by Rev. Elizabeth Rawlings
This is an offering of possibility and an encouragement to not only address slavery with your congregation, but to actively confess and repent. You are invited to use whatever pieces work in your context and edit as you see fit so long as people of European Descent are not left off the hook.
P: In late August, 1619, the first slaves were brought to the shores of what would become the United States of America. Twenty people, violently stolen from their families and homes in the kingdom of Ndogo in what is now Angola arrived here to live lives in chains. By 1860, the United States was home to 3.6 million enslaved human beings who were either stolen from their homes and families or born into slavery in this nation.
Though the emancipation proclamation was signed in 1863, the legacy of slavery is still with us today. From the racial wealth gap to arrest and sentencing disparities, from discrimination in housing, job searches and banking to our segregated and prejudically funded school systems, from fearing death at the hands of police to daily comments from neighbors, African Americans face structural and personal obstacles people of European Descent do not face. Even if our European ancestors never owned slaves, we still benefit from the system of slavery and it’s legacy.
For ELCA folx: (As the ELCA declared at churchwide assembly, it is time we entered into a season of confession and lamentation for slavery and it’s legacy.)
It is far beyond time we reckon with America’s Original Sin, slavery. As followers of Christ, we are called to repent of our sins, both individual and collective. And so today let us* join together in an order of confession and repentance for slavery and it’s legacy.
Most merciful God,
C: We confess we are drowning in sin and can only be saved through the grace of Jesus Christ.
We confess that our nation and its wealth were built on the backs of children of God who were stolen from their homes, separated from their families, imprisoned, starved, sold, beaten and forced to work in the fields and homes that are the bedrock of our wealth.
We confess that while enslaved people were granted freedom, self governance and land at the end of the Civil War, the US government backed out of this promise.
We confess that during reconstruction the United States enacted laws that enshrined structural inequality for people who had been enslaved, their descendants, and all who looked like them.
We confess we are still enacting laws to disenfranchise and disempower black americans.
We confess separate but equal was never equal.
We confess separation, and continued inequality, was the intent and outcome of Jim Crow laws.
We confess that our nation did not want to integrate schools, cafes or communities.
We confess we still fear integration.
We confess that the GI bill was written to exclude black Americans.
We confess that our criminal justice system primarily exists to oppress black bodies.
We confess we continue to work to suppress the black vote.
We confess welfare reform is an effort to starve the black community of resources.
We confess that our political, economic, educational systems are built in ways that continue the oppressive legacy of slavery.
We confess that we live in a nation that prioritizes the lives, the bodies, the families, the careers and the feelings of people of European descent over those of African descent.
We confess that we benefit from these systems and defend them to maintain our own power.
We confess that these systems keep us from living in full and loving relationship with our neighbors of African descent.
We confess that thinking about the legacy of slavery makes us uncomfortable.
We confess that talking about white supremacy makes us angry.
We confess that we are afraid of losing the power and privilege white supremacy provides.
We are truly sorry and humbly repent.
We ask for your forgiveness Holy God, and for your spirit to work within us that we might have the power, strength and grace to change.
P: People of God, we know that sometimes Jesus calls us into discomfort that we might be changed. We hold faith that Christ is with us in our discomfort.
We know that in Christ there is no longer Greek nor Jew, slave nor free, black nor white.
We know that in Jesus’ first sermon as recorded in Luke, he opened a scroll and read the words of the prophet Isaiah,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
We know that Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor as ourselves and to give up what we have and follow him.
We know Jesus commanded we not only confess, but repent of our sin.
Let us join together in repentance as individuals and as a community
C: We turn from the power and privilege afforded us through the legacy of slavery. We repent of our desire for power over others. We turn towards working for God’s ways of love and justice.
We commit to learning about racial inequality and working for racial justice.
We commit to dismantling white privilege in our own hearts, the hearts of those around us, and the systems we have created to uphold it. We commit to being not just not racist, but being anti-racist.
We commit to learning about the possibilities of reparations.
We commit to dismantling racial injustice in this congregation and the larger church through study and action.
P: In making these commitments in front of one another, we begin the work of dismantling the legacy of slavery as a community. Let us hold one another accountable to this work in the name of Christ.
Through the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, we are forgiven all our sins. Go out in the spirit of repentance and sin no more.
More liturgical resources available here:
*This is written for people of European Descent, by people of European Descent. If you are in a multi-racial setting, we encourage you to give your non-while members a heads up that this is happening (or you are thinking about it), see how they feel most comfortable being present. You know your people; invite participation however works without letting white folx off the hook.
As an alternative to saying the whole thing together, we suggest having individuals speak lines or sections and having the people respond with, "We confess."
Thanks to Revs. Priscilla Austin, Cary Bass-Deschênes, and Jessica Harren and Ray Gentry for assistance.