Advent was not a part of my religious upbringing. But we experienced a lot of “getting ready for Christmas.”

The narrative — through Christmas plays, cantatas, sermons and more — was that God sent Jesus into a sinful, lost world. And, as the story played out, Jesus was not well received.

Many theologize the crucifixion as inevitable, even planned, as a means of providing salvation to those who believe properly. Intentionally or unintentionally, that perspective deemphasizes the evil (sin) that sought to eliminate Jesus and downplays the fuller revelation of God found in his life and teachings.

The reality, however, is that Jesus came into a sinful world, and it was human sinfulness — political fear, and religious and societal bigotry — that led to his death. And those evils continue today — often emanating from the very people who claim Jesus’ forgiveness of sins for themselves.

Evil in the form of injustice doesn’t get much play in Americanized Christianity’s individualized concept of sin. Yet, it’s amazing how prominently and extensively the Bible speaks about injustice and the divinely prescribed role of the faithful in seeking to right those wrongs.

Such matters of injustice, I must confess, were rarely addressed in my faith tradition — from Sunday school through campus ministry years.

While racial injustices, in particular, have long been with us, we see them more clearly and frequently now that they are vividly captured on video. Painfully, one can but wonder how many more acts of injustice were hidden before every pocket held a camera.

Learning more about the American legacy of injustice is threatening to many. There is a robust political effort — driven largely by white American Christians — to downplay or dismiss unjust acts of the past and present.

Focusing on such evils tarnish efforts to portray America as exceptional. And oddly, many argue, acknowledgement of evil somehow leads to hatred.

There is no evidence, however, that awareness of evil acts leads to evil acts rather than the opposite. For people of faith, in particular, it should lead to shame, repentance and a commitment to fighting ongoing injustice.

Recently, I crossed the popular pedestrian bridge across the Tennessee River in downtown Chattanooga. Good views, food and drinks are aplenty on both shores.

Through a newly erected memorial space, however, the historic bridge now offers more insight into its history. It is both ugly and needed.

A memorial in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with three statues standing together.

(Photo: John D. Pierce)

Ed Johnson, an African American man, was hung to his death from the Walnut Street Bridge in 1906. And he was not the first; Alfred Blount met the same fate there in 1893, just two years after the bridge was completed.

The bridge connected white Chattanooga to the African-American community, Hill City, to the north. A lifeless Black body hanging from a span of the bridge provided intended intimidation to passersby coming to and from the city for work.

Johnson, unfairly accused of raping a white woman, was sentenced to death. But he became the first African American to be granted a stay of execution by the U.S. Supreme Court.

A white mob then took matters into their own evil hands. Johnson was among an estimated 4,000 African Americans to be lynched nationally during Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era.

Local officials ignored the atrocity of enraged whites pulling Johnson from his prison cell and stringing him above the flowing river — but, fortunately, the nation as a whole did not. The Supreme Court held its only criminal trial that brought at least some of the murderous mob to accountability.

An effort to bring this fuller story to the site of the lynching has finally paid off. It comes at a time when many Americans are fighting to keep the uglier aspects of the nation’s history below the surface.

I’m amazed at the extent that some fear that accepting the reality of our nation’s past and present will destroy their idealist view of their cultural experience. American ideals, however, are what we should strive to reach — not a lesser, false reality we naively or dishonestly accept as being ideal.

Some — who still enjoy societal privilege and aggressively seek to retain it — simply nod to “mistakes of the past” but claim we’ve cleaned all of that up now. Lynch mobs, however, aren’t the only ways people experience injustice.

Without shame, widespread state legislative efforts are now creating practices and procedures for white minority control. Immigrants are demonized and demeaned by those who claim the name of Christ.

Repeatedly, we learn, only because of personal video evidence, how persons of color are still treated vastly different by law enforcement and those charged with dispensing justice evenly.

It seems a major way to prepare for the coming of Christ anew is to come clean ourselves — about our own attitudes, actions and inaction. To say or do nothing is to contribute to such evil.

More broadly, this is a good time — as we prepare our hearts for Jesus’ arrival — to acknowledge the ways our own communities (from congregations to our nation at large) advance the very evils of discrimination, fear and injustice that Jesus himself met.

Yes, Jesus came into a sinful world. He will once again this year.

It helps to confess — and then repair — our own contributions through both active involvement and inactive complicity. Come, Lord Jesus.

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