The Parable of the Prodigal Son follows the aloof youngest Son of a wealthy household. Convinced of his own maturity and confined to his father’s way of life, the Son asks his father for his inheritance early in order to move to the city and create a life for himself. After magnificently failing in this endeavor, the Son returns home to his father and asks for his forgiveness. In response to his child’s rebellion, the father welcomes him back home with open arms and even throws a decadent celebration to commemorate his return.
When reading this parable, most people identify with the Son. The metaphor of the story lends itself to such an interpretation with the father representing the unconditional forgiveness of God and the Son representing the hubris and fallible nature of humanity. However, this story is more complex than it might seem at first glance. When viewed again we can learn a valuable lesson about forgiveness from this parable. One of the main themes throughout Jesus’ ministry on Earth is the idea of forgiveness. In one of his most famous speeches, Jesus talks at length about how you should treat people who have wounded you in the past. For instance in Matthew 5:49-50, Jesus says:
but I tell you, do not resist an evil perSon. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.
Only a few verses later, Jesus goes on to clarify his position on retaliation even further. In Matthew 5:44, he gives his timeless instruction to love your neighbor as yourself, an idea echoed in Mark 11:31 when asked to discuss which commandments are most important. To Christ, the desire for revenge and retaliation in the face of adversity are distractions from witnessing the humanity present in that perSon and treating the conditions that gave rise to the conflict in the first place. Instead of returning force with force, Christian conflict resolution might look more like turning the other cheek or donating your coat to someone who needs it more than yourself. It would also look like the open and loving acceptance of a father recovering his prodigal Son.
The Father in The Story of the Prodigal Son is the true role model of this story, not the Son. It is the Father who provides the listener with a vision for what forgiveness is. Throughout the end of the parable, the older brother begins to take a more prominent role in the story, asking questions that an observer might and second-guessing his father’s choices. He blames his brother for squandering his wealth and grows jealous in response to the warm welcome his brother received from his father. This contrasts with the Father who disregards his Son’s failings and welcomes him back into his household despite them. This distinction is important because it shows us the difference between the love of man and Christ’s forgiveness. Human relationships can be eroded by breaches in trust and changes in character. A relationship with Christ is constant, motivated by love that transcends broken trust and perSonal pain. This is not to say that we should stick by every perSon who hurts us. What Jesus shows in the Parable of the Prodigal Son is to be like the father. Despite all of the time and money wasted by his Son, the father chooses to accept him back when met with a genuine apology.
It is very easy to forgive someone who is close to you or someone who hurt you once in the distant past but forgiveness is not just an action. It is a mindset to treat people with love regardless of your opinion of them. This idea does not just extend to our close friends and relatives. It also applies to race, gender, and even nationality. As Christians, we are called to grow God’s kingdom. That is very hard to do when petty grudges and bottled resentment not only promotes self-righteous gatekeeping but also drives internal divisions within the Church. First and foremost, we must remember that regardless of our history we were all the Prodigal Son. When put in the father’s position we know what we should do, but what truly matters is if we act like our heavenly Father.
One of the marks of a Christian is how we treat the most vulnerable in society. Even Jesus remarked that when we feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, provide clothing for the naked and visit those who are sick and in prison, it is as if we are serving him. Well, Van Jones isn’t just visiting prison, but in the CNN Original Series “The Redemption Project with Van Jones,” premiering on April 28th through the restorative justice process, he connects victims or surviving families with those who caused great violence in their lives for a chance of experiencing redemption, grace, mercy, and forgiveness.
I can’t front. I became teary watching The Redemption Project with Van Jones. The pain is palpable, the responses are raw and yet healing. The show, with its focus on redemption, grace, and forgiveness, is a much-needed balm at a time where vitriol is fired off 280 characters at a time.
“I’ve just been
so saddened by the exit from our culture of empathy, of forgiveness, of grace,
of love, of second chances. It’s in all political parties. It’s in all racial groups, economic
groups. It’s so trendy
and fashionable to block people and cancel people and flame people and be the
4000th person to retweet something negative about somebody. Just this pile on,
nasty culture and we really wanted to do something that was 180º in the other direction,” said Jones.
Uplift it does. Each episode chronicles the restorative justice process of a victim or surviving family with the offender whose actions changed the course of their lives. It’s risky, to say the least, but as the late filmmaker and activist Toni Cade Bambara famously said, “…wholeness is no trifling matter.” It takes great courage and strength. The victims, surviving families, and offenders alike have to dig deep within, confront painful truths, and open themselves to healing even if it does not come in the ways they anticipate. Don’t expect a happy ending every time; The Redemption Project is unscripted and unrehearsed. Sometimes there is forgiveness. Always there is healing.
Van took some time to talk with Urban Faith about the need for empathy in our nation, his personal faith journey and how it connects with The Redemption Project, and why this show is necessary for such a time as this.
How did this project come about? Why now?
For 25 years I’ve been working inside of prisons. I know that somebody can go into a prison and just be a horrifically misguided human being and ten years later, twenty years later, not because of prison, but really in spite of prison, have transformed themselves into someone who has more wisdom and more strength than 99% people who are not in prison. And so, I knew that we have these diamonds sparkling inside of our prisons and that people don’t know. And then when I see how foolishly we have been conducting ourselves outside of prison, having so much data, and so little wisdom in our society. We can now know everything about somebody – with Facebook and YouTube, somebody can whip out their cell phone or camera phone and get on and boom, everybody’s mad. We have all this data, but we have no wisdom to process all that. And if we’re going to have this much information about people, we need to have a more empathetic and understanding culture. And so, I’m trying to push in that direction. That’s the secret agenda.
That’s the secret agenda! I love it! So, the show really shows the worst in humanity as you tell the story of what happened and then delves deeper into the stories of people so that we as viewers can bear witness to the best in humanity. The focus on humanity, being in the same room, making eye contact, and physical touch, how important was it for you to show the humanity of those who folks have written off as inhumane?
The show works because you take people who you would ordinarily just write off and you complicate it, and you begin to show this person was eating out of garbage cans when they were fourteen and you certainly start seeing these people in a different way. Not to give excuses for anybody’s choices because there were other people eating out of garbage cans who didn’t make that choice. But it is to give context. And it is to try to color in some of the humanity. In the way the show works, you take somebody who has done something really bad and who wants to make amends 10 years later, 20 years later and then you take somebody who they hurt—or all too often the surviving family member—and you talk to them and everything they have gone through. You put those people in a room together and let them talk to each other. When that happens, we don’t know how it’s going to work out, but it is a situation where miracles have happened on our show.
I’m glad you used the word miracle. Because as beautifully human as it is, it’s also deeply spiritual work. There was the episode with Teria and Josh, where the Restorative Justice facilitator says, “There is healing. People are lighter.” Throughout the show, you have your themes; redemption, restoration, healing, forgiveness, wholeness, and all of that. As I watched, I thought this is big. This is us in all of our humanity, and yet at the same time, it is bigger than us. Can you talk about the role of faith and spirituality in the project—both your personal faith journey and the role of faith in the lives of the victims or surviving families and the offenders.
Well, I can only speak for myself. I grew up in the church. My grandfather was a Senior Bishop of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church (CME), Bishop Chester Arthur Kirkendoll. I’m his grandson and I grew up in the church and that’s been my touchstone. In my teenage years and early 20s, I got away from it but came quickly back home. Nine times out of 10, the people who are participating in our series, once you scratch the surface, they are also people of faith on both sides. Because you gotta think, who would be willing to even extend the opportunity to have a conversation in these contexts on either side. It’s usually people of faith. Now, not everybody involved in the show is a person of faith, but I know that for me, I insisted—and I didn’t have to fight that hard—but I thought it was very important that the people be able to speak and say, “Listen, I’m praying to God right now” or “I’m doing this because of Scripture” and you’ll probably hear the word God more on my little one hour show than on all of the rest of cable TV combined that week because our culture has become so secular. But this is a case where people’s spiritual journey was key on both sides of the table.
That makes a lot of sense. Because you can feel that. It’s palpable when you watch the show and I’m sure that it was also palpable as you journeyed with each story. You do a lot of work in preparation, but at the time of the sit-down, you are not present in the room. And I wondered, is that an intentional decision? Talk about the decision not to be in the room.
When you’re dealing with stuff of this magnitude it takes a lot of preparation. It takes very skillful facilitators. Even before they sit down, they have to write letters and they really go through a lot because they’re taking a huge risk, emotionally with everybody involved. I don’t have that training and it’s not appropriate for me to be there just because I have a TV show. But I am in the next room over. I’m watching it on the monitor. And we realize that me watching it is actually a part of the show because…by the time we have those folks sitting down talking to each other, I have spent hours and hours with each one separately. And so, I’m pulling for each one. I’m nervous. The first time we did it, after it was over, I cried so hard that my nose started bleeding because my blood pressure was so high and it was just so stressful. But what I love about this show, it’s the opposite of the “True Crime” genre. Everybody loves True Crime, but True Crime is basically Whodunit. In this situation, it’s almost like once you figure out Whodunit, you’re done. Even once you know Whodunit, you’re still suffering 10 years later, 20 years later. What do we do then to have people take at least one more step towards healing? We show that part of the process, which is even more powerful.
As I watched you in the other room, I noticed at times that your eyes were closed. I think it was the episode with Donald Lacey and Mike, I was teary watching it and I wondered how you prepare yourself even for that moment?
You know, sometimes you’re not prepared (chuckles). I wish I could lie and say I was prepared. I’m in there boohooing and stressed out. I’m not any more prepared than anybody else. But you show up and you try. And sometimes there’s a presence that enters the room and everybody can tell when something really extraordinary is happening. Listen, two of the surviving parents, as I’ve said many times, do not get to a warm fuzzy place with the person who took their child’s life. But they still get some of their needs met because they get information they never had, they get questions answered they’ve always had, so there’s still a step towards their healing. But in three of these, the surviving family members and/or the victims try to get the person out of prison. So, you have the whole range of human response to pain and tragedy in these eight episodes. Because it’s real. This is not reality television. There are no scripts. There’s nobody getting prompted. There’s nobody getting paid. This is literally people making the most vulnerable moment of their lives, sharing that with the person who changed their life, one way or the other.
Seeing Donald Lacey at the beginning of the episode you hear him say, “I just wanted revenge” and then by the end you’re seeing this beautiful embrace…
(Laughs) Don’t give away
all the goodies now!
We won’t give away all the goodies. Even me saying that little bit is really just a snippet. I think folks need to see this show.
I’m just giving you a hard time because there’s beautiful stuff that happens, there’s bad stuff that happens. There’s a moment in that show that I think is the most heartbreaking moment in the whole series even though at the end of the day things take a turn. Because it’s so real and you can’t script it because, literally, who knows. We’ve had people who swore to God they didn’t want to have the conversation; they were ready to forgive and then they couldn’t do it. Once they say down and saw that person, they couldn’t do it. We’ve had other people who’ve sworn to God they wouldn’t even shake the person’s hand and they went the other way. It’s just an amazing experience. The only thing I want to add is that this is my life. Ok. You have the Van Jones Show that I have every other Saturday. I call that Sesame Street for grown people. I’m trying to have meaningful conversations. I don’t care if I never go viral or don’t have the greatest ratings in the history of the world. If we can have a meaningful conversation with somebody in public life and let them talk about who they really are, that’s what I’m trying to do…the Redemption Project. Also the Reform Alliance, with Jay Z, Meek Mill, and about half a dozen other heavy hitters put together to try to fix our court system, our criminal justice system. I love working with the Reform Alliance because we’re bringing Republicans and Democrats together. I’m a strong Democrat and I’ll vote Democrat for the rest of my life, but I don’t believe any one party is perfect. I don’t believe we can get anywhere without each other and we have just gone too far in a negative direction. Obviously, I’m going to stick up for mamas getting their babies snatched at the border and transgender people being mistreated. You can’t just fight and still have a country. You have to find something you can work on together. I want to be as passionate and excited about where I do agree with Republicans as where I don’t. If we can agree that the criminal justice system should be fixed, if we can agree that addiction and mental health are big issues, if we can agree that poor kids need more help—we many see differently how to help them—but if we can agree on that, let me be as excited working with you where I agree with you as I am working against you where I don’t. And we’ve now come to a place where we can be excited when we’re mad and what we’re against, but we can’t be excited about what we’re for and that’s wrong. So, I’m hoping this show will add some medicine.
The Redemption Project with Van Jones premieres on CNN on Sunday, April 28th and will air on Sunday nights at 9 p.m. ET/PT.
Rev. Donna Olivia Owusu-Ansah is a preacher, chaplain, teacher, artist, writer, thinker, and dreamer who loves to study the Word of God, encourage others, and worship God. Rev. Owusu-Ansah holds a BS in Studio Art from New York University, an MFA in Photography from Howard University, and a Master of Divinity, Pastoral Theology, from Drew University. You can check out her website at https://www.reverendmotherrunner.com.
LIFE FROM TRAGEDY: Eli Evans, who survived his mother’s horrific murder in 1995, has found healing in his Christian faith and his athletic ambitions. (Photo: Chris Walker/Newscom)
Elijah “Eli” Evans has grown up with the knowledge that his birth was marked by murder. About 16 years ago, Eli’s father, Levern Ward, and two others killed Eli’s mother and two of his siblings in Addison, Illinois.
Eli was cut from the womb with a pair of shears. One of the killers, Jacqueline Annette Williams, had kidnapped him because she couldn’t have children anymore.
The next day, the group that would later be convicted of the crimes was arrested. Miraculously, Eli survived his violent birth and was rescued by authorities. His brother Jordan, 22 months old at the time, also survived.
In December, the Chicago Tribunewrote about the young man Eli has since become: a high school student trying to set an example for his classmates and a varsity basketball and football player with NFL aspirations. Now 16 years old and living with his grandfather in downstate Illinois, he has forgiven his father for killing his family.
“I always think God has a plan for me since he kept me here,” Eli told the Chicago Tribune. “I was put on this earth for a reason, and I’m still trying to figure out what the reason is. I know it’s going to be something good because not many people could have survived what I did.”
But this contentment didn’t come so easily to Eli. As he was growing up, he bottled up his rage, which sometimes exploded into physical fights.
In a phone interview with UrbanFaith, Eli shared how his Christian faith has led him to overcome his anger and forgive his father. UrbanFaith also spoke with Eli’s grandfather, Sam Evans, about how the family learned to trust God after tragedy. Eli’s brother Jordan prefers not to talk to the media, but Eli said his brother is a major role model in his life.
‘Why Would God Do This to Me?’
From a young age, Eli wondered why God had taken his mother and siblings from him. When he was 6 or 7, he lost his great-grandmother, too.
“I was thinking to myself, why would God do this to me?” Eli said. “Why would he take away the one person who was a mother figure to me?”
After his great-grandmother’s death, young Eli started running through his neighborhood and ended up at his church. There were only a couple of cars in the parking lot, and the doors were unlocked, so he went in. He dropped to his knees inside the dark auditorium and finally let everything out.
“I looked up at the cross and just screamed out, and I was crying,” Eli said. “I was just yelling at God and saying, why would you do this to me? Why would you take away my grandma, everything I got?”
But then Eli remembered that he still had his brother Jordan, who could have easily been killed along with the rest of his family, and his grandfather.
“I felt that God was saying, ‘Hey, your brother is still here and you’ve got your grandfather,’” Eli said. “They’re my family, I love them and I don’t know what I’d do without them.”
The Evans family had recently started coming to church based on Jordan’s lead, and Eli noticed that his grandfather was happier. Sam Evans had been raised by a preacher, but after his daughter died, he had stopped going to church regularly.
“If it wasn’t for God, I’d never be able to get through the funerals,” Sam Evans said. “Picture walking into a church and seeing three caskets, not one: your oldest daughter, your granddaughter and grandson. I wrestled with God about that.”
Overcoming Pent-Up Anger
When the family started coming to church, Sam Evans started doing Bible studies with his grandsons and showed them verses about handling anger.
For years, Eli got into rough fistfights because he couldn’t control his pent-up anger. Kids at school knew his family’s history and would sometimes use it to taunt him.
“I had a couple of kids who I fought who said they’d kill my family like that, like my mom was killed,” Eli said. “I always told myself, if I could go back in the past, I could stop it all by fighting them off. But when someone threatens my family like that, it brings up stuff.”
Over the years, Sam Evans helped Eli work through his anger, and he realized his grandson was bottling everything up. “He just wouldn’t talk about things,” Sam Evans said. “You could just see it building up in him.”
Together, they turned to Scripture, and Sam Evans showed him how Jesus was violently abused but chose to model love and forgiveness.
“If someone hit me, my grandpa would always tell me, ‘You’ve got to turn the other cheek, just like Jesus did,’” Eli said.
As he matured, Eli found another outlet for his anger: prayer. He poured his anger out to God instead. By high school, he had grown spiritually and stopped fighting.
“That was my new way of letting it out,” Eli said. “Fighting wasn’t working, because it still made me angry in the end.”
FAMILY TIES: Eli was raised by his grandfather, Sam Evans (left), a part-time preacher who grounded his grandson in the faith. (Photo: Chris Walker/Newscom)
Sam Evans said he has enjoyed watching Eli grow into a mature young man.
“It’s kind of cool when I get a call from a teacher saying, ‘He doesn’t let people pick on the underdogs,’” he said. “There is a sense of pride there. It’s like, ‘Wow, he’s taking a stance.’”
Eli harbored anger against his father for years, but around age 11, he decided to forgive. Now, he can talk about the tragedy without getting angry.
“It was a hard thing, a long process,” Eli said. “But as I got older and more spiritually developed, it got easier for me.”
Eli’s father, Levern Ward, was sentenced to life in prison; the other two convicted killers, Jacqueline Annette Williams and Fedell Caffey, received death sentences that were later commuted. Williams has sought release from prison, and Caffey has been hoping for a new trial. The Evans family hopes they’ll stay locked up, but Eli said he’s not going to allow the outcome to affect him.
“I’m not going to lose sleep at night, and my family shouldn’t lose sleep either,” Eli said. “I let that stuff go a long time ago. I put it in God’s hands and that’s what I want to do again. Whatever happens, it’s in his hands, not mine.”
Eli believes it would have been right for the killers to be put to death for their crimes. But since they’re still alive, Eli has thought about eventually meeting his father.
“I wouldn’t go see him at this age,” Eli said. “If I did go see him, it would be with my brother, we’d both be older, and it would be a decision we both made.”
Sam Evans is interested in ministering to people coping with tragedy, who sometimes reach out to him after hearing about what the Evans family has been through. He’s ordained and preaches occasionally.
“I want to encourage people to look to the Lord for comfort,” he said. “If I can do that for somebody, I’m willing and able.”
ACQUITTED SINNER: Former Sen. John Edwards and family last month outside the federal courthouse in Greensboro, North Carolina, where he was found not guilty on one of six counts of campaign corruption. The judge ruled a mistrial on the other five. (Photo: Chucky Liddy/Newscom)
The campaign-corruption trial of former U.S. Sen. John Edwards is history now. His former mistress, Rielle Hunter, with whom he had a daughter, is now on tour promoting her memoir, What Really Happened: John Edwards, Our Daughter, and Me. She announced during a TV interview that she and Edwards are no longer a couple, but will continue raising their daughter together. Soon, both will be out of the news cycle, but their saga possibly offers a lasting lesson for many Christians concerning this question about sin and crime.
A jury found Edwards, an admitted sinner, not guilty on one count that he accepted illegal campaign contributions in order to hide his adulteress affair. The jury deadlocked on five other similar counts. The acquittal hasn’t totally exonerated Edwards of campaign finance crimes, but the U.S. State Department dropped the case anyway.
Edward’s sin with Hunter occurred while he was campaigning for the presidency of the United States and while his late wife, Elizabeth, was dying of cancer. Like many men (and women) caught in an immoral self-inflicted bind, Edwards lied and lied until the truth, as it always does, eventually came to light. Many people who paid attention to the case agree that Edwards was put on trial more so as punshment for being unfaithful to his dying wife and for his hubris to believe he could sneak his secret into the White House.
And so Edwards publicly confessed his sins (which the Bible, in 1 John 1:9, states will be forgiven) before God and the world. However, should the government criminalize a sin that basically affects only the imperfect consenting adults involved? Should the church get riled about certain sins, while giving a pass to others?
I’ve been wondering about this most recently since President Obama announced in a TV interview in May that he supports same-sex marriage. The president caused an uproar among many Christians that still simmers, including among many of his supporters in the black church. But should the government, under political pressure from the church, legislate against same-sex marriage, especially when in America two consenting heterosexual adults can marry and divorce without the church being involved? Should most Christians insist that same-sex marriage be illegal, when homosexuality is actually listed in the Bible equally among other sexual sins, including adultery, that are not federal crimes?
A sin is a transgression against divine law for which Christians believe the sinner will be accountable at the judgment seat. The sinner mainly puts him or herself at risk with God. A crime is an action against the people that injures the “public welfare.” Like a drunk driver who runs a stop sign, or an armed robber, committing a crime puts several innocent people potentially at great risk. The government, working on behalf of the people, therefore has a duty to prevent crimes and punish criminals. Does the same duty apply to non-felonious sins?
Obviously many sins are also crimes such as, for example, being a serial killer. But what injury does same-sex marriage between two consenting adults cause to the public welfare? Is it more severe than adultery? Is it more destructive than divorce, a sin that often tears families and wounds innocent children? God allows divorce (which should be a last resort when reconciliation fails) under certain circumstances. Neither adultery nor divorces are federal crimes. Thankfully America is a democracy — a nation of Christians, believers of other faiths, agnostics and atheists, who for the most part believe in preserving the separation of church and state, and not a theocracy, as in living under Sharia law.
A recent CNN/ORC poll indicates that the majority of Americans believe same-sex marriage should be legal. Perhaps they’re saying it should be treated like adultery or divorce; it may be wrong, but people deserve the free-will right to choose who they want to (or don’t want to) be in a committed personal relationship with.
During closing remarks, Edwards’ attorney Abbe Lowell reportedly told the jury, “This is a case that should define the difference between a wrong and a crime … between a sin and a felony. John Edwards has confessed his sins. He will serve a life sentence for those.”
Perhaps Christians who are adamantly against two consenting same-sex adults having the legal right to marry should adopt this reasoning, too.
SEEKING HEALING: On March 31, congregants prayed for slain Florida teen Trayvon Martin and his shooter, George Zimmerman, during a service at the First Church of Seventh Day Adventists in Washington, D.C. The prayer was focused on racial healing and asked that people exercise patience to allow the judiciary to follow its course to bring about justice. (Photo: Nicholas Kamm/Newscom)
Many words have been and will be written about the death of Trayvon Martin, and the cocktail of grief, outrage, and confusion will likely linger long after the matter is resolved in one way or another. The circumstances of this unfortunate event have directed our attention to some of the challenges we face as a nation and as human beings, with considerable focus on the persistent difficulties connected to race. Whether or not Martin was racially profiled, this tragedy presents the opportunity to take paths that will lead us to better expressions of our humanity.
As director of Wheaton College’s Center for Applied Christian Ethics I had the privilege of participating in an event entitled “Civil War and Sacred Ground: Moral Reflections on War” (co-sponsored with The Raven Foundation). Two points raised at this thought-provoking conference can be helpful as we consider the long shadow of our history with race, particularly for followers of Christ. First, I continue to hear the echo of the following statement (paraphrased here) from Luke Harlow of Oakland University: “At the time of the Civil War, white supremacy was essentially held as an article of faith.” By this, he meant most citizens in the United States, North and South. Upon hearing this, I thought, No wonder it is so difficult for us to overcome the negative legacy of race.
The fact that racial superiority was so unquestioned suggests that the social, cultural, and political fabric of the Modern West in general and the United States in particular was constructed with a view of human beings that could be generalized as “whites” (or ethnic Europeans, who admittedly had their clashes) and “others.” Though the latter were identified according a range of racial categories, they definitely were not regarded as equal to “whites,” even among Christians. Of course there were those who did regard all humans as equal, but this was truly a minority report.
While many changes have occurred in the 150 years since the Civil War began, race consciousness remains in our social and cultural DNA like a stubborn mutation, rendering it difficult for us to truly and consistently regard “others” as equal before the eyes of God and fully human. This problem of otherness is not new, but it has manifested in a particularly malevolent fashion in the construction of racial identity. Today, this means that though great changes have occurred that would have been unimaginable 150 years ago, much more needs to change if we are to really live together as caring neighbors, at least in the church if not elsewhere. Yet this is an area where Christians continue to struggle, and many find themselves exhausted in reconciliation efforts.
The stubbornness of our race problem could lead us to despair, but taking a long view in light of where we have come from instead reminds us that we must have great patience as we pursue fundamental change. This patience is not the twin of apathy, but the disposition of steadiness and faithfulness in the face of at times imperceptible transformation. Change has occurred and can occur again.
Second, and more briefly, Dr. Tracy McKenzie, chair of Wheaton College’s history department, urged us to consider the difference between moral judgment and moral reflection. Whether it is the views held by most citizens 150 years ago or today in moments of racial conflict, moral judgment is the easy path which leads us to say “I can’t believe they held/hold such views and did such things.” Moral judgment keeps us separate from those we find reprehensible or disappointing. With moral reflection, while we may be surprised, disappointed, or offended by the ideas and actions we see in others, we are also prompted to consider our own moral architecture. In the question of race and otherness, moral reflection helps us to ask: What would I have thought if I were living at that time; how do I think about those that I readily regard as “other” from me; and does someone’s “otherness” make it easier for me to conclude that they are deficient in their humanness in some way and thus make it easier for me to disregard Christ’s command to love my neighbor as myself?
Moral reflection does not refuse to identify moral failings, but it leads us to look for them in places we might not peer otherwise. Moral reflection can prompt us to look at ourselves, our church, and our world in a way that brings us to a place of repentance that leads to transformation of life and even society.
Steady, faithful patience and moral reflection hardly exhaust our strategies for changing how we honor God in addressing the problem of race, but I find them helpful. What helps you?