"If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1: 8-9
As part of the ministry of The Cornelius Corps, we tutor in a DC public school. Our tutors work with children in the classroom under the direction of the teacher. We just concluded a great year at Thomson Elementary School in Mr. Chris Berfalk's fifth grade class. After our time with the children, the tutors meet together to share about that day's experience, reflect on an assigned reading, and pray. This school year our reading resource was Jim Wallis' book America's Original Sin. That original sin is systemic racism which began with slavery and has manifested itself in various ways throughout our history up to the present.
The recent acquittal of a police officer in the shooting death of Philando Castile resulted in cries of deep pain in Minnesota and throughout the nation. As with Eric Garner in New York, Alton Sterling in Louisiana, and Samuel DeBose in Ohio, video tapes of the killing of an unarmed black man were deemed insufficient evidence to convict the officers involved of any charges. Far from being unrelated isolated instances, these tragedies are symptoms of our nation's legacy of systemic racism (original sin). It is hard to believe that these situations would have turned out the same if those stopped by the police had been white. The officers involved may well have experienced fear for their own safety, but that fear was irrationally compounded to the point of using deadly force because of our societal conditioning and stereotypes about the "criminality" of black men. That kind of conditioning is at the heart of systemic racism and is certainly not limited to police officers. Indeed it impacts us all in many ways including but not limited to mass incarceration of black and brown people, growing racial wealth disparity, and re-segregating public education. In order to take steps toward individual and collective healing, we need to become conscious of the reality of the sin of systemic racism in our lives and in our nation, confess to God and each other, and commit to working for greater levels of justice especially for those who suffer racial oppression. We can do so in hope trusting in God's loving forgiveness and looking to God to guide us as we contribute our part to form the Beloved Community. In the video below, Jim Wallis shares the premise of his book and offers guidance for moving forward together.