I sat recently in a meeting with 70+ other pastors and ministry leaders from our city. The turnout was unusually good for such a meeting based upon the sense of urgency out of the recent shooting of an unarmed black man by a police officer. We were challenged to think about and discuss possible ways to bring about racial reconciliation in our city.
One of the main presenters suggested that one of the keys would be confession. I was hoping he would elaborate, but he did not. Because when it comes to confession, lots of questions are raised. It’s challenging enough for us to individually accept responsibility for our own struggles with racism that exists in our hearts and minds. But, the whole idea of corporate confession for generations past is even that much more difficult.
Listen to the confession of Nehemiah, as he takes personal responsibility for sins committed by others long before he was even born! Nehemiah 1: 6-7; let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you.7 We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses. Remember why the city of Jerusalem was destroyed. It was the result of years and years of sin… of turning away from God, of disobedience and following after false gods and the refusal of the people to repent.
In the Bible we find examples of both personal confession- confessing personal sins- and, also, of corporate confession of sin. Nehemiah is doing both. Ezra (ch. 9) and Danel (ch. 9) do the same. Corporate confession is when an individual(s) confesses for the sins of many people, even for an entire people group (Israelites)- and they confess not just for present sins but for sins many years in the past as well.
This corporate aspect of confession is very strange to us as Americans because we are so individualistic. Our society teaches that you are responsible for you, yourself, and no one else. But, that is not the case. It’s very difficult to explain- something mystical about it- but God honors the sense of spiritual responsibility that we assume for the wrong or evil things that a previous generation may have done- even long before we were even born- when we confess that sin to Him.
Our church affiliates with the Southern Baptist denomination. Some years ago, during one of the annual conventions, there was a time of corporate confession of the sins of Southern Baptists back in the 1800s regarding slavery. It’s a mark of strong leadership. It’s essentially saying, “The buck stops here, not kicking the can down the road any longer! God, forgive our past, forgive us, forgive me. WE have sinned against you!”
Personally, I believe this principle of corporate confession is integral to the healing of our city- of any city- where God’s people are willing to assume corporate responsibility for sins of generations past as well as the present. As another has observed, “As Christ-followers, we ARE our brother’s keeper!” We need to take an honest look back, even as we take a very honest look right now at our own hearts.