Leviticus, Confession, and #BlackLivesMatter

Leviticus has gained a lot of popularity (negative or otherwise) in the last year or so, especially with the rise of so many evangelical christians pointing to it as reason for claiming homosexuality as sinful. The argument is, of course, then met with, “well you can’t eat bacon either” from the pro-homosexual crowd. Unfortunately, both sides are shortsighted and lacking in any kind of complete theological rhetoric on the topic.

But, what if Leviticus has more to teach us then we think? What if, in today’s sinking political and racial landscape, we can find hope for reconciliation hidden in the old, dusty, book of Leviticus?

But, what if Leviticus has more to teach us then we think? What if, in today’s sinking political and racial landscape, we can find hope for reconciliation hidden in the old, dusty, book of Leviticus?

Wesley Bergen wrote an article where he compared the sacrificial system in Leviticus to the modern day consumption of McDonald’s. Bergen’s focus was on the ritual involved in each. Bergen closes his article by saying, “Neither have we abandoned the rituals necessary to placate our deities; more often we have simply changed deities.” The point, of course, is to call attention to that which we worship and through his comparison of Leviticus to McDonald’s, he challenges us to think that perhaps we have exchanged our deities and may not even be aware of it. Perhaps we have, as the Apostle Paul warns in Romans 1, exchanged the “Creator for the created.” When we follow this logic to its inevitable end, it’s no wonder we have so little regard for sin because the deities we have substituted for God require no such admission of guilt. And, without the recognition of our depravity, we find no solace in forgiveness. In Samuel Balentine’s commentary on the book he makes the following statement in regards to the sacrifices specifically found in chapter 4, “In the priestly world, sin is a real and tangible burden; the hope for forgiveness is abiding and yearns for an equally real and tangible sign that it is obtainable.” In other words, the ritual sacrifices gave us a hands on way to feel guilt and receive forgiveness. The people of Israel were active participants in the ritual whereas today, we simply pray and ask God for it.

Balentine’s quote is a telling one for starts with, “In the priestly world…” He feels the need to separate that one from this one because they are so distinct from one another. In the priestly world, yes, sin is tangible, real, and heavy. And yet, in this one, with God so far removed and sin barely ever mentioned, we have left too many sins on the table in need of forgiveness. Still, as Balentine suggests, the faith community at large is guilty of the same. He says that, “More serious still, from the priestly perspective, are the sins of the faith community, for they corrupt and defile the sanctuary where God would be present.” It’s easier to change our belief than our actions, so we change the God we believe in, again taking us back to Bergen’s point of a misplaced deity. In a grave warning, Balentine suggests that “because the sanctuary symbolizes on earth God’s creational plan for the entire cosmos, its defilement threatens God’s departure not only from the local community but also from the whole world.” Here, then, is the crux of the matter. Have we abandoned the forgiveness seeking rituals and let our sin pile up to the point that God has in some way left? Even still, the more shocking part of the whole thing so far is the sacrificial system found in chapter 4 of Leviticus starts with, “If anyone should inadvertently sin…” We aren’t even taking about blatant disregard for God’s law. We are talking about the sins we don’t even know we commit; the ones hiding deep down in our own heart. Or perhaps, the cultural sins we don’t even know exist. You know, the stereotypes we have grown up with that shape the way we view our life and our world? You know the ones. And if you stepped back and looked at them objectively you would acknowledge they were wrong. This, coincidentally enough is the first step in the act of seeking forgiveness. We must acknowledge and realize we are guilty (Leviticus 4:13).

Before we can hope forgiveness as Balentine suggests, we must first go to the place where sin is a real and tangible burden.

When we continue through the text in Leviticus, chapter 5 offers us what to do when we sin in a way that mishandles the holy things of God. (For example, if the high priest were to decide he wanted to play lightsabers with the menorah inside the tabernacle, he would be mishandling the holy things of God.) But, also included in these instructions is how we should treat other people suggesting that people are also the holy things of God. Such sins defined in chapter 6 include robbing their neighbor through shady business deals, loading on them unnecessary burdens, finding something they left behind and lying about it, or swearing false testimony against them. These 4 sins had an extra component to the ritual of forgiveness. They required the offender to go and make amends with the person before coming to the tabernacle with their sacrifice. This sounds familiar to Christians, doesn’t it? Jesus actually says this in Matthew 5 when he says, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift at the altar. First, go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”

So, what does all this have to do with what’s happening now in our country?

The past few months have been seen multiple public police shootings of black men in instances that appeared to not warrant such lethal force. #BlackLivesMatter” is all over the news and my social media outlets, as well as it should be. And yet, I’m paralyzed with a sense of helplessness. “Liking” a Facebook post simply isn’t good enough as we stare down the realization that racism and hatred are alive and well in our country. As I was reading through Balentine’s commentary on Leviticus, the thought occurred to me that if we are ever going to tackle the burden we are now faced with in our culture, we must first start with the confession of our sin and the seeking of forgiveness. If the ugly head of racism is to ever be removed from this country and the sanctity of life restored, perhaps it’s time for us to become a church and people that leads with the public confession of our sin so that our relationship with God and man are made right.

Perhaps our sin is inadvertent and it runs deep throughout all different aspects of our culture. But, that doesn’t excuse our behavior and we will never be on the road to racial reconciliation until we recognize the guilt in our own hearts of our own sins. However, I for one am tired of the brokenness our country is facing and the hurt so many of friends of different races are facing in today’s cultural climate. With that in mind, I want to lead the way in confession. I wish my words could be for everyone of my peers even though I know they can’t be. But, hopefully, this post will start something.

To all my African American brothers and sisters, I’d like to confess that I have allowed stereotypes to inform decisions in my life. I have allowed myself to feel unwarranted fear when I see black men my age come my way on the street. I have allowed the actions of a few in the news to define all of you. I’d like to confess that I have often wondered if racism is real in our country or if it is made up by the media and a few loud voices. I now see this is not true and I am a part of the problem. And while I can’t hug all of you around the neck and seek to make amends for the racism that has infected my heart, I hope my words are a start. I am truly sorry and I am seeking to remember that in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, black or white. We are all brothers and sisters united under the same mission and vision to be the unified body of Christ.

To all my middle eastern friends, I have allowed the actions of extremists in the Middle East to cause me to fear you as well, wondering if the next terrorist attack will be in my city or on my plane. These are unwarranted fears fueled by what I don’t understand. To you, I would say the same. I wish these words were enough to right the ship and get us talking about our faiths and our lives and our hopes and dreams. Please hear the sincerity in these words and know weather you believe what I believe or not, I love you with the love of Christ who gave his life for the benefit of all.

To the church in our country today, I challenge you to leave your offering at the altar and go make amends with your brothers and sisters, recognizing the sin that runs deep.