The truth will set you free. But only when we are ready to step up and accept it. The often misquoted Jesus statement cited above does have value. “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:3b-32) Such a statement will bring a response. John gives us one. “They answered him, ‘We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone.” (8:33a) Clearly Jesus and his detractors are divided. The argument in the chapter gets more antagonistic.
Truth Opens Wounds
Being from the Southern United States means we live with a hard legacy. Churches divided over slavery. Our ancestors fought a war to preserve slavery. And after losing the war, many fought a new fight for racist political policies. These are truths that feel harsh. When we hear them, Christians who are white and southern feel the truth is harmful. It hurts to set a broken bone. But if it is not set correctly, it does not heal properly. Another break may be necessary to fix the problem. The patient may feel something is not right in trying to correct the problem.
How many of my neighbors, who admit their ancestors kept slaves, justify it by claiming the slaves were well-treated? I cannot tell you the number of times this is said to me by people with straight faces. Then they turn around and claim personally they never enslaved anyone. These are examples of breaks that were never reset. Instead of dealing with this problem, it is argued the people pointing it out are being “divisive.” Historical fact and truth reopens these wounds that are not properly healed.
Forgiveness Without Repentance
The belief of many people in the wrong is that they should be able to demand forgiveness. “Do not think I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword…and whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:34-38) “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled…Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three…” (Luke 12:49-52) Jesus contradicts this desire to forget about the past and move on especially when it benefits those who wish to avoid acknowledging wrong.
When people object to teaching about racism in what they perceive to be a divisive manner, they wish to teach something that is not true. Racism is denying the humanity of another group of human beings. Historical examples of racism, including in period literature, means racism does not exist in an ideological vacuum. Racism is not an idea to be debated or condemned. It is a harmful practice that must be opposed. The truth must divide before it can heal. Acknowledging the evil and moving away from it is how repentance is defined.
Lies For Identity
One argument against teaching about the history racist practices is the claim that white children will be taught to feel bad about themselves because they are white. This is an identity-preserving lie. Like all other lies, it is told to avoid the truth. As long as someone holds onto the lie antagonism continues. If everyone who told me their ancestors treated slaves well, why did so many slaves run away? Were they simply ungrateful? One can easily see how ridiculous the lie is.
This is not the usual straw-man argument. It is an arguing against a claim made of straw. The desire that upholds the lie is one that wants to avoid acknowledging truths about how some people were exploited to benefit others. Jesus’ detractors claimed never to have been enslaved to anyone because they were Abraham’s children. But the feast of Passover is celebrating being delivered from slavery in Egypt. John tells about an obvious lie to make a literary point about the truth.
Unity From Truth
President George W. Bush claimed to “be a uniter not a divider.” And then went about sowing division everywhere. The absence of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq was not seriously acknowledged. It remains under the rug. There is no real unity in perpetuating a lie saying, “We must stick together.” Identity does not provide unity. Truth provides unity which gives identity. Truth sets us free when we are willing to acknowledge and end evil practices. We then can proceed to repair the damage. This is true between persons and peoples. Reparations are in order to make unity in equity and then a new identity.