Be the Bridge (Day 3)
To build bridges of racial reconciliation, we’ll need to confront the guilt and shame of our collective past.
Our Western society is highly individualized, and our measure of morality is based on individual guilt or innocence. We’ve all heard the justification: Why should I repent of racism? I never owned slaves. But in the Bible, guilt and shame aren’t described in an individualistic sense. In the Bible, guilt and shame are often communal and point to the need for corporate repentance.
In the book of Ezra, for instance, we read about how the people of Israel had become unfaithful to God and taken up the forbidden practices of their neighbors. Ezra, a priest and scribe, was personally innocent of the sins committed by the people, but he still felt the weight of guilt and shame. He prayed, “O my God, I am utterly ashamed; I blush to lift up my face to you. For our sins are piled higher than our heads, and our guilt has reached to the heavens” (Ezra 9:6, NLT, emphasis added). Ezra acknowledged and lamented the truth of the sins of Israel, causing him to cry out to the Lord.
In the same way, the prophet Daniel identified with the guilt and shame of his people. Israel had been unfaithful to the Lord, and because of that unfaithfulness, Jerusalem lay in desolation. Daniel confessed, “O Lord, we and our kings, princes, and ancestors are covered with shame because we have sinned against you” (Daniel 9:8, NLT, emphasis added). Like Ezra, Daniel had been personally innocent of the offenses against God, but he did not try to distance himself from the collective sin of his people. He owned his part in it as a member of the community.
Although communal shame and guilt brought both Ezra and Daniel great personal distress, their response highlights the redemptive arc of Scripture. Experiencing shame and guilt provided an opportunity to recognize the ugly reality that had led to their current situation and initiate communal restoration.
Lord, I am ashamed of the racism in our country’s history. Forgive us for the ways we have hurt each other, judged each other, even killed and enslaved each other. Forgive us for such sins committed today and in our country’s past. Forgive us for not seeing each other as made in Your image. In the powerful name of Jesus, amen.