I am tired of it!
What am I tired of? I am tired of being told that I must repent, because people in my ancestry, even people who were not in my ancestry, engaged in behaviors and lifestyles of which I have never been part. The people at fault were white, or Christian, or lived in stable homes or enjoyed a moderate but reliable income. Or they owned slaves in the southern tier of states in the USA.
I have never owned slaves.
I have never insulted a person whose skin was a different color from mine.
I have never tortured anyone.
I have never held a child in bondage.
I have never pushed past anyone in line.
I have never belittled people of other ethnic origins than my own.
I have never lied or used special influence to obtain a job.
I can think of so many things that I never did, things for which I have no responsibility and no culpability, things which I abhor today, which I have always abhorred, which I always will abhor, for which somebody wants me to confess and apologize, repent and apologize. I am a truly sinful human being, enslaved by my sinful human nature and the deliberate work of Satan to lead me into ever greater sin, but I am not guilty of these social crimes for which many social activists and many marshmallow Christians demand that I confess, repent, apologize and do penance.
What if I were the descendant of a slave? What can it possibly mean for someone who never hurt me to apologize for his ancestors hurting my ancestors? What is the point? Why do I care? I might be comforted to hear that this person thinks those things were wrong and should not have been done, but why should I hold this person responsible for something he did not do, and furthermore, the person who did this terrible thing did not do it to me, but rather to people long dead? Of what benefit is his statement? Why would I even bring it up? The only reason for such an attitude would be to enjoy a power trip to put someone in “his place.” Such an attitude says that I don’t really want an apology; I want revenge, even though the person against whom I want revenge is dead. I want his descendants and the descendants of his descendants to pay for wrongs done to people of whom I am the descendant of descendants.
It is time for this stuff to stop. When Jesus taught us to pray, he included this petition: “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
He did not say, “Be sure that you hold people responsible because their ancestors hurt your great-great-grandmother whom you have never even met.” Blaise Pascal wrote about a culture in his day that contorted logic and biblical teaching in such a way as to promote the quest for vengeance, and it appears that many social activists today have absorbed the very concepts he deplored. There is no justification for the constant focus taking offense. It is time for us to stop taking offense and start learning to love our neighbors and act like adults. It is time for us to stop trying to get revenge for ancient wrongs through surrogates for both the offender and the offended.
In the eyes of Jesus, even if I were a current slaveowner and you were the slave, it would be your responsibility to forgive me and to pray for my blessing. In the eyes of Jesus, the wronged person is the one who has an assignment. He showed us how that works by praying forgiveness for those who were nailing him to a cross.
As for me, if I were a current slaveowner, God would be reminding me in my heart every day that I was doing wrong. I might ignore him, but I would be wrong. Under those circumstances, I would owe my slaves an apology, a confession of my sin, and my humble amendment of life by manumitting them and providing them with some means to start living free. If I were a current slaveowner, that is what I ought to do.
I don’t own any slaves.
I have never owned any slaves.
No member of my family as far back as anyone knows ever owned any slaves. To my knowledge, nobody in my family ever even approved of slavery. Every family member I have ever met abhors that idea as much as I do. Therefore, I don’t even have any known ancestor in whose stead I should apologize to the descendant of any slave.
I am sorry that our ancestors were sinful human beings. Every single one of them. Both our black ancestors and our white ancestors, as well as those of any other color, were sinful human beings. They are were human. They all were sinful. And they all did bad things to one another. Some of my ancestors may actually have hurt some of your ancestors, but neither you nor I was there, and we do not need to carry on about it anymore. It isn’t even about forgiveness. I can’t forgive what your ancestors did to my ancestors, but I can let it go and not worry about it. I can learn from the stories and resolve to be a better person than that. The fact that my ancestors and your ancestors did wrong is just a fact about history. They may even have done wrong to one another. It is highly likely that somewhere in the ancient human story one of my ancestors hurt one of yours, and vice versa. It no longer matters. Demanding revenge and apologies and reparations is about ancient wrongs that are over and done with. Jesus teaches us to forgive people who wrong us, and never anywhere does he condone the idea of taking offense at people for things their ancestors may have done to your ancestors.
I am sure that people whose ancestors were slaves in the USA have a lot of pain in their family histories. I grieve with them for that pain. But I do not accept any responsibility for it, because I did not do it. I will not do it. I am not guilty, and I refuse to pretend that I feel guilty.
My mother just might have understood what the uproar is about. My mother married my dad at the age of 18. Her big brother was my dad’s best friend, and her brother brought his best friend home for a visit. One thing led to another, and my mom and dad got married. Then my mom started learning about their family history, and she discovered something that grated on her like a rock in her shoe. She discovered that my dad’s grandfather had once owned an entire section of land, and he lost it during the Great Depression when a bank demanded additional collateral for loan issued prior to the Depression. The papers were signed. The contract was established. Great-grandfather had received the full amount of his loan, and he was making payments as promised. Yet the bank asked for more collateral, and as soon as the papers that increased the collateral were signed, the bank foreclosed.
Anyone who ever dealt with a bank knows that when you take out a loan from a bank, you ask for it, because you need more money than you have, but when you sign the papers and receive your check, buried in the details of the loan agreement is a statement that the bank is not obligated to allow you to make payments until the loan is paid in full. One term of the loan agreement trumps all the others; the bank may require full repayment of the balance due at any time. That requirement is about protecting the bank if its funds fall below its prudent reserves. It is a protection for all the people whose money is protected by the bank, an assurance that when they come to the bank and as for their money, the bank will actually be able to give them their money. That is what banks do, and whether or not my mother liked it, the bank who lent great-grandfather Pollock money had the right at any time to ask for full repayment of the money. If Grandfather did not have the money, he would, and he did, lose his land.
My mother clung to that ancient deed which she considered to be wrong-doing by the bank as if it had been done to her. I lost count of the number of times she told me that story, but there is even more to the telling. She had the perception that if the bank had not “stolen” Great-grandfather Pollock’s land, then my dad and she would have been rich, or at least, richer than they were. Even though her perceptions depended on a distribution of Great-grandfather Pollock’s land that she and she alone imagined, her sense of deprivation was as real as if she had actually known how Great-grandfather Pollock would have distributed land to his heirs, and how those heirs would have distributed what they received. She let her imagination go wild, grieving for the loss of things she never had possessed. She suffered from a desire to avenge herself against all bankers, because of an event which she chose to interpret as deliberate malfeasance, even though nobody else in the family even worried about it. My dad certainly never did, and his father certainly never did. Only my mother worried about the loan and the land and the evil bankers. For everyone else, it was ancient history, or even less than that. It was a nonevent that did not matter to them. I cannot even vouch for the truth of all the elements in my mother’s story, because nobody else ever told that story. Hence, it might even be true that she had the facts all wrong. No matter. She was offended by the evil bankers and their theft of land that might have come to my dad and therefore to her.
Only my mother rehearsed the “might have been” story. I recall an evening when my grandfather laughed upon hearing her version. He said something like, “Who cares now?” I was the only person treated thereafter to numerous, bitter repetitions of the tale of loss. My mother, who did not even know the family at the time of the event, was the only person who suffered anguish over it for some fifty years. She could have saved herself a lot of grief if she could have followed the example of Great-grandfather Pollock’s genetic descendants and let go of her need for compensation for that loss.
I am very sad when I think of all the people who live here in America because their ancestors were slaves in the US. If they were not descendants of slaves brought here against their will, they could all be residents of Nigeria or Congo or Ivory Coast today. They would not need to worry about those ancient wrongs, because they would be living in Africa today, undisturbed and untouched by the liberty and prosperity of the land of the free. Like my mother grieving the loss of something that was never hers in the first place, I think they need to get over their angst and get on with their lives.
By Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Amazon.com. Watch for the release of Thrive! Live Christian in a Hostile World, planned for release in the summer of 2016