One of the difficult responsibilities for a pastor is to know when to speak on situations that are affecting our community and nation. It is one I take seriously and prayerfully. The desire is to respond with words of faith and compassion as we wrestle with major issues and crisis points. Throughout my ministry, I have offered pastoral prayerful guidance following school shootings, contentious elections, and denominational struggles. All with the hope and prayer to offer some words from God that can help my congregation and community to process the moment and to enter into a deeper state of prayer.
Lately, I have found myself having to speak more often with words of pastoral hope and guidance in response to difficult moments. Right now, we are dealing with three major boiling points as a nation: the coronavirus pandemic, how 40 million people are currently unemployed, and the increasing racial tensions.
My heart, recently, has been heavy as it relates to the racial tensions in our nation. I have been appalled by the senseless killings of people of color. Ahmaud Arbery, who is black, was killed in February while jogging, because two white men believed he was tied to a robbery. George Floyd, who is black, was killed by a Minneapolis police officer during an arrest for using an alleged $20 counterfeit bill. David McAtee, who is black, was killed during protests in Louisville in response to the Floyd death. These are the ones that have made recent national news. We know there are others that do not receive the media’s coverage. Each death was wrong and those who perpetrated these acts should be held accountable.
As a follower of Christ and a pastor, I believe firmly we are to live out the words of Amos 5:24 “to let justice roll like a river” and Micah 6:8’s call to live with mercy and walk humbly with God. For me, it means to be concerned for the needs of others and to see them as my own. Truly, to love God and to love our neighbor as myself requires a willingness to walk in someone else’s shoes and to consider their needs as important as my own.
It also means to hear their cries for justice as my own cry for justice. My heart joins with the cries for justice and reconciliation, as well as it bemoans the violence that has undertaken our nation. We should not allow the violent acts of a few to dismiss the overwhelming cries of justice, respect, and reconciliation from those who have been marginalized by society.
We are called, by Christ, to partner with our Lord to “set the oppressed free.” (Luke 4:18) That means we are to walk along side those who are oppressed and to let their voices for freedom to be heard. It means to be advocates of hope for the oppressed in our society.
Yet, before hope can be experienced, I wonder if we need to enter into a time of confession and repentance.
Confession is the prayerful act of admitting to God our sin and contributions to the wrongs that have been committed towards one another. It is the important step of repentance that leads towards a turning from the self and turning towards God and loving others. It is more than just saying, “I’m sorry,” but comes about through a recognition that what we have done has caused pain and broken relationships in God’s created order.
So, where might we, as followers of Christ, need to offer prayers of confession today and in this season of racial tension?
We need to confess how our worship services and churches are, still, among the most segregated aspects of community formation in America. We do not look like God’s kingdom that is open to all people. We look like, often, what we want community to look like and that is a reflection of our values and culture.
We need to confess how we have lived in fear of others. We have perpetrated in the narratives that certain aspects of communities are unsafe if they are populated by minorities. We have allowed churches to refrain from ministry in the poorest sections of community, because we believe someone might get hurt or killed if we do so.
We need to confess how we have refused to listen to the concerns of others. We are more comfortable in our own narrative and understandings of how the world should be, so we have not taken the time to listen to the stories and ways of life of those who are not living in our context.
We need to confess how we have allowed the political divisions in our nation, and churches, to hinder our witness of the Gospel. We have made seeking justice as a negative in the church, because we have been led to believe it is a political work. We have refused to partner in the ministry and mission of God, as well, if it does not fit our political narrative and ideology.
For all of this, and more, we need to confess in this time. We will not experience the hope of God until we enter into prayer and recognition of how we have contributed into the problems we see in our world.
The liturgy for communion in the United Methodist tradition offers an important prayer of confession that is useful in this time. It recognizes where we have fallen short and need to seek God, so that we may live as people of peace and hope.
May these words be in our prayer in this time:
Merciful God, we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart. We have failed to be an obedient church. We have not done your will, we have broken your law, we have rebelled against your love, we have not loved our neighbors, and we have not heard the cry of the need. Forgive us, we pray. Free us for joyful obedience, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
May God do a work of healing in our nation in this time, and may it begin in us.