Dear Church,

On Sunday morning, about a minute before our worship service ended on YouTube Premiere, I wrote in the chat,

“Hey everyone! Before you move on to other things after church, why not email me and tell me what you related to or heard from God in the sermon or in the service? That would be so helpful to me!”

I was very pleased that so many of you did write to me with your thoughts, questions, and reflections from my sermon. You should know that as an extrovert, it pains me to have to record my sermon into the little tiny camera hole in my iPhone with no feedback whatsoever. I need relational feedback. I miss the nods, amens and thoughtful/smiling/even bored faces! Therefore, your emailed or texted stories, resonances and even pushback are utterly welcome and needed.

I feel the need to tell you that many of you wrote to me your reflections from the graph about personal vs systemic sin:
(For an explanation of the graph, please check out this past week’s sermon, which you can watch here.)

Many of you let me know that you realized that you are much more focused on personal sin and not as aware of systemic sin. One person said, “I tend to focus on personal sin and end up being a bit fatalistic when it comes to system ones which, as you point out, fall short of what Jesus calls us to be.” Another person asked that I teach more about systemic sin in the future.

Yes, we definitely will talk more about systemic sin in the future, as this will also help us to be able to respond to the great awakening which is happening at this moment about racial injustice in our country. But let me just share a few things at this time while it’s on all of our minds.

1. What is systemic sin?

Sometimes referred to as “structural sin” or “corporate sin”, this is the idea that there exists a larger, social dimension of sin beyond individual wrongdoing. Systemic sin reflects the reality that we can have corporate responsibility for sinful actions that originate from social systems. Examples of systemic sin in our society might include an educational system which highly benefits certain children but puts others at a disadvantage. We see systemic sin in the data which show that people of color are dying of COVID-19 at much higher rates than white people. The much higher incidence of police violence upon black and brown people points to the presence of sin in our criminal justice system. Systemic or structural sin is sustained by our ignorance of it and blindness to it. Those of us who grew up in the US or the global west were inculcated with a highly individualistic worldview, even in our spirituality. Therefore, it can be difficult for us to see sin in a communal sense. The people who see it best are usually the people who have experienced the downside of it. This is why you usually see people of color, the poor, immigrants, the LGBTQ+ communities speaking out about various types of systemic evil.

2. How do you repent of systemic sin?

I agree with the person who texted me saying that he tends to be fatalistic about systemic sin. If something is so big and woven into the ways that we live, how could we possibly overcome or untangle from it?

The first step is to ask God to heal our blindness. As we listen, lament, and learn, God will help us to see systemic evil around for what it is, even our own participation in it. We will begin to see how the system works and who is being hurt by it.

The second step is to think and pray through a communal lens versus an individual one. If we only think about sin as an individual phenomenon, we miss so much of the call of the scriptures – which is to groups or communities. All through the Old Testament the prophets called for Israel and Judah– as nations— to repent. Part of how we repent of systemic sin is to do it together.

There is so much more to say about repenting for systemic sin but let me say one more thing. I believe that God is on the move to catalyze us as a church to have more focus and traction in turning from systemic sin and moving forward in the Micah 6:8 vision of “acting justly and loving mercy”. This is why I’m excited that the Missions Board will be rolling out our new Community Partners at our next Church Life Meeting on July 19. After a year and a half long process of discernment, they have selected who we will partner with to make a focused difference in the areas of systemic injustice in the communities around us. We’ve had a rich, beautiful tradition of many individuals in our church volunteering for the sake of those who are poor, incarcerated, homeless or orphaned in lots of different ways. However, through our Community Partnerships, God is inviting us as a church to help dismantle some of the systems which keep brothers and sisters in our neighboring communities from thriving.

So let’s keep open hearts, remain praying and stay tuned!

In Christ,