We have heard people claim "I'm not a sinner, I'm basically a good person!" There is a similar phrase: "I'm not a racist, I'm colorblind!" But we know that everyone has fallen short. There is none among us that hasn't defied God's intentions for us at some point in our lives. Likewise, there is none among us that hasn't judged our neighbor (even to the point of contempt) for the clothes they wear, the car drive, or the music to which they listen.
For those in positions of privilege, it goes one step further because we benefit from an institutionalized system of racism. We get hired easier, make more money for the same work, have better health care, and live in better security than economically-matched sisters and brothers of color. We benefit from corporate sins, transgressions that we perpetuate as a group. We didn't ask for this, but here we are. The best we can do is to help undo the mechanisms that got us here.
When God's people built themselves a golden calf, the next generation bore the consequences as well. Surely the younger group said among themselves "it's not our fault that our parents were so sinful. We know better now." And yet, they continued to wander the desert.
There may have even been those present at the time if the transgression that disagreed with what was happening, but sinned passively by remaining silent. Surely, we do the same today.
It's terribly difficult to break out of generational sin (pair Genesis 12:10-20 with Genesis 26:6-11) because of the cultural habits and norms that are passed down from parent to child. Scripture says that God "punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 34:7) and that "our fathers have sinned...and we have borne their iniquities" (Lamentations 5:7). The consequences of continued disparity are accumulated and passed down to the next generation. We maintain the brokenness, both by leaving our own privileges unchallenged, as well as by remaining complacent in the prejudices of others.
In addition, Christians have a framework for working out reconciliation with each other on individual and systemic levels. We understand the importance of speaking the truth in love, and holding each other accountable to God's will. We know we are to confess our sins and seek forgiveness. In turn, we are to offer each other grace and healing, abiding with one another in the face of division. This is how the body of Christ is to deal with one another in the face of racial brokenness.
We understand that we live in a broken world. We observe pain and inequality. We see that the world is not as God intended it to be. We know that some aspects of that condition will not be changed until Jesus comes again. But we also know that we each perpetuate our broken state through our individual sin, both active and passive.
In the same way, we live in condition of racism. A long history has bred division and disparity, and on some level we recognize that we will never attain true unity on earth. But we also know that each time we choose our own comfort over embracing the full body of Christ, we contribute to its division. Instead, we have the choice to work for the redemption of God's people and journey toward the reconciliation that God desires.
These are truths of the Gospel. The rhetoric with which we convey its message is uniquely suited to deal with racial injustice. The world needs to see the model of Christian reconciliation lived out in our individual lives and in our churches. When we fail to work toward restoration, it cheapens the power of the Cross. But when we live by this example, it is a witness to God's glory.