Fomenting Repentance

Theology in the Public Square

Christianity has manifold resources for individuals who feel mired in sin who seek to repent and live a new life. But what about societies that are mired in sin, which as mass entities are unable to feel as individuals feel? And what about individuals within an unjust system who perpetuate it and benefit from the injustice, even though they did not create the system and by themselves are powerless to stop it? Is the language of sin and repentance effective for transforming societal sins? The works of Reinhold Niebuhr and Martin Luther King, Jr. suggest to me that it is not effective to indict large groups of people for sins they may perpetuate, but did not engender.

In Moral Man and Immoral Society, Niebuhr states that

Individuals are never as immoral as the social situation in which they are involved and which they symbolize. If opposition to a system leads…

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