First Ward Park, Uptown Charlotte
(This short homily was offered during a rally in Uptown Charlotte, a part of continuing nationwide demonstrations in response to the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. I was grateful to organizers Sanchez Fair and Keyona Osborne for the invitation.)
Thank you for welcoming me here today. I was asked to speak briefly on repentance, and as a white man, I want to speak primarily to my white kindred in the crowd today. I hope others will find my words edifying, and ask for your patience as I speak.
Today is Pentecost Sunday. On this day, Christians around the world celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit, the unpredictable rush of fire and wind whom we call God. In the story of the Pentecost in Acts, Peter preaches a magnificent sermon. Now, y’all are evangelicals, so I know you love the Bible. Peter was Jewish, and he loved the Bible, too. In his sermon, he quotes a pretty good chunk of the prophet Joel, taking his words out of Joel chapter 2. The section he quotes is a promise of redemption.
In any prophetic work, a promise of redemption is likely to be set alongside a warning of judgment. And indeed, that is exactly what happens in Joel 3, immediately following the section Peter quotes from. In it, God speaks through the prophet. What God says sounds something like this:
“I will gather all the nations on account of my people – that is the Jewish people, and with the alien, the orphan, the widow, the poor, and the oppressed – and I will make judgment. They have
Scattered my people away from their ancestral homes;
Taken their land and divided it among themselves;
Have stolen their labor as though their lives were a game;
Have plundered the futures of children for their own benefit;
And then, they went and got drunk off the proceeds.”
This prophetic description matches not only individual behaviors, but systems of oppression. Systems are coordinated components that work together, and in this case, they are working together to destroy. What Joel is describing sound exactly like the system we call by the names “racism” or “white supremacy.” I am here today to tell you that we stand under the judgment of God for our complicity in it.
Now, I know from my time as an evangelical that a lot of evangelicals really want reconciliation. “Racial reconciliation,” we call it. But the matter is serious – this is not a Kum-By-Yah moment. We stand under the judgment of God. There can be no reconciliation without repentance. We must stop the plunder of Black lives, the looting of Black neighborhoods, the theft of Black labor, the assimilation of Black culture.
Now is the time to confess that our white institutions have failed us, our white churches have misled us, our white schools have miseducated us, our white families have been built upon generations of lies, lies that we keep passing down to our children.
To repent, in the Biblical image, is to turn around, to stop what you are doing and to walk in the opposite direction.
Repentance is not a one-time thing, where you get on your knees and say some magic words to Jesus. It requires undoing the wrong you have participated in. It is serious business – it might take your whole life.
So there is no reconciliation without repentance. And there is no real repentance without repair. To repent for an economic and political system built on evil requires tangible economic and political reparations. Money has to change hands. Wealth has to be redistributed. Land has to change hands. Power has to be redistributed.
That is the only way to repair the damage, and it is the only way to repair our souls.
This is what happened on the Pentecost day. Peter preached, the people repented, and then their economics got all messed up. Suddenly they were sharing their money and their land, and then they could sing together in harmony. In other words, if the wealth is not getting redistributing, it’s not really Pentecost.*
So, kindred, Repent and believe the Good News. The Kingdom of God is at hand – you can see it here in the streets.
***Thanks to Melissa Florer-Bixler for this way of putting it.