Acknowledgment is better than ignorance. Confession is even better.

This was first published in my newsletter earlier this year.

I’m sure some of you saw the new research about Christians and racial justice released by Barna this week. Here are a few relevant sections:

There is actually a significant increase in the percentage of practicing Christians who say race is “not at all” a problem in the U.S. (19%, up from 11% in 2019). Among self-identified Christians alone, a similar significant increase occurs (10% in 2019, 16% in 2020).

There is, however, a boost in Christians’ willingness to strongly agree that, historically, the U.S. has oppressed minorities—from 19 percent in the 2019 survey to 26 percent in the summer of 2020.

Meanwhile, the number of those who are “somewhat motivated” [to engage racial injustice] has shrunk and the number of those who are motivated has held fairly steady over the past year, indicating some of those who might have previously been on the fence about addressing racial injustice have become more firmly opposed to engaging.

Some minority groups are, naturally, highly motivated to address the racial injustices that may affect them. Among self-identified Christians, Black adults in particular (46% “very motivated”), followed by Hispanic adults (23% “very motivated”), are eager to be involved—something few white self-identified Christians express (10% “very motivated”).

In short, American Christians in general are less willing to pursue racial justice, with white Christians leading the way, even as we are more willing to acknowledge past instances of racial injustice.

It seems we are watching an entrenchment happening in real time. Despite the very public instances of racial injustice we’ve all witnessed in the past few months, many Christians have found reasons to keep justice at a distance. Why?

Maybe we get the hint of an answer in the data that suggests a greater willingness to admit to racial injustice throughout our nation’s history. To be clear, there are plenty of people who struggle even with this as was evident this week in the president’s speech unveiling his 1776 Commission.

Our mission is to defend the legacy of America’s founding, the virtue of America’s heroes, and the nobility of the American character. We must clear away the twisted web of lies in our schools and classrooms, and teach our children the magnificent truth about our country. We want our sons and daughters to know that they are the citizens of the most exceptional nation in the history of the world.

There are still those working to whitewash our history of racial terror and trauma. Willful ignorance remains an attractive option for many Americans. So, the fact that a few more people are willing to tell the historical truth is good, even if it’s a pretty low bar.

So what might keep a person who can see past injustices from seeing them today? I wonder if it has to do with a sort of cultural individualism that severs a person from the generations before him or her. An understanding of persons as completely autonomous beings allows for us to acknowledge the ugly stuff of yesteryear because, well, we weren’t around.

(There’s more to say about how this hyper-individualism and generational detachment hamstrings Christian attempts at racial justice, but that will have to wait for another time.)

But our tone changes when we move the timeline forward; now it’s us we’re talking about. Could it be that our unwillingness to see injustice today has very little to do with the awful facts as others experience them and a lot to do with an unwillingness to admit our entanglement with those facts?

There’s a big difference between acknowledgment and confession. The first requires a bit of information and sympathy; the second, a tolerance for uncomfortably close truth and a whole lot of humility. Which is what makes Christians’ unwillingness to see today’s injustices so disappointing. Shouldn’t we know something about confession? Doesn’t the gospel provide a platform strong enough for the truth?

I think we do and think it does. Who’s with me?

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