Tish Harrison Warren sets the framework of how Christians SHOULD handle history… and then exposes the horrible way in which we try to stay comfortable:
We’re struggling now as a society with how to tell the truth about how white supremacy has shaped our history and institutions. Several states have recently passed laws against teaching “critical race theory.” The imprecise language of these laws provides “cover for those who are not comfortable hearing or telling the truth about the history and state of race relations in the United States,” as Rashawn Ray and Alexandra Gibbons point out in a Brookings Institution paper.
We love our comfort as white Christians in America. When we toured Gettysburg a couple of months ago there were a few comments made in groups how the movie shown in the visitor center didn’t say enough about the South and “states rights.” The issue of “states rights” is a myth that persists because we can’t stand the thought of the South being… well… WRONG.
As Christians, we need to be better and facing truth and asking for the grace to move forward.
Part of our issue is pride. When I mention “repentance” there are times when white Christians want to know: “Repent of what? I’m not a racist!”
Warren frames it like this:
Repentance for sin is not simply to feel sorry about something but to actively address and repair wrong that’s been done. To repent, said Catholic theologian Remi Hoeckman, is “to rethink everything from the ground up.” It’s a transformation of how we think and how we live. Repentance requires truth-telling, and we cannot repent for the sin of racism in the present if we are not willing to admit to white-supremacist roots in American culture and institutions, including in the American church.
We have to learn to be HONEST with events. It’s so easy to decry some small group calling for the dismantling of the Washington Monument while you stand in the shadow of a huge memorial to Robert E Lee on the Gettysburg battlefield. (The irony is completely lost folks who decry “participation trophies” for kids these days as they gaze as the monstrous statue of Lee on a battlefield where he LOST the battle.)
We want our comfortable histories so we do not have to deal with something that makes us uncomfortable. What is lost is the vision to bring true healing to the world around us, just so we can work so hard to maintain our comfort.
Telling the truth about our history means that as a Christian, I have to wade into the emotional complexity that honesty requires. It does not mean that white people must hate everything about our ancestors or curse those who made our lives possible. It means that we cannot deny, minimize, or excuse their behavior. We have to be willing to confront the truth in ways that might make us feel conflicted and distressed, and to teach our children to do the same.