To Forgive and Remember

As our country continues to deal with generations of racism and injustice, Christians can and should feel conflicted. Peaceful protests can suddenly erupt into violent anarchy. Discussions of reforming law enforcement and weeding out bad officers, pivots to defunding police departments entirely. Affirming that black lives matter as a movement, yet not wanting that to be construed as agreeing with the official BLM organization and its values.

As Christians we want to do what’s thoughtful and right, but our world doesn’t have much patience for nuance. Are you for us or against us? Joshua asked that question of the commander of the Lord’s army and the commander gave the response that Christians should take to heart: ‘neither’. This doesn’t mean we straddle the fence and remain Switzerland on issues, but it does mean that our commitment is to be on God’s side instead of trying to enlist Him to ours. Sometimes, our conflicted feelings come as a direct result of seeking to remain faithful to the Lord and biblical imperatives, such as the command to forgive. Christians of all people understand that we have been forgiven by God and have been released from the guilt of our sins. But it doesn’t stop there. God explicitly commands us to forgive others. Forgiving others is so important that Jesus included it in His model prayer and it is the only part of the prayer that He provides a commentary - that God will forgive us if we forgive others and He will withhold forgiving us if we fail to forgive others (Matthew 6:9-15).

In the conversation about racism and injustice against the black community, the historical sins of slavery, black codes, Jim Crow laws, and lynching inevitably get re-introduced into the discussion. And here lies the rub for Christians, especially white Christians. These undeniable atrocities cannot be defended but the unspoken question for many believers is, “shouldn’t they be forgiven, forgotten, and moved on from?” This sincere question is not just to lift white Americans from the unscalable bottomless pit of guilt wrought by these sins but to truly see our black brothers and sisters freed from the bondage of bitterness, hatred, and perpetual victimhood. Indeed, the new covenant includes the promise that God will remember our sins no more (Jeremiah 31:34) so shouldn’t black Christians also forgive and forget and those who refuse to do so end up in a form of self-imposed bondage? But when God remembers our sin no more it means He chooses not to hold our sins against us, it doesn’t mean He has forgotten our sins. Failing to remember can be dangerous because as the saying goes, history tends to repeat itself.

Perhaps it’s more faithfully biblical to move from ‘forgive and forget’ to ‘forgive and remember’ with one  admonishment taking on particular significance to our black brothers and sisters in Christ while the other speaks to the heart of our white brothers and sisters. Our black brothers and sister must be challenged to forgive, just as they have been forgiven. Christ took all of us from the depths of the bottomless pit and raised us up to be seated with Him in the heavenlies. When it comes to racism, it means ceasing to hold animosity toward people based on the historical or even contemporary oppression suffered. To forgive means to welcome and to be patient with others who want to be part of the solution, even when they stumble and misstep along the way. Forgiveness also means balancing the narrative of being the victim of oppression with accepting responsibility for choices that contribute to poverty and the breakdown of the nuclear family because the greatest social program is an intact, spiritually healthy family. Forgiveness ensures that the passion that fuels the quest for justice will be purified to produce the fruit of righteousness that honors God.

Remembering is just as critical in lifting the black community, especially for our white brothers and sister. Remembering the historical injustices that have persisted by morphing after each hard fought struggle for equality deepens our understanding of the generational wounds that have been inflicted on the black community and raises awareness of their current forms, both individually and systemically. By remembering, it places the current outcries against injustice in the disturbing context of a generationally oppressed people. Lifting the black community is not simply a matter of black people just doing the right thing. There must be identification and reformation within institutions that tears at the very fabric of the black family and community. The black community cannot fight this battle alone. It will take other voices to speak against the prevailing structures that continue to create barriers and disadvantages for this community. Ignoring the reality of generational and systemic racism blinds us from seeing that blacks begin the race already several laps behind the rest of the field. Historically, the silence of white Christians allowed systemic racism to flourish and correspondingly, their voices especially must be raised to dismantle these fortresses of injustice. Black voices alone cannot prevail.

But the voices of Asians and other people of color are also important. Our silence towards injustice in the more recent history has been more akin to acting like the priest or Levite instead of the good Samaritan. All of our voices matter, whether it’s from a pulpit or in a café because hearts can often be moved in a single conversation. Let me provide 3 reasons why our speaking up is important:
  1. Because Asians have largely been silent, our voice can bring a fresh tone to the discussion. Doing something out of character can cause people to take notice and listen. Also, adding our voice to the collective voices creates a resounding chorus that declares the righteousness of justice while discrediting the notion that this is simply a self-serving movement by a black community that refuses to take responsibility for its own plight.
  2. Because Asians have enjoyed the benefits of the civil rights movement that was led by the black community. They suffered greatly to win the rights that Asians and other people of color enjoy.
  3. Because Jesus said, ‘when you did it to the least of these, you did it to me.’ While it may be true that when those who are most oppressed are lifted it lifts everyone up, we don’t act because there is a tangential benefit that comes our way. Instead we act because our God is compassionate and just. To defend the cause of the poor and oppressed is not political partisanship, it’s biblical Christianity.

Don’t underestimate the influence you can have just by speaking up and as we speak, let’s all take heart to forgive and remember to the glory of God.

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