A Prayer of Lament and Repentance

This week, our church hosted the first of what will be a series of conversations and exercises to address racial injustice in our churches and communities. I shared the piece below at the event, as I am convinced no movement towards justice can occur without truth-telling. And if folks like myself who inhabit life in white skin are to tell the truth, we cannot—must not, should not—escape the need for repentance.

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If you have come to this gathering today, then likely you have identified racial justice as something of urgent significance—for individuals, for our churches, and for our world. You have watched with discomfort, with tears, with anger as our nation continues to demonstrate its ugly and complex history of racial injustice, oppression, and violence. You have wondered what you as one human can do in the face of seemingly overwhelming hatred and bigotry. You have tried to hold onto hope, while the events of each passing day tempt you to relinquish it. You have fallen to know your knees and prayed once again to see a world that more closely glimpses the kingdom of God.

But if, like me, you have contemplated any of these realities in white skin, then you also have questioned your own complicity in cycles of injustice. You have begun to identify this complex notion of white privilege, all the while knowing intuitively that you cannot begin fully to perceive or unravel it. And perhaps, like me, you have sensed the pangs of guilt, of doubt, of grief.

Friends, we are part of a rich faith tradition of men and women who have, in the face of great difficulty and anguish, contributed their voices to the great song of lament sung from the earliest ages up until our present moment. This act of lament is a gift, an invitation to name what is most true, to acknowledge our limitedness, to mourn for our brokenness, to repent of our wrongdoings. If we as children of God believe that racial justice is close to the heart of the One whose image we bear, indeed if it is why we are gathered here today, then it stands to reason that we must take the time first to lament and mourn our past and present realities if we are to together dream of a different future.

I invite you now to join me, brothers and sisters, as together we add our voices to this song of lament. Please note: this liturgy was penned as a prayer for white persons, not with any intent to be exclusive but so that we can carry the burden of repentance that we bear uniquely. If you inhabit this space in a black or brown body, please feel free to participate to whatever extent feels appropriate to you.

As I read, please join me by reading aloud the bold print.

 

For the violence in our world and in our hearts,

For the violence in our streets and in our homes,

For the violence we permit and the violence we perpetuate,

We repent.

 

For what we know to be true of our troubled nation,

For what we think we know that is in fact misguided,

For what we can never fully know from our privileged vantage point,

We repent.

 

For the ways we knowingly create cycles of injustice,

For the ways we do so unaware,

For the times we pretend things are not as bad as they seem,

We repent.

 

For the privilege we have done nothing to earn,

For the privilege we desperately long to retain,

For the privilege that pushes others to the side even as we continue to rise on their backs,

We repent.

 

For our fear at the anger of our black brothers and sisters,

For our attempts to stifle and silence and manage their anger,

For the failure to channel our anger in ways that nurture life,

We repent.

 

For our despair in the face of such grievous injustice,

For our failure to believe another world is possible,

For our unwillingness to participate in bringing this new world about,

We repent.

 

For the ways in which we are conditioned to hate,

For our inability to rise above such deeply ingrained patterns,

For the belief that our conditioning is any less dangerous than that of our ancestors,

We repent.

 

For our mixed motives in seeking to partner with movements of justice,

For the acknowledgement we hope to garner,

For our unrelenting need to feel validated even as ones who already hold inestimable privilege and power,

We repent.

 

For the times we have raised our voices in ways that silence others,

For the times we have remained silent for fear of reprisal,

For the ways our words have brought harm and offense,

We repent.

 

For the power we possess that was fortified through the disempowering of our black brothers and sisters,

For the power we hold and do not harness in life-giving ways,

For the power we cling to when we fear it may be lost,

We repent.

 

For our nation’s bloody and troubled history,

For the racist blood that yet runs through our veins,

For our failure to live into the reconciled community made possible through the blood of Christ,

We repent.

 

For the times we have not listened to the cries of the marginalized,

For the choices we make that give reason for such cries,

For our failure to join their voices in crying out for a better and more just world,

We repent.

  

For the day when all shall be made well,

For the time when love will overcome,

For the promise that this world is not yet as it will one day be,

We rejoice.

 

For the forgiveness of our sins which have divided us from others,

For the beauty of communities living into reconciliation,

For the Spirit’s work to make this possible,

We rejoice.

 

For the gathering of God’s beloved here today,

For the movement of God among us to bring about racial justice,

For the mandate we have been given to be persons of peace, of justice, and love,

We rejoice.

 

Gracious God, in whom there is no partiality, in whose image white and black and brown bodies are made, grant that we might be ones who reject all systems that prop us injustice, empower us to dismantle them, and inspire us to build a world that leads to the flourishing of all. Rid us of the pursuit of the kinds of power that harm and subjugate, fortify our resolve to utilize the power we do possess to serve and empower others, and by the power of your Spirit at work, create within and among and through us the world as it is meant to be. In the name of God the Creator, God the Savior, and God the Spirit,

Amen.