Guilt in and of itself is useless. In the Christian tradition, guilt is meant to serve as a catalyst for confession, repentance and new birth. When we recognize our personal guilt for sins of commission (the things we have done to cause harm) and for sins of omission (the things we have left undone to defend and uphold justice for others), a sense of guilt or conviction is actually a healthy response…but only if it is coupled with confession (naming the sin) and repentance, which literally means changing your mind and turning in the other direction. In Methodism, and many other Christian traditions, we also believe that sin is larger than what we have individually done or left undone…that we participate in social sin as well, often blindly, without recognizing our actions as sinful. Social sin is often the most difficult to change, and takes the longest to generate significant cultural sense of guilt to bring about social repentance and a cultural shift towards the kingdom of God.
In Christianity, we believe repentance coupled with faith in Jesus Christ brings about a new birth into a life of holiness…which simply means becoming more and more like Jesus. The Apostle Paul refers to the Christian life as “the ministry of reconciliation,” (2 Corinthians 5:19), where our responsibility is to practice and promote forgiveness and making things right between people.
White Guilt is the phenomenon of recognizing the social sin of racism, and the white person’s generally benefiting from a structural system that tends to show preference towards whites over minorities. This can be broadened of course, as men of any race often benefit from a structural system that prefers them over females. Americans in general tend to benefit from a capitalist machine that exploits non-American labor. Social sin is pretty wide-spread.
The problem with social sin is that many people stop at the guilt part. I feel bad, but I don’t really think there’s anything I can do about it. I love this quote from Feminist Letty Russell: “The poor do not ask us to feel guilty, for they can’t eat guilt. What they ask is that we act to address the causes of injustice so they can obtain food” (Inheriting Our Mothers’ Gardens, 153). As Christians moving on to perfection (becoming more like Christ), there will always be something for which we are guilty, always some way that we could work better to live into the kingdom of God’s reconciling love. This is part of growth, part of our humble reliance of God’s unfailing grace and love for us and for all.
This week’s comic is inspired by Bishop Richard Allen’s change of heart for Jarena Lee, the first female preacher to be authorized in the AME Church. At first, Bishop Allen upheld his church’s tradition and forbade her calling. But Mrs. Lee was given an opportunity to preach before the Bishop anyway, and when he heard her, he recognized that he had been wrong. He demonstrated for us that confession leads to new birth, and a wall came down between men and women in that action. Racial privilege or Gender Privilege should not be the hold up, especially for people benefiting from that privilege (whether they acknowledge it or not). When we recognize how God’s calling and reconciliation has been stifled in someone else’s life, our responsibility as Christ’s ambassadors is to work towards restoration…even if that means confessing our own guilt in social sin.
We’re not all called to take earth-shattering actions that change the world in a moment. But I think we ARE all called to take small actions, like yeast working through the dough, that shape a culture towards humility, equity, and greater opportunities for all to live into the wholeness of God’s great love.
Check out racialequitytools.org for some excellent insight on becoming part of the solution. Much of this information was gleaned from their essay, “The Anatomy of White Guilt.”
And if you don’t get the Beyonce allusions throughout all the comic it’s cool. Lemonade was a #1 album last year, politically themed around the ongoing affects of slavery on black male/female relationships.