I believe we are at a crossroad in our country. With the generational patterns of racism being brought to our attention, all people have a responsibility to evaluate how racism has played a role in our own lives and in the lives of those who came before us. The events and the conversations in past few weeks have brought me to my knees, reduced me to sobs, and induced me to listening to and read about the experiences of black people. This listening, with the intent to understand, requires a diligence of heart and commitment to listen instead of creating conclusions in the moment. I have only begun to scratch the surface of learning. I am not naive to attempt to speak on the subjects where learning is the goal. I do, however, believe I should speak to us, my fellow white people, about white guilt.
For some of us, in our hast to do something to rectify racism in our own lives or in the past generations, it would be easy to believe we, as white people, need to reside in guilt over being white. Even if we don’t subscribe to white guilt, somehow, we can still experience anxiety over believing we need to have longstanding white guilt.
If the white guilt has any similarities to other guilt, I have experienced the symptoms of maintaining it. Guilt causes me to feel stuck, as if my feet have sunk into solidified concrete. Guilt is like mosquitos’ bites in the summer. It bites us, leaves us paranoid and irritated from scratching and distracted us from joy.
Repentance is guilt’s antidote. Repentance changes the way I view myself. It chisels away at the concrete, breaking my feet free. I become free not so I can run and hide, but so I can return to life with new perspective and a softness of heart. Repentance also allows the anxiety of guilt to subside.
In the Old Testament, when kings died, their sons would take over their kingdoms. Time after time, as recorded in the Chronicles, the son would either do what was right in God’s eyes or not do what was right. If the new king did what was right it usually entailed repentance, a broken heart towards God and then, action. Restoration of God’s house and destruction of idols and the worship places of false gods followed. Consequences for sin can be passed down to other generations, but throughout the Bible, I have never seen God pass on guilt.
The places of idol worship and false gods were found in “high places”. For me, high places have represented patterns of behavior both in my life or in the lives of the generations before me which need to come under the authority of God. These places must come down in order for me to grow. Repentance is most effective in our lives when we allow the break down these places. Once torn down, there is space for new patterns of our minds, new relationships to be formed, and reconciliation to be cultivated.
Guilt can become a high place for many of us. It is an emotion which we can either try to die by, or we can allow it to trigger our hearts to repentance. Guilt does not need to become our identity. God never instructs us to stay rooted in guilt. Ephesians 3:16-17 says Paul prayed fervently that the church might be strengthened through the Spirit so that Christ could dwell in and through us, and that we may be “rooted and grounded in love”.
Repentance uproots guilt. Repentance of past sins of racism, both our own and of the generations before us, can bring a salve to this disease. Repenting for sins of previous generations, does not make us accountable for those sins. Repentance of past sins acknowledges that they existed and that we no longer will turn a blind eye. Doing this allows space to be open in our hearts and minds and propels us towards changing the patterns which have integrated our own lives, our own upbringing and our own beliefs. It gives God an opportunity to do His best work, the forgiveness of sins, through His Son, Jesus. Repentance begins the journey to reconciliation.
During an interview between Dr. Anita Phillips and Pastor Carl Lentz this past weekend through Hillsong East Coast’s on-line service (Check it out on YouTube), they spoke about guilt. Dr. Phillips says “Guilt is a paralytic.” The way to undo the paralysis is through repentance. This can be the first step in replacing guilt with action. She went on to say there are two things we can do after repentance. The second step is to lament. The final step is to know what part we each can play in this cause.
Brothers and sisters, I think we get grieving and guilt mixed up. Lamenting is found in grieving, but residual guilt gets in the way of grieving. We don’t need a human loss to grieve. We are allowed to grieve the loss of relationship, the promise of unity in our country which is missing due to racism and the length of time it has taken for this moment to come. This list goes on. Grieving mends the heart and prepares it for action. Guilt, however, prevents us from moving forward.
I keep going back to the feet of Jesus. I need direction in what to think and how to respond. Each time guilt and anxiety comes out to play, I head right back to Him. He has the power to replace my sadness with forgiveness and peace. As I wait for Him to make my role clear, guilt must not have a grip on my next steps. We must not be paralyzed from doing the next right thing. As white men and women, I believe we cannot be rooted in guilt because our world needs our help building unity, listening to understand and showing up when it is uncomfortable.