Prayers of Repentance on August 12th

Daniel Tafjord

On August 12th, 2018, churches of varying ethnicities worshiped together in Charlottesville, remembering the violence a year previous and lamenting the evil those days made painfully obvious. I participated in Prayers of Repentance. The prayers broke me, yet grace was on full display. I pray these prayers might be so, deep in our heart. And I pray that this reckoning might transform us to do, as John the Baptist preached, “works worthy of repentance.” By God’s mercy.

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Repentance is how those of us who follow Jesus respond when we become aware of wrong we’ve done, wrong done on our behalf or evil in our collective experience. To repent is to tell the truth and then to seek to change, by God’s mercy. Whenever we are awakened by the Holy Spirit to the depths of either our personal or our national sin, then we discover repentance as God’s gift to us. Repentance is how we cling to God’s grace as we renounce evil. When we repent, we courageously name the wrong, and we rely on divine mercy to make us faithful to change our ways and to enable us to participate with God in mending what is broken. We must repent because there is no healing without repentance. We cannot deal with a wound if we never acknowledge the wound exists. And friends, a wound exists. This weekend gives evidence of the wound. But this is an old wound; it has festered since our country’s founding.

Remember the words Jesus preached: Repent, for the Kingdom of God has come near. The Kingdom of God is a kingdom of justice and holiness and healing and restoration, the Kingdom of radical welcome – and when the Kingdom of God comes near, repentance is one necessary response. We believe that in Jesus the Kingdom of God has come near, and so we repent. We repent for the sin in our own hearts where that is appropriate. And today it is my place to specifically repent on behalf of the majority white church. We repent because of the sins of our history, our churches, our city and our nation.

Pray with me

“Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love,
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.” Psalm 52:1-2
Forgive us, Lord, By your Mercy

Almighty God, we repent because we have failed in your most basic commandments: we have failed to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind; and we have failed to love our neighbor as ourselves. *
Forgive us, Lord, By your Mercy

 We repent for the wealth secured on the backs of slave labor. We repent for land stolen from indigenous peoples. We repent for Jamestown, the first landing spot where our forefathers brought slaves to America. We repent of the forced slave labor used to build Monticello and the University and much of our city. We repent of lynchings and Jim Crow and the destruction of Vinegar Hill and mass incarceration and the ongoing evil of White Supremacy. We repent for how economic power, social power, educational power and legal power has often been used against our sisters and brothers of color. *
Forgive us, Lord. By your Mercy

And Lord, with heavy hearts we repent for every time your church has been unfaithful to you, every time we have propagated these evils rather than pronounced your judgment over them, every time we have gone silent when we should have named injustice, every time we have failed to act in defense of the oppressed. We have sinned against you and against our sisters and brothers. *
Forgive us, Lord. By your Mercy

We repent because we have bowed our knees to false gods and ideologies. We have abandoned the way of your Cross, where we are called to lay down our life for you and for the sake of love. Instead, we have coddled, and benefited from, systems of power that deny our brotherhood and sisterhood with all people you love and created, all people who bear the holiness and brilliance of your image. God, we have aligned ourselves with political powers that betray our witness as followers of Jesus. We have not stood beside our friends, beside communities of color, when evil pressed upon them. We have bowed to the false god of fear, the false god of power, the false god of superiority, the false god of safety and the false god of apathy. *
Forgive us, Lord. By your Mercy

We repent for how the Church, we who profess Jesus as Lord and we who announce the arrival of the Kingdom of God, we who are called to live as witnesses to your Resurrection and New Creation – we have often denied our faith and denied our Lord by living no different from the false kingdoms of this world. We in the white church have often held the resources and maneuvered the power. We have acted as though our voice and our theological distinctives and our preferences are the final word. We have not listened with open ears and open hearts. We have dismissed our brothers and sisters of color when we should have asked them to lead us. And God help us, we have not believed our sisters and brothers when they have told us what is happening, when they have expressed their pain, when they have reached out their hands in friendship. We have failed your name, Jesus, and we have betrayed the Family of God. And we repent with sorrow and humility. *
Forgive us, Lord. By your Mercy

One Sane Thing

Late Saturday night, my sleepy family was in the sorrowful final hours of our summer vacation as we drove north of Greensboro on 29, southbound and northbound divided by a median and grey steel guardrails. Cars ahead swerved to the right lane, a chain reaction of red brake lights, like a row of dominoes dropping. Our Subaru joined the long line on cue, as traffic slowed to 40 miles per hour. A sea of red.

Except in the left lane. There, coming directly toward us and in the lane everyone else had vacated, were two steady white beams. I’ve seen these moments in movies and on viral YouTube clips, but here we were right at the action. A car cruised, unhurried – maybe 30 miles an hour, in the wrong direction on this congested highway. I gripped the steering wheel and watched incredulously as the turned-around vehicle motored past us, like he was on a Sunday afternoon excursion. Horns blasted him every inch of his traverse, but he tootled on.

I dialed 911, and the dispatcher told me they’d already received a number of calls about the joyrider. I have no idea if the fellow just got mixed up and was trying to find his way to an exit or if he had smoked something with punch, dreamily giddy with his luck at having the entire lane to himself. It could have been a hundred things gone wrong. But I do know that all the fellow needed to do was stop, wait for the traffic to come to a standstill, then make a u-turn. The evening’s drama and danger would have been over.

There are moments where we are given stark reminders that we as a people are careening in the wrong direction, where our ignorance or our foolishness is on high-definition display. Ferguson – and our reactions to it – provides one of these moments. This is the time for us to choose to do the one sane thing. We can stop. We can listen. We can grieve. We can change.

The one thing we can not do is simply drive forward, as if nothing at all has gone wrong. We can not simply tootle on, oblivious.