One of our students told me recently that she is reading Isaiah 1 in light of the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Here are some selected verses from that chapter, from a section entitled “The Wickedness of Judah” in the New Revised Standard Version.
2 Hear, O heavens, and listen, O earth;
for the Lord has spoken:
I reared children and brought them up,
but they have rebelled against me.
3 The ox knows its owner,
and the donkey its master’s crib;
but Israel does not know,
my people do not understand.
4 Sinful nation,
people laden with iniquity,
11 What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
I have had enough of burnt offerings;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls.
12 Trample my courts no more.
In times like these, White Christians like to talk about the importance of lament. And it’s true. But, as Ta-Nehisi Coates noted in Between the World and Me, all too often we lament in a way that suggests we have experienced something like a natural disaster, something with an unknowable, unpreventable cause. Something tragic and beyond our control.
But that’s just one more way we hide our complicity with the evil we lament.
Therefore, I would like to pray this prayer of repentance on behalf of those of us who are White and, therefore, are complicit in the racism that brought us the death of George Floyd and so many, many more. As Rabbi Abraham Heschel wrote in God in Search of Man, the opportunity to repent is an undeserved gift from God.
Let us pray.
We come before You as a sinful nation, a people laden with iniquities.
We repent, O God, for the 500-hundred year oppression of people of color.
We repent of the smug self-satisfaction with our material prosperity—prosperity rooted in exploitation.
We repent of our church, steeped in the cultural values of consumerism, comfort, and White supremacy.
We repent of tithing mint and dill and cumin while neglecting justice and mercy and faith. We have, indeed, strained out a gnat and swallowed a camel.
We repent of our deliberate ignorance about race and racism, the practiced innocence and convenient naiveté that protect us from acknowledging the truth.
We repent of the myths we tell; the lies we defend; the unearned, undeserved privileges we like to call blessings.
We repent of the institutions we have built, the systems and structures, the policies and practices that created and perpetuate White supremacy.
We repent of blaming the oppressed for their oppression, masking our hate with pity and contempt.
We repent of our self-serving complacency, our pretense that time equals progress, our insistence that we are one of the good guys.
Father, forgive us, for we know exactly what we do.
Lord, hear our prayer . . .