Are Daniel and Ezra Models of Corporate Repentance for Historic Sins?

Reposted from The Cripplegate.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been preparing a review of Latasha Morrison’s Be the Bridge book and Bible study materials. In so doing, I’ve been reading her recommended resources, and have been struck by how central the following claim is to this genre of “racial reconciliation” material: “members of a group have the responsibility to confess and seek reconciliation on behalf of that group for sins that those members themselves may not have even personally committed.”

I went back and forth on whether I should post this portion of my critique separate from my full review of Be the Bridge, or leave it inside the longer review (which is posted here). I decided to run it separately because while it is only a small component of Be the Bridge, this theme reoccurs in other resources. In other words, I’ve encountered a repeated argument that white people have a responsibility to confess the sin of racism that other white people have committed in the past, to repent for those sins, and then to seek reparations on behalf of those wronged by the sin.

So today I want to address that specific argument. Then, in my review of Be the Bridge, I can refer back to this post here.

There are numerous problems with the line of reasoning behind corporate responsibility for other people’s sins. It distorts sin—on what grounds are the sins of ancestors imputed to their descendants? It distorts repentance—can one person repent of someone else’s sin? It also distorts forgiveness—can you truly forgive someone who has sinned against you if that person doesn’t repent, but rather one of his representatives does?

The Bible passages that these resources often turn to in order to bolster the argument for representative confession of other’s sins are Daniel 9:8 and Ezra 9:6. Specifically in the Be the Bridge study guides, these verses do a lot of heavy lifting. But can they support the weight they end up bearing? When you study those verses you realize that they simply cannot be used fairly to argue that white people should repent for the evils of racism in our country’s past.

To be clear—there is racism in the world now, and between slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, etc., the sin of racism has had a constant appearance in American history. Racism is a sin, and every believer should lament not only sin in general, but their own culture’s sins in particular. I also believe that cultures have besetting sins. People are prone to the sins of their ancestors, because that is how they are raised. But they become guilty of those sins when they commit them, and not by virtue of simply being a member of a particular ethnic group.

But my main objection comes when people argue that based on Daniel 9:8 and Ezra 9:6 that white Americans have a responsibility to repent of historic sins committed by other white Americans.

Let’s look at those two verses one at a time.

Daniel 9:8

In Daniel 9, the exile is nearing its completion. Jeremiah had prophesied that Judah’s exile would last 70 years and then the nation of Babylon would be punished for their own sins (Jeremiah 25:11-12). By Daniel 9, that had happened. Babylon had already fallen, and the Persians were now reigning over the land. Daniel knew the prophecy of exile was not completed in Jeremiah 25, but continued in Jeremiah 29. There God declares that he had a plan to prosper Israel and to give them hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:10-12).

Daniel now finds himself standing outside of Babylon, in Persia, 70 years after he was taken into exile. Israel’s kings are gone. Judah’s line is in hiding. But it was now time for God’s people to return to the land.

Why were they gone 70 years? Because they had been punished for their numerous transgressions of the Mosaic law, and specifically their 490 years of neglecting the field’s Sabbath years (Leviticus 25:3-4). This is not a guess, but it is declared plainly in 2 Chronicles 36:21 where the author says the exile will last 70 years “to fulfill the word of Yahweh by the mouth Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths all the days that it would lay desolate, in order to fulfill its seventy years of rest.”

So now, 70 years later, Daniel is preparing to die in exile. But in his prayer of thanksgiving he confesses Israel’s sins against God, which are numerous. Daniel is declaring that God is just, Moses’ Law is just, Jeremiah’s sentence is just, and ending captivity at 70 years is, if anything, a mercy.

Daniel is, of course, identifying with his people. He is their prophetic representative—the voice of God, agreeing with God, and confessing the sins of his ancestors which led them into exile.

But is Daniel saying that the guilt of the Israelites 70 years earlier is really his guilt to confess? Well, yes and no. Daniel is certainly declaring the justice of God. When you read his whole prayer, specifically Daniel 9:3-15, it is clear that Daniel knows the fulfillment of Judah’s historic sins are at his feet. He knows it was his ancestors who caused this. Consider his list: “our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and all the people of the land,” they are all responsible for this. His list continues when he says that shame is due “to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you.”

The leaders of Israel and Judah come from a long line of sinners, and they deserved exile. Now, after all that, note what Daniels says: “To us, O Yahweh, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you.”

Is Daniel saying that he is responsible for his ancestor’s sin? No. He is saying instead that as his feet stand on the edge of time—one foot in the grave, one foot in Babylon—the shame of Israel is at his feet. He is Judah’s statesman, and yet they have no land, no farms, no kings, and no capital. They are in open shame. That’s not to say God is unjust! Rather Daniel is confessing that while the sins of his ancestors have come to him, he will not allow Israel to walk in those ways any longer.

Morrison (the author of Be the Bridge) writes that Daniel, “as a member of the group, was assuming responsibility to confess and seek reconciliation on behalf of that group” (69 of BtB). The truth is Daniel wasn’t praying“as a member of the group.” He was praying as a new Moses, standing at the edge of the Promised Land, but unable to enter. Nor was Daniel pursuing reconciliation. Rather, reconciliation had come. The clock had run out, and Israel was on the move.

Daniel’s prayer models how a leader ought to pray. But it goes too far to imply that Daniel’s prayer is a model of one person seeking reconciliation for another generation’s sins, or that there is some kind of racial continuity in sin. He doesn’t dodge his responsibility to pray for his people, but he doesn’t inherit the guilt from them either.

Ezra 9:6

Ezra, if you recall, was the leader of the newly reconstituted Judah. They were back in the land. They had rebuilt the temple, and were restoring the Passover celebration. They were determined not to be faithless like their ancestors 70 years earlier.

But then Ezra gets word that the Israelites had been intermarrying with the nations around them. Some of the very same people groups who were supposed to have been driven out centuries earlier were still there, and now Israel was repeating her sad history. This was Ahab’s sin. This was Solomon’s sin. And now it seemed, history would repeat itself.

Ezra was gobsmacked when he found out. He tore his robe, he pulled out some of his hair and even his beard, and then collapsed outside the temple. It was like a gut punch, and he just sat in silence, slumped against the temple walls.

After hours of this awkward scene, a crowd had gathered. It was then that Ezra prayed, and his prayer was very similar to Daniel’s. He recounted Israel’s iniquity, recalled the exile, and then lamented the sins of Israel. He uses the first person plural throughout his prayer—“We have forsaken your commandments” and “our guilt”—while reminding his listeners that God prohibited marrying women from the surrounding nations.

However, Ezra was not praying “as a member” of his group. Like Daniel, Ezra was praying as their leader. This was happening on his watch, and he would not tolerate it. It broke him to see what his people were doing.

Was Ezra guilty of their sins? Of course not. If anything we have sympathy for him, because in Ezra 8 he was distracted trying to find Levites to lead temple worship. This was not his fault, but unless his people repented, it would be his exile.

Do you see how different this is from asking white people to confess the sins of slavery, lynching, and Jim Crow?

Both Ezra and Daniel prayed the way they did because they were leaders, and they were confessing that God’s judgment was just. Ezra did not confess historic sins, but contemporary ones. He did not pursue reconciliation between parties, but rather asked God not to send them back into exile. A final contrast is worth noting: in Ezra 9, the people had sinned against God, not against others. Thus the confession was to God, not to others (although Ezra certainly used it to preach!).

Now, compare this with how Morrison describes it:

In the book of Ezra we read about how the people of Israel had become unfaithful to God. They’d taken up the forbidden practices of their neighbors.

Do you notice what is missing? Their sin has been reduced to “taking up the practices” of their neighbors, but in reality it was their intermarrying with those nations! This is evidenced by the fact their repentance/reparations involved divorcing their pagan wives. It is a very strange passage to lean on for an example for confessing racial sins of our own age.

Morrison is correct when she writes that Daniel and Ezra both “really owned” the sins of Israel (69). This is because they were the leaders, and God was bringing their period of judgement to a close. But she is wrong when she says that they were associated with Israel’s sin merely because they were “members of a group.” While an argument could be made that all members of a group have the responsibility to confess the sins which mark that group, even sins in which group members are personally innocent, Daniel and Ezra cannot be used for that.

All this begs the question about what constitutes “a member of a group” to begin with. In Israel, that is easy. There is covenantal continuity. But in the United States? Every American should lament racism in our nation’s history. But why does a generic white person bear responsibility for the sins of the previous generation? On what grounds are they members of the same group? Is there a biological connection? That would imply some kind of biological continuity in sin, which would be unbiblical.

That’s why these kind of racial reconciliation resources lean in on critical theory. They see society as bifurcated between black and white, oppressed and oppressor. If a person is white, they are part of the majority culture, and it was the same majority culture that instituted slavery, lynching and Jim Crow. Thus, the argument goes, every white person has a legitimate connection to those injustices by virtue of being part of the same culture that committed them.

Sociologically that kind of world-view simply doesn’t hold up. The argument that America contains two cultures, the haves and have-nots, is interesting I suppose, but is an argument about wealth more than race or ethnicity. At any rate, it is less than compelling to argue from that world-view to the notion that for there to be racial reconciliation in the church, whites have to confess the sins of their “group.”

And appealing to Daniel and Ezra does little to strengthen the argument.

I know that this whole post might sound nit-picky, and I suppose it could be. But this world view–the corporate guilt of white people from historic sins, the need for repentance and reparations, is a major part of the “racial-reconciliation” movement. There is more to say about that movement, but I’ll save that for the next post.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash.

Jesse Johnson bio


Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master’s Seminary Washington DC location.

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There are 35 Comments

Andrew K's picture

Right on.

There's a bit of a bait and switch here.

I'm supposed to repent for the sins of a bunch of people who weren't my ancestors (and who in fact killed and enslaved some of my ancestors) because some of my (other) ancestors bequeathed me my pale epidermis.

(Though in a fun twist, those ancestors, as Finnish and Italians, wouldn't have been considered "white" at the time of the sin.)

Too bad for me (or is that good for me? this "privilege" thing is so confusing). I'm locked into shared identity with a "guilty" and "privileged" racial group, because of what my specific lottery of genetics handed me with respect to my physical appearance.

In other words, underneath this superficially-Biblical claim for corporate repentance, the heavy lifting is done by... surprise!

Racism.

Mark_Smith's picture

Andrew K wrote:

I'm supposed to repent for the sins of a bunch of people who weren't my ancestors (and who in fact killed and enslaved some of my ancestors) because some of my (other) ancestors bequeathed me my pale epidermis.

The move towards calling all white people racist is unfortunate. I don't even like the term white. I'm not white... It's more of a peachy color... but I digress.

There is something that needs to be collectively addressed though. The US government, state governments, and by extension corporations have used their power to suppress the progress of black people in particular over the years since the ending of slavery. That's a fact. While much progress has been made, some of those fixes brought on new challenges. There was clear systemic repression of black people in the past. It then morphed into a mix of bias and misplaced assistance. But the legacy of the repression is still there.

I think we need to work to collectively get rid of the results and causes of this repression and bias.

 

 

Mark_Smith's picture

still had a law on the books, but did not enforce, that said black people had to be inside by a half-hour before sunset. That's the legacy of repression that we need to deal with.

My great aunt, who lived in that town her whole life (born 1917) said that ordinance was put in during the 1930s when a black family shockingly moved into town.

Andrew K's picture

Mark_Smith wrote:

 

I think we need to work to collectively get rid of the results and causes of this repression and bias.

 

 

Well, the "devil's in the details," as they say...

And at this point, pursuing any beneficial policies is practically off the table until people are ready to actually talk, and not just use the issue as a polemical club. As is, we have one side refusing to appreciate the grievances of the past, and the other refusing to appreciate the progress

Ed Vasicek's picture

Here is a problem I see that needs to be brought into the discussion.

By saying all white people are guilty of the sin of slavery because some white people enslaved the blacks  is racism at its peak.

The assumption is so very wrong that all white people -- or most of them -- descended from slave owners.  First of all, my grandparents were born in Europe and they were Slavs.  "Slavs" comes from the word "slave" because so many of them were abducted as slaves or forced into slavery. 

If these modern movements want to target the descendants of those who actually abused their forefathers, that is still not reasonable in my book.  But to target all people with light skin as somehow guilty -- that is racism galore.

"The Midrash Detective"

Mark_Smith's picture

Its about 150 years of post-slavery repression.

There are lots of example of it. On another thread we talked about Red Lining.

Another more controversial example is the large number of black men who are "felons" due to drug charges.

Have you noticed in many of the incidents involving black men and police the guy is a convicted felon? That shapes how he interacts with the police as well.

Bert Perry's picture

My grandparents' hometown had one into the 1960s, I believe.

For my part, I think that the better view of this is that 350 years of slavery and Jim Crow left a mark, and whether our not our ancestors were guilty in any way, the fact remains that failure to deal with the fallout plays a big role in about ten thousand murders, tens of thousands of other deaths (HIV, suicides, overdoses, etc..), and at least half a trillion bucks in welfare spending annually.

So for me, it's the simple question of "do you want to help fix things, or would you prefer to just let it fester?"  It doesn't mean I accept BLM's view on all things--just the opposite--and it doesn't mean there are easy solutions, but it does mean I look around for what I can do to help.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Andrew K's picture

So we're all agreed, at least, that expressing corporate responsibility and repentance for sin and solely based on one's skin color is a bad idea? Let's start there.

Now with regard to helping out, that's a great idea. Anyone have any practical suggestions that don't involve simply being a good Christian, a decent person, attending a protest, or voting Joe Biden?

On a policy level, we may have to face the possibility that getting rid of discriminatory policies may have been the best we can do. Efforts to improve other historically wronged/underperforming minority groups haven't exactly born the greatest fruit (see just about any Native American reservation).

Ed Vasicek's picture

It is a breath of fresh air to hear people agreeing on the fact that apologizing for what we haven't done will not fix anything.

Like the rest of you, I struggle with what the best thing to do really is.  I think the book Toxic Charity was helpful.  Don't know if any of you read it, but it basically about not enabling dependency but training people for be independent.   "Giving a fish" or "teaching to fish" contrast.

I think our greater sin may have been what was mentioned above, our genocide of the native American Indian population.  In some ways, that mess is worse. 

These are both cases  of "be sure your sin will find you out."   

We hear of stories of people rising about circumstances.  But most lower-classed people (black or white) do not and will not. Our human nature is a stubborn thing, and our propensity to cling to what is familiar -- even if what is familiar is bad -- is so hard to overcome.. 

A viewpoint that I agree with is that class values (or our personal values) usually determine where we land on the "success" spectrum.  It is so hard to change a person's class values, and most unhappy people only want to change their circumstances, not the values that imprison them in those circumstances

Right now, at least, it is more possible for the minority of low-classed blacks who are willing to adopt better values to rise. Despite the racial unrest, that particular has improved. I don't think we celebrate that enough because our society accentuates the negative. We are so focused on the challenge of the majority who do not rise.

Most of us like who we are, but some may not like where we are on the social ladder. But the two are often inter-related.  If we embrace low-classed values and LIKE them, we are held back by them and will probably stay low-classed. The same is true with middle or even upper middle classed values.

There is an old analogy that if all the money in the country was pooled and divided up equally, withing the decade the people that were rich would be rich again, and the people that were poor would be poor again -- as  a rule.  I agree with that.

This is true regardless of skin color.  There is often very little difference in values between low-classed whites and low-classed blacks.  The difference is in the percentage of the respective groups in this class category.  IMO, illegitimate births and the drug culture are claiming more whites and dragging them down to the low-classed value system.  If this keeps up -- and I think it will -- we will eventually equalize, but not in a good way.

l

 

"The Midrash Detective"

Mark_Smith's picture

I don't know that I agree with either Andrew K or Ed V.

We as a nation need to repent for our centuries long repression of black people. That's a fact. We need to repent to God and change the repression that is built into the system.

I will add that neither of those things will fix everything either. It seems to me that the "black community" needs to change itself as well. For example, speaking in generalities, education is not valued much nor is it seem as a way to escape poverty by too many. That has to change.

 

Andrew K's picture

Mark_Smith wrote:

I don't know that I agree with either Andrew K or Ed V.

We as a nation need to repent for our centuries long repression of black people. That's a fact. We need to repent to God and change the repression that is built into the system.

I will add that neither of those things will fix everything either. It seems to me that the "black community" needs to change itself as well. For example, speaking in generalities, education is not valued much nor is it seem as a way to escape poverty by too many. That has to change.

 

Do white people represent the nation more than black people? Or are black people supposed to join in the repentance as well? Other minorities and recent immigrants?

As for things for which our nation needs to repent to God, a) I'm not sure exactly what most people mean when they say that, and b) that list is pretty long. 

Mark_Smith's picture

pass laws repressing themselves?

This is common sense people.

Mark_Smith's picture

Do you acknowledge that around 1870 various levels of government all across the US started passing laws repressing black people that only recently have started to be overturned? And also, corporations have, in the name of being "risk averse," not offered the same services of various types to blacks.

This is all factual info.

Andrew K's picture

Mark_Smith wrote:

pass laws repressing themselves?

This is common sense people.

Did you pass laws repressing black people? Did I? Yet you said "we" as a nation. I just want to know who that includes.

Mark_Smith's picture

"WE" did. What's so hard about this?

Andrew K's picture

Mark_Smith wrote:

"WE" did. What's so hard about this?

Who is "WE"? 

Mark_Smith's picture

If you're poor with no power.... you didn't pass the laws. But maybe you like them...

Mark_Smith's picture

Andrew K wrote:

 

Mark_Smith wrote:

 

"WE" did. What's so hard about this?

 

 

Who is "WE"? 

We is the federal govt, the states, and the localities, and the people they represent.

Andrew K's picture

Mark_Smith wrote:

 

Andrew K wrote:

 

 

Mark_Smith wrote:

 

"WE" did. What's so hard about this?

 

 

Who is "WE"? 

 

 

We is the federal govt, the states, and the localities, and the people they represent.


Which includes black people and various minorities and immigrant communities. They have a vote as well. Therefore, they are represented by our govt and part of this nation as well, no?

Andrew K's picture

Mark_Smith wrote:

Do you acknowledge that around 1870 various levels of government all across the US started passing laws repressing black people that only recently have started to be overturned? And also, corporations have, in the name of being "risk averse," not offered the same services of various types to blacks.

This is all factual info.

Believe I've already acknowledged this and more. I would also point to our incarceration policies as doing irreversible harm to African American families and community.

What I don't see, and what I have not yet heard on offer, are reasonable and constructive solutions beyond a vague, moral posture. I have some ideas, personally, but I can tell you right now they're not going to fly.

Mark_Smith's picture

So you think it is wise to blame blacks for black repression? Did you understand how silly that sounds?

Andrew K's picture

Mark_Smith wrote:

So you think it is wise to blame blacks for black repression? Did you understand how silly that sounds?

If you're not going to make any effort to understand my words, there seems little point in replying. I'm through.

Mark_Smith's picture

Have you ever encountered that "good ole boy" system? I have... in almost every church I've been in. If you ain't in the "in" crowd, defined as the "cool people" who have attended there since 1975... you just aren't good enough. If you don't want to go duck hunting, or bass fishing, or to the gun range to fire off 500 rounds, well you just ain't good enough for them... In 28 years I haven't been able to crack that system with a PhD, Marine veteran, and white as white can be status.

That same attitude is like what we are talking about here.

Ed Vasicek's picture

Mark Smith wrote:

We need to repent to God and change the repression that is built into the system.

I will add that neither of those things will fix everything either. It seems to me that the "black community" needs to change itself as well. For example, speaking in generalities, education is not valued much nor is it seem as a way to escape poverty by too many. That has to change.

Mark, if by "repent," you mean we need to correct the course, I agree.  There is oppression built into the system, but this is not always immediately obvious to we who are not affected by it.

But as far as apologizing for what we personally haven't done, to me that is not completely honest.  That is my opinion only. Perhaps I am not seeing something.

I don't see admitting our past or current faults as a nation as equivalent to apologizing . I agree that our nation has some major sins in our past, and we need to be upfront about what we did to the blacks and the native Americans -- as well as stealing land from Mexico.  I also agree that we have sometimes institutionalized these sins and those things need to be routed out.

I have shied away from the form of patriotism that paints our past as this wonderful Christian nation, and our leaders as godly men and women.  The temptation is toward hagiography, and I have argued more than once with people who look at our past with such rose colored glasses.

What was done is wrong.  Institutionalized discrimination is wrong. We need to admit these things are wrong and correct them.  We must apologize for what we have personally done that contributes toward these things. We can distance ourselves from what our forefathers have done, but we cannot apologize for them. They have not asked us to.  And, as mentioned above, they were not MY forefathers.

Lumping all whites together is as wrong as lumping all blacks together.

Ponder this: With all the constant apologizing in our society for this that and everything, real apologizes are losing their meaning.  We are training people as actors who apologize.  This is very different from true remorse, which requires a sense of personal guilt.  We are a society bent on tokenism, and, to me, this apologizing for what we haven't done is part of shallow tokenism.

In addition, false apologizes ---for what an individual has not done -- only nurtures the victim mentality, which is part of the problem.  Stating our disdain for what Americans in the past have done or are doing is constructive. 

When you talk about blacks not valuing education, that is exactly an example fo what I mean by class values.

"The Midrash Detective"

Bert Perry's picture

Mark_Smith wrote:

pass laws repressing themselves?

This is common sense people.

They don't necessarily intend to--though perhaps agents provocateurs do indeed have the motivation--but yes, people do pass laws oppressing themselves.  You've got the destruction of Gary as Richard Hatcher and the city council banned real estate signs, leading to abandonment of thousands of homes, and you've got DC re-electing Marion Barry after he was caught smoking crack with a hooker.  Most famously, you've got the fact that Hitler became Chancellor of Germany after winning a plurality of the vote around 1930.  The draconian penalties for crack were implemented at the request of black political leaders and groups as well, and it's reliably Democratic voters who have helped make Planned Parenthood the health provider of note in too many African-American communities.

Shall I go on?

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Mark_Smith's picture

You missed it.

Voting for Berry is not voting to "repress yourself."

Jews did not vote for Krystalnacht...

Voting for strict drug penalties is not repressing yourself.

 

Repression is making normal illegal.

Mark_Smith's picture

it wouldn't hurt to confess our collective sins as a nation to God either ... or are you 2 Chronicles 7:14 averse?

Bert Perry's picture

Mark_Smith wrote:

You missed it.

Voting for Berry is not voting to "repress yourself."

Jews did not vote for Krystalnacht...

Voting for strict drug penalties is not repressing yourself.

 

Repression is making normal illegal.

It is normal to put out a real estate sign when you want to sell your house.  It is normal to want to purchase the means to defend your family and have it ready for use--both were illegal in DC and Chicago until Heller and MacDonald.   It is normal to want to purchase a soft drink in an appropriate size--de Blasio worked to ban that, and he's been elected multiple times.

Yes, people do vote for their own repression.  They generally don't intend to, but it happens.  Right now, in many cities, majorities want to severely limit police funding--it is normal to want to be able to walk the streets safely.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Mark_Smith's picture

Are you saying blacks voted in Jim Crow laws? Come on....

You don't believe that. You're just trying to obfuscate for some reason. What is the reason?

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