Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this.
Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this. Deuteronomy 24:18,22
I am a recovering racist.
When I was young, I was fearful of African American people. I thought most of them were violent, criminal, and overtly sexual. I remember my mom locking the car doors when I was a kid while we drove through predominantly African American neighborhoods. I remember the tall, smiling, friendly African American man who came to our home when I was 10 to fix our furnace; I hid in my room when I saw him come in and stayed there until he left. I remember locking my own car doors in African American neighborhoods when I first got my driver’s license. I remember, when I was about 20 years old and living in Chicago, jogging the streets near my apartment in Wrigleyville and crossing to the other side whenever I spotted African American men walking towards me. I remember all of this, as much as I’d like to forget and pretend I’ve always been some lily-white sophisticate.
But, thanks be to God, I am not that same young person. While I’d like to be able to point to some “Road to Damascus” moment that instantaneously transformed me, the reality is that this has been a lifelong incremental evolution—less of a moth into a butterfly moment and more of a Department of Transportation highway construction project. Having African American friends helped. Having mentors who not only taught me the truth about systematic racism and stereotypes, but also lovingly called out my false mindsets, helped too. Slowly but surely, God showed me the slavery implicit in my ways of believing and laid out a path of redemption—not only to transform me, but to help transform others.
As a pastor, I try my best to use preaching and teaching opportunities to encourage and convict others of the ways they too are succumbing to the slavery of racism, bigotry, and patriarchal mindsets.
For example, two nights ago, I met up with 200 other citizens in my town to figure out ways we could be better neighbors. People of faith, people of color, people of different sexual and gender identities, and people of minority religions all helped strategize ways to make our corner of the country better, despite what our political climate seems to dictate. While we talked about diversifying our churches and encouraging our civic leaders to attend implicit bias training meetings, a greater conviction settled into my heart. If I want to dismantle racism, I need to admit that the problem doesn’t only belong to others: the problem includes me.
As painful as all of this is to admit, I must remember who I have been and I must choose to reflect on this knowledge willingly. In fact, this Scripture instructs us that remembering our own slavery is the key to working for the freedom of others. It says “remember that you were a slave”—not once, but twice.
So here I am, remembering my slavery as a confession for you. It is uncomfortable to admit. It is an act of vulnerability. In my social justice circles, it looks dirty and embarrassing and unintelligent. But if I truly care about justice, freedom, and loving my neighbor, I must start with myself. I must remember. Will you consider doing the same?