I confess that this current moment of racial awakening in white society and in “evangelical” churches has me deeply conflicted. I have never seen so many prominent white or multi-ethnic (with white leadership inevitably) “evangelical” churches addressing issues of race and injustice concurrently. Of course, we have traditionally had the bi-annual sermon or workshop on racism or caring for the poor but nothing like the sheer volume of sermons, panel discussions, workshops, and statements currently being produced. I should be excited right? What if this is a move of God even? White “evangelicals” in South African and around the world finally confessing, repenting, and getting on board to dismantle the structures and systems of white supremacy that still plague our country to this day. What if this is the moment when we finally repent of our love affair with western, white theology, and begin to embrace our contextual rootedness here in Africa? What if we finally begin to allow our theology to be shaped by not only the concerns and the struggles of Africa but by the sons and daughters born of the soil of Africa? This is what we have been working and praying for right?
So why am I so cynical?
Because repentance precedes platform.
As much as I am grateful for “evangelical” churches speaking out and expressing solidarity; as much as I am hopeful that this is a beautiful movement of real change and repentance; I am also angry. Angry because I know what you did. I was there, sometimes I was complicit. Sometimes I would hear the stories many years later.
Churches, seminaries, denominations, and networks now releasing statements around Black Lives Matter or racial injustice are the same ones who have repeatedly vilified, excluded, and chased out black men and women who dared to speak out about institutional racism or ask questions about transformation and economic inequality. Black men and women lost homes, jobs, careers, reputations, bursaries, and even their faith because of what you did. And these are not statistics or numbers to me these are friends, brothers, sisters, mentors, and colleagues.
I believe in the gospel of grace. I believe that redemption and change are not only possible, but that transformation has already begun. It has begun in me. I am being changed through the gospel of Jesus Christ. The scandalous beauty of the gospel is that even the vilest of racists can be redeemed and even the most corrupt of systems can be transformed.
But transformation begins with repentance. So, before you concern yourself with managing your platform, preaching a sermon, or putting out a statement you must repent for what you have done. Before you post that black lives matter, ask yourself which black lives have not mattered to me? Which black lives have I labelled divisive, anti-gospel troublemakers? Which black voices have I vilified and marginalized? From which black bodies have I stolen reputation, livelihood, or even their faith?
Repentance can never be generalized. It involves specific deeds against specific people. Repentance, most often, has a name and a postal code. And biblical repentance involves restitution. Repentance means individuals, churches, denominations, or seminaries issue public apologies to those whose reputations they have maligned. Those who have lost homes, jobs, or employment opportunities because they spoke up must be financially restituted for the wrong done against them. White churches or denominations who have benefitted from and built their following, reputation, and financial stability off unjust economic practices must make restitution to those black churches at whose expense they have, directly or indirectly, benefitted.
If you are a white leader and God is awakening something in you at this moment. I pray that it is real. I pray you are here for the whole journey because this is a long, painful journey of unlearning and repentance. So, allow me to suggest that if you are here for that, instead of picking up the mic you rather pass the mic, sit down and allow yourself to be led by those black lives who really do matter.