The church’s ancient doctrine of original sin can be hard to get our arms around. Why does Adam’s sin carry on to me? I didn’t eat the apple. I didn’t seek to be like God.
Here’s the key to understanding original sin: It’s not about you.
The idea that sin is about our own individual actions and inactions was rejected in the fifth century. Sin is about the state of the world. None of us started it, and none of us can stop it. But, that’s not entirely a bad thing: If we had the power to stop sin, there would have been no need for Christ, no need for the ultimate example of God’s unbounded love.
Journalists and politicians like to refer to racism as America’s original sin. By that, they mean that it is old and entrenched. Indeed it is, but the metaphor becomes more useful when we let it go deeper.
Racism is not as much about our own individual actions or inactions as it is about the system we inhabit. Very few of the people that I know would intentionally oppress, disadvantage, or disrespect anyone. Yet, we live in a city with staggering racial gaps in educational attainment, earnings potential, and life expectancy.
We have to get over our focus on the self if we hope to make any progress. It’s not about us individually, at least in most cases; it’s about all of us together.
We are not going to solve the problem of racism anytime soon, or the problem of sin more generally, but that should not stop us from trying. In the same way that we seek to live in the way of Christ even though we will not be able to overcome sin, we must seek to walk in the way of love even though we will not be able eliminate racism.
Our responsibility as individuals is to take a good, hard look at the unjust systems of which we are a part and to identify the ways in which we are consenting to them, if not enabling them. This will be an uncomfortable process, but it seems as though being uncomfortable for a while is the very least we can do.
Jesus provides the way out from our original sin and all the other sins that followed, racism included. God has poured his love upon us before and he will do so again as we press towards the goal of the Kingdom of God, which is pressing towards the goal of Christ himself.