Over Christmas break, I was drinking coffee with two of my favorite people in the world (who actually had never met each other). We only had an hour, so there was zero small talk and we went straight to the good stuff like the role of women in the church and diversity and reconciliation and these pressing issues that keep us up at night. At one point we were talking about reconciliation in the church, and black lives matter, and why our white churches can’t/aren’t doing anything on this issue. And at one point I said something like,
“The white church’s problem is we see everything as individualistic, and so we think if we’re individually nice to the black people we know then we’re loving our neighbours and everything is fine. (Like this study pointed out). But if the problems are bigger than that—if they’re structural, if racism is more about a system—it’s harder for people to grasp that.”
“Well, what can one individual do about a system?” my friend asked. “It gets overwhelming.”
“Well, I didn’t understand until recently that prayer is an act of justice.” I said. “If we’re not waging a fight against individual people, but against systems and ideas and principalities, mighty powers of this dark world, then prayer is one of the best tools we have. Not only is that a way we can address corporate evils, but if we pray in community, then it’s a communal act, not just an individual one. Like, what if in our evangelical churches we didn’t just pray private prayers of confession for individual sins, but corporate prayers for corporate sins? Maybe it would help us understand better how we’re caught up in this evil system, and more likely to listen to Christian leaders in the black community who are saying this is a problem.”
“Yeah, well, where are we going to find a corporate prayer of confession for racism?”
It exists people! The book has been written. It’s called Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith and it’s a book of corporate confession prayers. I have not read the book yet, but I have read an interview with the authors, Soong-Chan Rah, Troy Jackson, Lisa Harper and Mae Cannon,who all identify as evangelical Christians.
Oh wait, and look at this- after the AME shooting, while some of us in the church were getting worked up over our gun rights, and only viewing the act as an individual terrorist attack, other leaders in the church (like the pastor of the AME church in Charleston) were calling on churches to join them in a “Confession, Repentance and Commitment to End Racism Sunday.”
Oh, and this: The North Carolina Council of Churches has created a Lenten liturgical text that revolves around corporate confessions of race and racism. I love ecumenical organizations like this- and how cool that the churches in North Carolina banded together after the shooting and saw this was something they all needed to address.
I found all these resources by doing a 30 second google search. And yet earlier this year I was sitting in a coffee shop thinking I had just stumbled upon something major and earth-shattering and original. Nope. Yet another reminder to myself about why I need to live in diverse communities… if I have some earth-shattering idea to end racism, it probably was already created by some black person fifty years ago, and I’d know about it if I actually was in community where I was learning from black leaders.
So hopefully it’s clear I’m not inventing anything new here. But as a practice to try and wrap my head around how corporate confession, lament, and prayer for justice go together, I wrote a prayer, too. Lent and Black History month go together this year. Maybe God is telling us something.
A PRAYER FOR BLACK HISTORY MONTH:
(The leader reads normal text, the congregation reads bolded text).
Oh God, we have sinned.
We have sinned in thought and in word, and in deed.
Forgive us for thinking that we deserve our wealth and our privilege.
Have mercy, Lord.
Forgive us for viewing others as lazy, inferior, or unskilled because of the color of their skin.
Have mercy Lord.
Forgive us for the way we have oppressed black people throughout our history—from slavery to segregation, to Jim Crow, to redlining.*
Have mercy, Lord.
Forgive us for creating and maintaining a system where unarmed black men are guilty until proven innocent and are shot in the streets.
Oh God, have mercy on us.
We lament with the families of our black brothers and sisters.
Forgive us for our criminal justice system that is biased, that puts black men behind bars while white men go free.
Forgive us Lord. We have not loved our neighbor as ourselves.
Forgive us for the things we have done: a disdainful look, ignoring job applications, questioning another’s competency.
Forgive us for the things we have left undone: turning a blind eye to continuing discrimination, justifying our positions, refusing to seek out and include diverse voices, our unwillingness to learn from our fellow black brothers and sisters.
Forgive us for excluding and ignoring the cries of injustice that our black brothers and sisters have been calling out for years. Forgive us for not considering the truth until a white person says it.
Oh, forgive us Lord.
ASSURANCE OF FORGIVENESS
We praise and thank you that you are our Savior and redeemer, and through your death on the cross you purchased our forgiveness with your blood, and reconciled us to God. Oh God, grant that we may walk in newness of life through your Holy Spirit, and in unity with our black brothers and sisters.
Heavenly Father, all lives are precious in your eyes, but we learn through your Son Jesus that in the Kingdom, those who are ill-treated by society are especially welcomed and cherished by you. Lord, we acknowledge that in our country, in our neighborhoods, our courthouses, our police departments, our universities and even our churches, black lives don’t matter.
But, Oh God, they matter to you.
Forgive us Lord, and give your church a prophetic voice to raise up against the systems of injustice and oppression active in our country so that we might become a nation where black lives do matter.
God, we stand with our black brothers and sisters and pray that you would tear down every stronghold of racism and injustice that is binding our society and even our own souls.
God, hear our prayer.
God we pray that your Spirit would bring the bright winds of revival; that our county clerks, our police chiefs, our juries, our judges, our representatives and our president would move towards reconciliation and justice.
God, hear our prayer.
We pray that you would break down these systems and bring our leaders to repentance and in their place you’d raise up a community of insightful leaders who can reform our criminal justice system, so that everyone from pedestrians to police officers can have confidence in the system, confidence that justice will be served, and confidence that all of our stories will be heard.
God, we know you hear our prayers.
We pray that you would be glorified here on earth through your people, the church.
Enable us by your Spirit to work for justice in our place of work, our homes, and our schools.
We look forward to the day when people from every tribe, nation, and of every hue will stand around your throne worshipping you.
Christ, help our church to be a glimpse of that heavenly throne room to the rest of the world. Make our church such a place of unity in diversity that people are baffled, and the only explanation that can be given is your Spirit at work.
In Jesus name we pray,
*This prayer is written for an American church, but you could modify some areas like this with South African-specific examples.
PS. There was a time I wrote about subverting the empire with prayer and other whispers of hope.