Christian Living Relationships/Family

Ignorance Is Not Excused

Ian Hammond

I am ignorant.

I have a confession to make. Until a few months ago, I was almost entirely ignorant of the issues addressed here on RAAN. My view of racism was tremendously truncated. I was not aware of the subdominant and dominant culture group dynamics and had not given much thought to the problem of systemic racism. In my opinion, racism was an action that was overt and obvious. Thankfully, reading articles like Shopping While Black and Racial Profiling and The Christian  made it abundantly clear that I was wrong.

Not for a minute do I assume to now know what it is like to be in a minority. For the most part, it remains a mystery to me. But I am learning. And my African American brothers and sisters in Christ are helping me. As I learn, however, I am being confronted with my own ignorance. Honestly, much of my sin concerning race stems from my own personal ignorance, which leads me, at times, to resist the truth. This is not an excuse; this is a reality.

Ignorant sin is still sin.

This ignorance, moreover, is not isolated to me. It’s pervasive. The Christians that comprise the dominant culture group are ignorant of many of their offenses to the subdominant culture. This is not an excuse; this is a reality. This is a reality that requires repentance. The Bible is very clear that ignorance does not mean innocence. Ignorant sin is still sin.

Ignorance is a corporate sin. Racism occurring systemically, though many might be unaware, is a result of collaboration in sin. It is written in Leviticus 4:13-14:

“If the whole congregation of Israel sins unintentionally and the thing is hidden from the eyes of the assembly, and they do any one of the things that by the Lord’s commandments ought not to be done, and they realize their guilt, when the sin which they have committed becomes known, the assembly shall offer a bull from the herd for a sin offering and bring it in front of the tent of meeting.”

Ignorance is an individual sin. Racism occurring in the unknown corners of one’s heart and one’s subtle interactions with others is personal sin. It is written in Leviticus 4:27-28:

“If anyone of the common people sins unintentionally in doing any one of the things that by the Lord’s commandments ought not to be done, and realizes his guilt, or the sin which he has committed is made known to him, he shall bring for his offering a goat, a female without blemish, for his sin which he has committed.”

Ignorance is a cooperative sin. Cole Brown wrote in his post for RAAN that “American Christians should be just as committed to fighting the injustice of racial profiling as we are to fighting sex trafficking, homelessness, abortion and the other important justice issues of our culture.”  At first I was hesitant to agree, but it is written in Leviticus 5:1 that silence is cooperation in sin:

“If anyone sins in that he hears a public adjuration to testify, and though he is a witness, whether he has seen or come to know the matter, yet does not speak, he shall bear his iniquity.”

Most importantly, ignorant sin can be and is forgiven sin. It is written in Leviticus 5:18:

“He shall bring to the priest a ram without blemish out of the flock, or its equivalent for a guilt offering, and the priest shall make atonement for him for the mistake that he made unintentionally, and he shall be forgiven.”

Christ our High Priest, the spotless Lamb of God, has made atonement for all of our corporate, individual, and cooperative ignorant sin.

What to do from here?

Consider this case. The dominant culture group has much ignorance and this ignorance is forgiven because of repentance in Christ’s atonement. But what should be done from here?

I have three suggestions:

  1. The work must be targeted at alleviating ignorance. Both culture groups face big challenges. The challenge facing the dominant culture group is in seeking to understand others whom they largely do not understand. The subdominant culture group faces a big challenge in sharing with the others who do not understand them. Both must come with a willingness to take a risk. But there must first be a knowledge of sin before there is repentance.
  2. The work must be targeted at repentance not punishment. Christ was punished; therefore, the dominant culture group should not fear their sin nor seek to deny its existence. It damns you no more. Repent to God and to your brothers and sisters in Christ and move forward. Christ was punished; therefore, rather than punishing the ignorance of the dominant culture, they should be called to repentance. Sin transcends race and culture, and we all need repentance and forgiveness of sins.
  3. The work must be done in patience. Have you ever been told you were wrong when you had not realized it? I have. And almost every time this has occurred, my immediate response has been defensiveness, especially when the person confronting me was impatient. The work of alleviating ignorance must be done with patience if progress is to be made. No one deserves patience. But Christ, while we were yet sinners, gave us what we did not deserve. Therefore, we ought to do the same with each other.

Can you think of any ideas that would help us understand each other? Are there things you want your white brothers and sisters to know? Are there things you would like your African American brothers and sisters to know?

5 thoughts on “Ignorance Is Not Excused

  1. Ian Hammond

    I appreciate your feedback. Clarity is something I strive for, though do not always achieve.

    The main point is that much racial sin on the part of the majority stems from ignorance. Therefore, alleviating ignorance deserves much patient effort.

    The confession I made was my ignorance. Yes, I was ignorant of things such as systemic racism and racial profiling. However, though I started with that confession, the focus of the post is not necessarily on myself.

    Moreover, ignorance is not necessarily a sin. However, “Ignorant sin is still sin.” I could have used that phrasing repeatedly in the sections, but I shortened it to “ignorance is sin.” I can understand how that could be confusing.

    Hope that helps.

    Grace,

    Ian Hammond

  2. bkelile

    I’ve read the post a few times and I still don’t understand the main point. I agree ignorance is not an excuse for sin but it sounds like you’re saying that ignorance itself is your sin. Nevertheless, I don’t get what sin you’re actually confessing. Are you referring to the racial profiling you mentioned in the intro?

  3. george canady

    Sean, Hey, I remember your comments from a previous post and the gracious way you handle the language. I think I may have over reacted to one of your comments. Please forgive me. Ian makes a point that some of us have been facing for many years, and especially the last few years: “Both come with a willingness to take a risk” I find my group slow to act, quick to speak. Yet I find that many black leaders seem to be one’s with more grace and patients. I have felt like a fish out of water for the last few years and only just in the last year have a place to think out loud with out the crushing rebuke(factious, hyper critical, unloving, hot buttons, hyper sensitive, not like minded,…ect.) of the white Christian church. I have been without a patients some times but I almost feel like if we, the church, don’t speak STRONG now, some how we miss this time in history and like the civil rights salve, we can say, “well we tried”. You say “confronting” is part of it. I think that too but I think the greatest part must come from where it started. I agree that restitution is a part also, but I think that a hard sell, at least in the environments I have observed. I think that Ian is most right when He says “without the knowledge of sin, there can be no repentance.” Have we just gotten so hardened to what is in our own back yard that we only see the degree when it is in another country. I must confess, I just don’t understand the Ignorance in the brouder American Christian church.

  4. Sean Wagenaar

    Thanks for this Ian. I appreciate your three points. No doubt you see these as just the beginning, but I would be keen to make at least two more explicit, right at the start.
    4. The work must involve restitution as we become aware of wrongs committed. This should be an active, sincere attempt to repair what was broken and return what was taken.
    5. The work must involve confronting and dismantling the systemic injustice you mention. As we become aware of the structures that continue protecting the privilege of some, and imposing disadvantage on others, we realise that repentance and moving forward means addressing the offence of this unfairness wherever we find it.
    Thanks for your writing!

  5. george canady

    Ian, Thank you for this confession. It is mine too. I wish I were prepared as you are to bring biblical light to this subject. It could be that there are many more like you than we suppose. They may be waiting for bold men to confess this sin. If you look at the number of people who viewed “shopping while Black” in reference to the numbers who comment and ask yourself why it didn’t it get pickup by the mainstream bloggers, the answer might be fear. Who would want to expose themselves to the potential of being black listed in one’s own “in-group”. Please Know that you are such an encouragement to me. You can not know how my heart leaps when I see another person ask for forgiveness for this sin, especially young men with a seminary degree.

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