A few years ago, I wrote about my concerns with (then presidential candidate) Trump’s statements about why he has never asked God for forgiveness. Here was what Mr Trump said:
“I like to be good. I don’t like to have to ask for forgiveness. And I am good. I don’t do a lot of things that are bad. I try to do nothing that is bad.”
I thought of those comments today when I saw the White House had released a memo to the GOP members of congress, with talking points about the handling of the Charlottesville violence this past weekend. CBS News published the memo. The memo argues that the President was “entirely correct” in his response, which is another way of saying he still has not done anything wrong, and wouldn’t need to acknowledge he didn’t say the right thing in response to the tragedy.
Forgiveness is an essential part of both Christian practice and belief. The Apostles Creed, a document very important to the Presbyterian Church of which Trump has claimed to be a part, speaks of forgiveness.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
Anyone, Christian or not, can read our confessions at this link. Confession of sin and the seeking of forgiveness, are essential parts of a Presbyterian worship service, and it speaks to the truth that there is a God, and we are not that God. We err. We make mistakes. We hurt the people we love. We do what we ought not do and we do not do what we ought to do.
It is not a sign of weakness to say, “I made a mistake in my remarks. What I should have said clearly the first time is that white supremacy and neo-nazi ideology have no place in our society.”
It is a sign of our humanity to acknowledge we don’t get it right the first time, not a sign of weakness.
It has been reported, with actual facts and data, that President Trump’s father was arrested at a KKK rally in 1927. I don’t bring this up to suggest President Trump is responsible for the sins of his father. His response, when asked about it, was to deny it ever happened.
“He was never arrested. He has nothing to do with this. This never happened. This is nonsense and it never happened,” he said to the Daily Mail. “This never happened. Never took place. He was never arrested, never convicted, never even charged. It’s a completely false, ridiculous story. He was never there! It never happened. Never took place.”
The gift of confession (and then of forgiveness) is that we don’t have to pretend the past never happened. President Trump, because he has decided he can’t be a person who makes mistakes or does anything wrong, spends a lot of time pretending the past never happened, or that he never said what he actually said, etc.
If he were to have said something like, “Yes, my father was arrested in 1927. I never talked to him about it, so I don’t know why he was there or what it meant to him, but I disavow the KKK….“, it would have freed him from having to deny the past ever happened.
There is a line in a Prayer of Confession that always sticks with me. It comes from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. “We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done“.
In the aftermath of Charlottesville, it has been clear to me that our nation is in need of some confession.
We have left undone those things we ought to have done.
White Americans have allowed our convenience and comfort to be more important than the work of acknowledging, confronting, and addressing the wounds of racism. We have said the Civil War is over, ancient history. We have proudly claimed to have marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, jr (or have proudly asserted that we would have, if only we’d been there in the 60s). We celebrated the election of Barack Obama to the presidency. All while the wounds and sins of racism lay festering in our midst.
The violence and pageantry of evil last weekend in Charlottesville reveals we have left undone those things we ought to have done.
We have done those things which we ought not to have done.
We have benefitted from the pigmentation in our skin while systemic racism has created prejudicial housing policies, law enforcement structures, and educational systems.
We have benefitted from clean and safe drinking water while the citizens of Flint, MI have gone 3 years with unsafe and unusable water (while being fined for not paying their water utility bills).
We have allowed our friends, family, and neighbors to make racist comments, and have excused them as they marched in Charlottesville chanting “blood and soil” by saying there is violence on all sides.
We have allowed websites of hate groups to proliferate, assuming they are in the dark corners of the web, or that nobody really reads those sites, or by arguing “freedom of speech”, while young men (and we assume women too–although the marchers seemed to largely be white men) read hate filled skree and have their minds poisoned. We have weakened the understanding of “hate group” to mean people who hold opposing views, when the term has a specific definition that does not apply to all protest groups. A hate group vilifies entire groups of people based on immutable characteristics such as race or ethnicity. (See the Southern Poverty Law Center’s website for more information. Also, donate to the Southern Poverty Law Center).
We have failed our children, by not teaching them tolerance, kindness, abundance. We have not taught them to value education or given them the tools to discern the validity of the material they are reading and hearing.
The list of the things we have done and the things we have not done is a long one.
The neo-nazi and white supremacist groups are planning more marches. They feel emboldened by the President’s words and actions (which means they feel emboldened to be living in a country who elected Donald Trump as president) and so they no longer need hoods to hide their identities. As more marches happen, as more actions of hate and terror inflicted by people who would destroy the very ideals of our nation, it is up to us to confess that we have not always lived up to our own ideals.
And then it is up to us to change–to confront the wounds of our past and to have difficult conversations, and to do better in the future. “Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future and renders the present inaccessible.” I’m feeling the burden and weight of that truth, written by Maya Angelou.
She also said:
Friends, it is always easier (and much less painful) to acknowledge the sins and shortcomings of other people, especially those of elected leaders. We absolutely are called to hold them to high ideals of integrity and conduct. Ultimately, though, the sins and shortcomings we must acknowledge are our own. As I critique the president, and the hate groups, I am confessing my own participation in the society that has created this dumpster fire we’re in.
Let’s get to work and reclaim our higher ideals.