I’m reading the first book of Kings in the Old Testament.
John Goldingay, my Old Testament teacher years ago, has written a little book to help us understand the Old Testament. He prefers to call it the First Testament, because calling it old seems to relegate to the discard pile.
I read some words in the introduction that made me think of the current debate about statues of those who were involved in the salve trade.
John Goldingay writes this: “First and Secong Kings tell the story of Israel’s life from Solomon to the exile in such a fashion as to acknowledge the ways in which both nations (Israel and Judah) failed to follow after Yahweh, their God. They invite the people who read the story to acknowledge that the story is true – not merely in the sense that the historical facts are correct, but in the sense that they accept responsibility for their wrongdoing over the generations. In effect the story is a kind of confession; it says, ‘Yes, this is the way we have lived as a people.’ The only possibility for a future for them is thus to face facts and to acknowledge these facts to God. There is no way that they can undo those facts, or compel God to forgive them and give them a new start. All they can do is to cast themselves on God’s mercy.”
The statues that are under debate were originally there to celebrate the lives of men (mostly men …) who had done great things.
We now see how those men were flawed, and the systems that they served were the cause of great injustices. So, in a sense we have to rewrite history, or at least to retell those events of the past in the light of what we now hold dear.
And, now, in the present, for myself as a privileged white man, to confess to my shortcomings in not doing more to address racism. We need to confess the things we have not done and said – our inaction, as well as explicitly racist words and actions.
Somehow, through all the tools that are available to us, we must do what the writers of those Old Testament books did – to say ‘Yes, this is the way we have lived as a people.’ There is no way that we can undo those facts, or compel black people to forgive us and give us a new start. All we can do is to cast ourselves on their mercy.”
Back in 2009, I wrote about an inititiative in the USA – ‘Come to the Table’ a project where the descendants of slave owners and the descendents of slaves come to the table and talk and listen about their past.
The reaction of some people to history is to say ‘Get over it’. But it is not as simple as that. Even if the events are way in the past, there may still be unmet needs that, if not addressed, will prevent us all from moving on.