This is Repentance

By Tommy Airey

I believe that a higher Power sews everything into a fabric of belovedness. As a result, we belong to everyone else. I also believe that it was this divine love and belonging that beckoned Jesus to break rank from well-worn supremacy ideologies that use race, ethnicity, religion, socio-economic status or national citizenship as a litmus test for greatness. Jesus knew that supremacy destroys belovedness and belongingness—and that supremacy can only be broken when people break rank together. He called this transformative process “repentance.”

The white evangelical Christianity of my adolescence did not teach me this message. I received an original sin story that made belovedness conditional and belongingness tribal. It was not about repentance. It was about being right. I was taught that certainty and supremacy would save me. I learned to pledge allegiance to what was white, male, American and Christian. My pastors supported this supremacy ideology by quoting the bible. They called this “the gospel.”

In adulthood, I’ve been converted by Black, Indigenous and Immigrant freedom struggles. These question conventional wisdom. These subvert self-interest. These say the souls of white folk will not get free until everybody’s free. Dr. King shared the secret from his Birmingham cell: you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the secret to a salvation story built on belovedness and belongingness.

But here’s the rub for white folk on the left: this secret requires privileged people like us to break rank and start taking cues from people, as Howard Thurman put it, who stand with their backs against the wall. Behold, the disinherited are pitching a platform that abolishes police, prisons and privatized health care! This is not a respectable middle-class religion. This is repentance.

Tommy Airey is a former high school teacher and Evangelical pastor. He is the co-curator of and author of Descending Like a Dove: Adventures in Decolonizing Evangelical Christianity (2018).

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