (from greatest to least number of fatalities): Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, Arkansas, Virginia, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Kentucky.

The month’s last storm system, occurring April 25-28, spawned one of the worst tornado outbreaks in US history. April 27, 2011, became the single deadliest tornado day in the nation since 1925.

Can it be coincidence that April 2011 launched four years of celebrations of Civil War bloodshed? Can it be coincidence that, in the 150th anniversary month, the deadliest tornado day in generations left a staggering death toll across the Deep South, but especially in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia – the day after those three states and two others commemorated Confederate Memorial Day? Can it be coincidence that all the month’s storm-related deaths took place in former slave states or territories and the vast majority of them in states that still officially commemorate the Confederacy?

April 2014
Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and (unofficially) Texas observed Confederate Memorial Day on April 28.

And it happened again. A storm system that launched in Oklahoma and Kansas on Sunday, April 27, quickly turned deadly, taking 15 lives in Arkansas alone. On Monday, April 28, the system careened across Mississippi, Alabama and into Georgia, as well as other Southern states, spewing tornadoes, causing untold destruction and more than doubling the death toll. As the storm pushed eastward on Tuesday, cataclysmic flooding became the greatest devastator, especially on the Alabama and Florida Gulf Coast. Repeatedly, areas hardest hit were said to look like war zones. See more details here.

What if?
We Confess! The Civil War, the South, and the ChurchWhat if God has a purpose for this 150th anniversary of the Civil War, that he expresses in Joel 3:21 (CJB)? “I will cleanse them of bloodguilt which I have not yet cleansed.”

Might the devastating weather events during strategic Confederate celebrations suggest how desperately we need this cleansing? Might the reoccurring siren-sound of wind and waves echo the shouts of a loving Father, crying to the evangelical church culture rooted in the Bible Belt? “Stop pointing fingers at everyone else. I am speaking to you.”

“April 2011” section taken from We Confess! The Civil War, the South, and the Church, by Deborah P. Brunt (WestBow Press, 2011), 10-11. All rights reserved.

 

So who needs to confess?

We Confess! The Civil War, the South, and the Church – Q&A 3

Your book title begins, “We Confess!” So who needs to confess?

church window

We do. That is, we in the US church, collectively, have some serious confessing to do. Especially we, who call Jesus “Lord” and hold to all the bedrock beliefs of the faith, need to let our Lord show us how we have missed him and misrepresented him. When he shows us, we need to step up to the plate and agree with him. What an impact if we, in the white church culture rooted in the Bible Belt, would humble ourselves to lead the way in this!

Be aware: confessing isn’t all negative. Some of our confession will require seeing and turning from wrongs that neither we nor our ancestors have fully addressed. But some of our confession will come from seeing and embracing our true identity in Christ. When we deal with our great confusion as to our identity, a lot of other things will fall into place.

The good news is: We don’t have to wonder whether we need to confess, or what for. If we’ll let go of fear and pride and invite God to show us the truth, he will. And he will give us the desire and power to let go of the junk we’ve held onto for so long, and to embrace the treasure that’s ours for the taking. May I quote briefly here from chapter 1 of We Confess?

We Confess! coverI know all the reasons why confessing may sound like a lousy idea. But I’ll tell you from hard-earned experience: Not confessing is a far, far lousier one.

I also know from experience: You cannot confess what you don’t see. That’s why, in our day, God is graciously removing the veil. He’s showing his people the extent to which we’ve missed and misrepresented him. Regardless what region we’re from, regardless what color our skin, he wants to lift from our shoulders staggering burdens that generations have needlessly carried. He wants goodness, not bloodshed, to pursue us. He wants the forgiveness, cleansing, and restoration that he is holding out to overflow within us and to rise like a river among us, sweeping us all up in its strong, true flow.

How did you come to write We Confess?

We Confess! The Civil War, the South, and the Church – Q&A 1

You’ve written a book with a very provocative title: We Confess! The Civil War, the South, and the Church. How did you come to write We Confess?

chains linked

My experiences left me asking God, “What was that?”

I’m a white woman from the Deep South. I grew up with a profound awareness of the subjects my culture and my church culture do not wish to discuss. Never would I have dreamed I’d write a book like this – until I worked inside the Southern Baptist denominational structure for seven years. During that season, I inadvertently uncovered something big and ugly that didn’t fit at all with what we proclaimed ourselves to be.  My experiences left me asking God, “What was that?” In answer, the Lord prompted me to research the history of the Southern Baptist Convention. When I did, it was as if I’d pulled a thread, and all kinds of things began unraveling.

For one thing, I saw the way the SBC had, from its inception, deliberately linked itself with the South, and particularly with the sin strongholds of the South. I saw how patterns established four generations ago had repeated in my work situation. But also I saw how those same patterns were repeating in my life and family and in families and churches all around me. The more I learned about my ancestors’ choices, the more I realized how powerfully those choices still impact the US church today, and especially the conservative church rooted in the Bible Belt.

We Confess! coverAs I studied, and grieved over, and worked through all I was learning, I began to experience dramatic changes within me – new life, new freedom, new purpose, new intimacy with God. I wanted others who are shackled by things they don’t even know are binding them to experience this same freedom. So after a lifetime of experiences and five years of research, I spent about a year writing We Confess! The Civil War, the South, and the Church.