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Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite Headshot

Dear Cliven Bundy: There's No 'Maybe' About the Sin of Racism

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CLIVEN BUNDY
George Frey via Getty Images

"Maybe I sinned, and maybe I need to ask forgiveness," said Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who has been lauded by conservatives for his resistance to paying fees for illegally grazing his cattle on government land since 1993, in an interview on CNN on Friday.

Bundy, in the CNN interview, was attempting to deflect charges that he is a racist for earlier remarks wondering if perhaps "Negro" people were "better off" as slaves.

There's no "maybe" about it, Mr. Bundy. Yes you sinned, and yes you need to ask for forgiveness. But frankly, your own words show you don't get what the Christian dynamics of confession of sin and asking for forgiveness are all about.

Bundy's remarks reveal a textbook example of how the mind of the sinner works in those who wish to get themselves off the hook of sin by blaming everybody but themselves.

Bundy claimed, in the CNN interview, not to understand all the outrage, across the political spectrum, about his earlier comments that African Americans might have been better off under slavery.

And so, what does a racist do when challenged about such blatant apologetics for a system so vile it is a profound stain on the national conscience? He denies he's a racist.

But Bundy went further, much further, as more of his remarks reveal.

"Maybe I sinned, and maybe I need to ask forgiveness," he said, "and maybe I don't know what I actually said, but when you talk about prejudice, we're talking about not being able to exercise what we think. ... If I say Negro or black boy or slave, if those people cannot take those kind of words and not be (offended), then Martin Luther King hasn't got his job done yet," he told anchor Chris Cuomo on Friday, adding, "We need to get over this prejudice stuff."

Bundy is a nearly perfect example of how the sins of racism build on each other. Bundy has doubled and tripled down on racist comments in his efforts to defend his right (a right that exists basically in his own head) to not pay his grazing fees.

Let's recapitulate.

Slavery was not a social good, it was systemic evil.

Slavery was a massive evil that stole the labor, the lives and the happiness of millions of Africans over centuries. Not only to fail to see how slavery is part of an "original sin" in a land that claims to be the "home of the free," but even to defend it as a system that had some good effects for the very people it targeted with violence and oppression, is wrong.

Pretending not to know what you said is deceptive.

There's a reason Satan or the devil is called "the deceiver." Self-deception, or the attempt to deceive others to avoid confession, is, in a good, old-fashioned phrase, 'wallowing in sin.'

Blaming Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for failing to end your prejudice is compounded prejudice.

Like compound interest in investing, sin can be compounded. It adds up quickly. Once you start down the road of justifying your own racist views, even though it has been clearly pointed out to you that is wrong, you compound the problem and it grows. Dr. King didn't create white supremacist views, white supremacists did (and continue to do so).

There's work to do to get to forgiveness.

In our edited volume, Just Peacemaking: The New Paradigm for the Ethics of Peace and War, contributor Alan Geyer outlines the dynamics of confession, repentance, change, and forgiveness. Honest confession is first, and it's always first. Admit what you said, did, believed. Repent. True repentance requires empathy, the capacity to actually identify with the one whom you have wronged. And then, change. Changing your heart and your actions is indispensible. You can't skip that part.

And finally, maybe, then you get to forgiveness.

That's the only "maybe" about this whole fiasco.