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Corporate Sin, Corporate Blessings: A Call to Reckon with the Sins of Our Nation’s Past

The rugged individualism that says, "That was long ago, I wasn't even alive, that's not my problem," is out of step with a biblical worldview and tone deaf to the sense of corporate responsibility that permeates the Bible.

In episode #79 of my Anchor podcast today, I wade into some rough waters by exploring the defensive posture of many today who bristle at the thought of taking responsibility for and confessing the sins of our nation’s forefathers (e.g, racism). The “rugged individualism” that says, “That was long ago, I wasn’t even alive, that’s not my problem,” is out of step with a biblical worldview and tone deaf to the sense of corporate responsibility that permeates the Bible.

In our representative Adam we somehow all sinned and fell under the curse, in need of redemption. Jesus took the punishment of a wayward Israel, and the entire world, upon himself and 2,000 years later we boldly claim the righteousness that flows down from Calvary for ourselves.

The entire Israelite camp suffered for Achan’s sin in battle against Ai in the Book of Joshua, and his entire family lost their lives due to his individual sin.

In the 6th century the entire nation of Israel — men, women and children — suffers the curse of exile for the sins of the unrighteous.

In this episode I blow the whistle on the hypocrisy of those who want to claim national victories and spiritual blessings of people who lived long before us, but who don’t want to own any of the sin and evil committed by our ancestors long ago. We won’t own any of the evil “we” perpetrated in driving out the native populations in the name of God and “Manifest Destiny,” but we have national holidays each year where we proudly talk of “our” victory in WWII, “our” fight for independence, etc.

How come we’re so ready and willing to receive “corporate blessings” that flow from our forefathers, but resistant to confessing the “corporate sins” of our forefathers that still stain this land?

Christians, of all people in the world, should be the quickest to confess and own the sins of our past, because we believe in a loving and gracious God who stands ready to forgive them. Or don’t we? The defensive posture of many so-called Evangelical Christians who erupt with volcanic rage when someone shines a spotlight on some of our national skeletons leads me to question whether they are at all being shaped by the Christian Scriptures and the faith centered on “walking in the light” and “coming out of darkness.”

With the Psalmist, let us have the courage to pray, “Search [our nation’s past], God, and know [our collective] heart…See if there is any offensive way in [us], and lead [us] in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).

Toward the end of this podcast episode, I share how my church denomination voted at our annual meeting this summer to publicly “repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery.” With one voice, we confessed the sins of raping native lands, displacing native people’s, and other atrocities, many done in the name of God and Christ. With one voice we asked our native brothers and sisters to forgive us.

This action is not driven by some “woke” liberal agenda (though they often have their finger on the same issues), but by a biblical worldview that has the healing of the nations at the center of its project, and not merely personal salvation from my individual sins. As I tell my students, the personal salvation gospel is good and true, but its woefully too small!

Then the Angel showed me Water-of-Life River, crystal bright. It flowed from the Throne of God and the Lamb, right down the middle of the street [of the New Jerusalem]. The Tree of Life was planted on each side of the River, producing twelve kinds of fruit, a ripe fruit each month. The leaves of the Tree are for healing the nations.”

REVELATION 22:2 MSG

Listen: do not accuse the voices who are calling our nation to reckon with its imperfect past as unpatriotic or unAmerican. If we truly love someone or some nation, we will call it to a higher standard, and not let people or a nation live in fantasy land or denial. “Then you will know the [often ugly] truth, and the truth will set you free,” Jesus said.

The Apostle Paul went around proclaiming, “I am the worst of sinners” to amplify God’s grace, while we American’s are conditioned to go about proclaiming, “We are the greatest of nations” while hiding our flaws and white-washing our past. For the life of me, I don’t understand why its so hard for many Christians, soaked in a sin-and-redemption story, to admit our national sins of the past and their ongoing impact.

We Christians are heirs to a long Jewish tradition of “critique from within,” where prophets were sent mainly to expose the sin and call her own people to repentance. In the name of patriotism, I’m watching political and spiritual cowards spin reality and live in denial and defensiveness, clinging to a version of history that only tells half the story.

As a true act of patriotism, I will join others in calling B.S. on the bluster and deflecting in the conservative movement today, and out of love for my country I will urge people of good will and faith to “live in the light” of reality even when its painfully blinding and humiliating at times. There’s grace that awaits those blinded by such a light; just as the Apostle Paul (Acts 9).

Anyways, I hope you’ll give my podcast a listen, and subscribe, rate and review so more people can find it.

Grace and peace,

Jeremy

Dr. Jeremy Berg is the founding and Lead Pastor of MainStreet Covenant Church in Minnetonka Beach, MN, where he has served since 2010. He an Adjunct Professor of Theology at North Central University (Minneapolis) and Professor of Bible & Theology at Solid Rock Discipleship School. Jeremy earned a doctorate in New Testament Context under Dr. Scot McKnight at Northern Seminary. He and his wife, Kjerstin, have three kids, Peter, Isaak and Abigail.

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