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A Prayer of Confession

By: President Matt Proctor

President Matt Proctor's recent memo to Ozark Christian College students, faculty, and staff: 

This week marks the anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s historic national address (on June 11, 1963), naming civil rights for black Americans as the country’s most pressing domestic issue. Sadly, this past week also marked our nation’s greatest civil rights unrest since the 1960s—reminding us that, even after 50 years, our country still has much work to do to ensure “liberty and justice for all.”

More importantly, we are reminded that God’s people still have much work to do to see “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10). In the fight against racial sin, the American church has an uneven record. On one end of the spectrum, some who claim the name of Christ practice open prejudice, while on the other end, believers actively labor in the name of Jesus for racial justice. Meanwhile, in between, many Christians sit silently. They harbor no hatred, but they offer no help. As uninvolved observers, while they hold only good intentions, they sound like the man who sees a brother without clothes and daily food and “says to him, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs.” (Jam 2:16)

And rather than “they,” I should say “we.” In Daniel 9, the old prophet—in Babylonian captivity for almost 70 years—offers a prayer of corporate confession, clearly and painfully acknowledging Israel’s sin. Here’s what’s remarkable: while he was not part of the previous disobedient generations that led to Israel’s exile and while he is portrayed as “trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent” (Dan 6:4), Daniel uses the personal pronouns “we” or “us” or “our” more than 20 times. Why? Two reasons. First, he recognizes that, even as a person of integrity, he is sinful, sometimes in ways he may not even know. Second, he recognizes his role as representative of the sinful Israelite nation. Thus Daniel confesses “our” transgressions so that Israel may be healed. (Jam 5:16)

So consider this memo my Daniel 9 prayer. A national moment like this challenges us to examine ourselves, both personally and corporately. I certainly do not know the hearts or deeds of all the many thousands in the Ozark Christian College family. But I know my own heart, and I know enough of Ozark’s history to recognize that OCC is not unlike the American church. At times, some of us have practiced open prejudice, while others of us have actively labored for racial justice. Meanwhile, I know that many of us—myself included—have too often sat passively in the middle, content to cheer the kingdom efforts of others, and I know that “if anyone knows the good he ought to do and does not do it, it is sin.” (Jam 4:17) I recognize both my own sinfulness and my role as a representative of the beloved, imperfect Ozark family, so—with the full support of OCC’s executive leadership and trustee board—I offer this prayer of confession. On this Lord’s Day, I hope you’ll join me in praying.

O Lord, you are great in mercy and full of grace, slow to anger, and abounding in love. You are a God who “holds no partiality” (Acts 10:34), who “created all races of people” (Acts 17:26), who “made them in his own image” (Gen 1:27), and who seeks “a great multitude…from every nation, tribe, people, and language.” (Rev 7:9) As your people, you command us in your Word to “show no partiality as [we] hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jam 2:1) and to “make disciples of all nations.” (Matt 28:19) Yet we confess, Lord, that we are sinful and that, in your perfect love for all people, we have “fallen short of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:23) We repent of any racial prejudice of which we have been guilty—whether consciously (Ps 19:13) or unconsciously (Lev 4:27)—when we have “discriminated among [ourselves] and become judges with evil thoughts.” (Jam 2:4) We repent for the times we have failed to live out the gospel’s work of racial reconciliation in Christ who “himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.” (Eph 2:14)

O Lord, your love extends to all people, and you especially remember those the world forgets. You are a God who “upholds the cause of the oppressed and…lifts up those who are bowed down.” (Ps 146:7-9) You are a “mighty King [who] loves justice. You have established equity. You have exercised justice and righteousness.” (Ps 99:4) As your people, you command us in your Word to “speak up for those who have no voice, for the justice of all who are dispossessed.” (Prov 31:8) Yet we confess, Lord, that we are sinful and that, in your perfect justice for all people, we have “fallen short of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:23) We repent of our indifference and our failures to “see that justice is done…and help the oppressed” (Is 1:17), specifically among our neighbors of other races, and to confront the sin of personal and systemic racism when it has crouched outside the door. (Gen 4:7)

Now, O Lord, we ask for your forgiveness. “Give ear, our God, and hear…because of your great mercy. O Lord, listen. O Lord, forgive.” (Dan 9:18-19) “Have mercy on [us], O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion, blot out [our] transgressions…Create in [us] a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within [us].” (Ps 51:1,10) Fashion us, we pray, as an “instrument for noble purposes, set apart, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.” (2 Tim 2:21) Use us to rescue others “from the kingdom of darkness” and deliver them “into the kingdom of [your] beloved Son.” (Col 1:13) Make us “a light for the nations” so that your “salvation may reach to the ends of the earth” (Is 49:6)—so that redeemed people of all races may stand together as “joint-heirs with Christ” (Rom 8:17) and so “there is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female, for [we] are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28) We pray all these things in his name. Amen.

We do not offer this prayer in a spirit of political expediency, but in a spirit of biblical obedience, a love of neighbor, and a fear of God. Because Ozark exists to prepare the Lord’s servants to reach a racially-diverse and spiritually-broken world, this is central to our mission. We realize confession is a good place to start, but a poor place to finish. We recognize there is much more to do—that we have a long way to go toward a more diverse faculty, a more diverse administration, and students more fully prepared for “the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18) in a racially-divided world. We are committed to doing that work. This next school year, under the leadership of Matthew McBirth and our Diversity Department, we will include concrete opportunities for greater engagement with this kingdom issue. Until we gather again on campus this fall, please join me in continuing to pray for our nation and to pray for that day “when the times reach their fulfillment” and God “brings unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” (Eph 1:10)
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