Apologies for America’s “Original Sin”

I recently took my son to the mall where we spent time at his favorite spot: the toddler play area.  It’s here that he loves to run ferociously around a padded play track that looks like a roadway.  He also likes to crawl through a train-shaped tunnel, climb an oversized baseball bat, and slide down a little dog-shaped slide.  It is this last structure that tends to cause problems.  The slide has been the site of many toddler scuffles in the past year as energetic and impatient boy and girls (like my son) struggle to share the alluring dog slide.  On quite a few occasions I’ve caught my little angel shoving a kid he thought was taking too long to go down the slide, or getting in a little skirmish at the bottom of the slide with a kid who had the nerve to slide down after him and try to dislodge him from his new home at the base of the slide.

These little toddler squabbles with my son typically end with dad breaking things up and asking my son to say he’s sorry to the other child.  I do this because I want my son to understand that his actions matter; that what he does to people is important.  I want my son to know that if you wrong someone then you need to own up to it and apologize.  It’s the right thing to do.

So I was intrigued by a news story I caught this morning out of the House of Representatives.  Tuesday the House passed H. Res. 194 issuing an apology for slavery.  Perhaps some of you would be surprised to learn that the US government avoiding such an apology so long.  Twenty years ago congress apologized for its treatment of Japanese-Americans in WWII; an apology that was backed with financial reparations.  The magnitude of wrongs committed by Americans and a complicit government during the years of slavery and Jim Crow are nearly incomprehensible to young people today.

The resolution is written as a step forward in our long healing process as a nation.  Acknowledging our wrongdoing, even if it is far overdue, is healthy.  The Christian faith embraces the spiritual power of confession (see the book of James 5:16).  

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.

More than that it’s something the parent of any toddler realizes: when you do something wrong, it’s important to own up to it and to apologize.

I don’t know what difference this makes in the long run, but I do know that I’ve more appreciation for a government that will embrace it’s sins than one that sweeps them under the rug.  When I talk with my son someday about the sins of our past, I can at least point to a much belated apology too.

Here’s a section of the resolution:

Whereas an apology for centuries of brutal dehumanization and injustices cannot erase the past, but confession of the wrongs committed can speed racial healing and reconciliation and help Americans confront the ghosts of their past…

Whereas it is important for this country, which legally recognized slavery through its Constitution and its laws, to make a formal apology for slavery and for its successor, Jim Crow, so that it can move forward and seek reconciliation, justice, and harmony for all of its citizens: 

Now, therefore, be it Resolved, That the House of Representatives— 

(1) acknowledges the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow; 

(2) apologizes to African-Americans on behalf of the people of the United States, for the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors who suffered under slavery and Jim Crow; and 

(3) expresses its commitment to rectify the lingering consequences of the misdeeds committed against African-Americans under slavery and Jim Crow and to stop the occurrence of human rights violations in the future.

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