Past Sins, Current Events, & Ralph Northam

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Each one of us lives within our time frame. It seems strange to judge someone from another time period by the standards of today. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam is experiencing just such judgment. 

Before entering politics, Northam was a medical doctor. His medical school publishes a yearbook. In 1984, his page in the yearbook included a picture with a man wearing blackface and another dressing in a KKK robe. He claims to not be either of the men in the photo. Circumstantial evidence connects him with the picture since it is on his page. In his defense, he confessed to wearing blackface on another occasion. 

Today, wearing blackface is unequivocally racist. Was that the case in 1984? What about a KKK robe? It seems that associating with the KKK would always be racist. 

If we hold the Bible to be an arbiter of Christian faith, then passages like John 4 (Jesus and the Samaritan woman) or Galatians 3.28 break down gender and racial barriers. Since the KKK stands for racism, there would never be an appropriate time to have a person dressed in a KKK robe. 

Finding oneself with a past that includes associating with someone in a KKK robe and wearing blackface means one thing: racism. In 2019, most people have the sense to conceal their racism. When confronted with the evidence of racist behavior, people will deny their racism. They might say, “Yes, I did ___, but I am not a racist!” 

How much should we make of someone’s past sins? Everyone has done something they wish they had not done. At what point can we forgive the past? 

Part of experiencing God’s grace is seeking forgiveness. 

Me: God, forgive me.

God: You are forgiven.

The twist in the free gift of grace is my participation. I ask and then God forgives. 

For Northam, turning his attention to racial reconciliation might begin to help in the future. But, he must own his past. He also needs to stop turning apologies into gaffes. When a reporter asked if he could still do the moonwalk, he had to think about whether or not he should do it. 

If he admitted the racism evident by the photo on his yearbook page and the racism reflected in his admitted blackface, he would take the first step toward overcoming his past. He also needs to try to understand why these actions are so hurtful for African-Americans. 

Racial reconciliation demands hard work. It takes time, energy, and effort. So far, Northam seems to hope this issue will go away. Sadly, it probably will. Will he learn something and grow? Only he can answer that question. 

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