I kneel to confess. Not because I have to, or because of some religious tradition forced on me as a child. I kneel because I need the pew to hide my face as I wrestle with God. Every week, it is the same battle. On my knees, I try to defend, justify, and argue myself out of confessing. Every week, I am afraid to confess. As I go before God, I realize that my desire to be defensive and lash out at truth-tellers is because I'm deathly afraid to admit my sin.
There was a picture circulating the internet where President Trump had crossed out the word Coronavirus and replaced it with "Chinese." Even though Asian Americans were the target of racist attacks, Trump defended using the term. When I mentioned that the term was racist, explaining how it was playing on a historical trope that described Chinese and other Asian cultures as barbaric, I was accused of race-baiting or trying to divide in a time of crisis. Even those who are actively engaged in anti-racist behavior defended the use of the term Chinese virus. I heard multiple excuses such as, "This is how we've always named viruses, look at the Spanish Flu or Lime Disease." I asked a friend, "Why does it bother you that I called it racist?" She responded, "I don't know." I asked again, "Does it bother you that Asian Americans are physically harmed right now because of that term?" "Yes, it does. But we call the Spanish Flu.." "Yes, but that was named in the early 20th century, surely, we've evolved as a society since then, right?"
"Because if that is racist, then I am racist. And I can't be racist." There have been too many times in my life, that my first response was to dismiss or get angry at the accusation of racism, because if I allowed myself to admit that something was racist, I had to admit that I had thought, said or done racist things.
A few years ago, an Asian American friend shared how hurt she was when someone said something racist to her. She told me how the comments made her think that because of her ethnicity, she was not valued or seen as an American. The story wasn't about me, and yet, because I had said something similar in the past, I immediately lashed out. My friend's words – unintentionally – convicted me of my racism. Rather than seeing that as an invitation from God, I choose to get defensive. I no longer saw a friend sharing a painful experience. Instead, I saw an accusation.
God was inviting me to confess and turn to him; instead, I choose to center my own story and make myself the victim. But God's invitation to confess offers freedom rather than victimhood. God invited me to wrestle with him so that he could mold me.
When my sins are brought up in public, my response is so predictable; it appears scripted. I get defensive, I make excuses, and I blame others. Confession has taught me that having my faults pointed out, is not a death sentence but an invitation to lean into the tension. The lies of the world use our mistakes to hold us in captivity. The world says that if you have ever said, thought, or done a racist thing, then you are and will always be racist. Since you cannot change, your only option is to deny racism. Like a wounded animal, those of us held captive by this lie can only lash out, because if we admit to our racism than we are signing our guilty verdict, for which there is no pardon. But confession invites us to shed the shackles of our sin.
"All who truly and earnestly repent of your sins, and seek to live in love and charity with your neighbors, and intend to lead the new life, following the commandments of God, and walking in his holy ways: draw near with faith and make your humble confession to Almighty God."
Unlike the lies of the enemy, God sees us as redeemable. Confession is God reaching out his hand, rescuing us from our sin. Trish Warren wrote, "Our communal practice of confession reminds us that failure in the Christian life is the norm. We – each and all – take part in gathered worship as unworthy people who, left on our own, deserve God's condemnation."
Confession does not seal my fate; rather, it is how, as an imperfect person, I learn to love God's people more.
Confession allows me to give God every experience where I failed to love my neighbor and to love him. He takes my sin and frees me from their verdict of a condemned life
Confession gently pushes us towards repentance. According to Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah, "Repentance is not just sorrow and confession, it is the turning around of wrong behavior towards right and just action." Repentance allows us to destroy the narrative that our biggest mistakes define us and instead accept the truth that God uses our mistakes to mold us into his image. When I turn from my sin, I am turning into God's arms. Repentance is breaking down the prison that my sin has kept me captive. As groundbreaking as it is, it is also ordinary. Repentance is not a one-time decision, but a daily choice to turn from my sin. Warren wrote, "Repentance is not usually a moment wrought in high drama. It is the steady drumbeat of a life in Christ and, therefore, a day in Christ." My choice to turn from my sin is an ordinary act that I daily practice, which shakes the very foundation of the evil that threatens to keep me from God. I have two awards in my office, touting my expertise in Diversity and Inclusion. When I received those awards, I believed that I had somehow arrived and was no longer racist. Since receiving those awards, I have publicly done and said racist things, once, while teaching on God's heart for racial reconciliation. God invites us to confess and repent daily because following God means that we have to fall on our knees and beg for forgiveness continually.
Feelings of Shame and Defensiveness
Amos invites the Israelites to lament and repent by saying, "There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in court and detest the one who tells the truth." (Amos 5:10) When a corporate sin that you either benefit from or perpetuate is brought to light, it feels like an attack. Like the Israelites, our first response is to hate, fear, or distrust the truth-tellers. But those feelings are an invitation to confession. When our Asian American brothers and sisters began to share stories of racism inflicted because of the term "Chinese virus," those of us in the majority culture had the opportunity to feel the feelings of defensiveness, shame, distrust, and to take those feelings to God in confession. But by doubling down and defending the term "Chinese Virus," we chose to ignore the pain of our brothers and sisters. In doing so, we told God that we were too afraid to confess. Instead, we willing to put on the shackles our words created, becoming victims of our corporate sin, refusing the freedom God offers. But our story is not over. We can still choose to listen to the pain of our Asian American brothers and sisters. We can choose to confess that we have chosen fear of love, hate over truth, and injustice of God. We can confess that we have not loved God with our whole heart and have not loved our neighbor as ourselves. And if we are brave enough to take our feelings of defensiveness, shame, and guilt and give them to God in confession, he will free us from the prison we create.