Some churches have started Racists Anonymous groups. In such groups, a Christian will confess to the group the racism in his or her past and present. I know it sounds weird, but stay with me.
White Christians should consider confessing racism. I know, if you confess racism at all, the confession feels like membership in the KKK. But a white Christian can confess, “I’m a racist,” and in the next breath say, “but I don’t want to be.” This distinction is important. Some racists want to be racists; some don’t.
Like other vices, racism exists on a spectrum, from deep hatred of people of color to subconscious bias in favor of other white people. Some people have insatiable greed. Others experience occasional selfishness with their possessions. All vices exist on their own spectrum. In the confession of racism as a vice, the Christian moves one step away from vice and one step closer to virtue. Another way to describe it is repentance, turning from an old way to a new way.
You’re probably not in the KKK, but even a little racism seems like too much. This instinct makes sense; we should never excuse racism or chalk it up as “not that bad.” But can white Christians really claim to be immune to this sin? What pill can you take to control of your subconscious thoughts? If you’re like me, you have some thoughts without your consent, without your control.
In 2015, a friend of mine and I watched Selma together. Both of us tried to pretend we weren’t crying, but it was obvious. Later, we talked about the story, and I bemoaned the history of racism in our country. His confused look told me everything. Racism wasn’t history for him. Racism hurts his life in the present.
A year later, he texted me over the summer, “Do you ever feel guilty for being white?” Yes, it was an intense text, but I was honest. “Yeah, sometimes. I wish you didn’t experience so much pain at the hands of people who look like me. And that people who look like me would never benefit from the pain inflicted on others.”
Then I said, “But I feel less guilty than I used to because you are so gracious.”
In these conversations, you may feel guilty. That’s normal, but it’s not the goal.
The goal of confessing racism isn’t guilt. It’s absolution. The first step in any program is admitting you have a problem. I have a problem, and it hurts other people. I am a racist, but I don’t want to be. With confession on my lips and my ears attuned to the pain of my black brothers and sisters, maybe the church can move forward. Together.
Mitchell East is a second-year masters of divinity student in the Graduate School of Theology. He graduated from ACU in 2015.