Thinking Differently About Race Relations
As someone who speaks for a living, I rarely find myself at a loss for words. The older I get, however, the more I realize the value in asking questions and listening to the thoughts of others. To better understand I put out a few, what I call “Thinking Differently” articles, last year. These articles are the result of interviews with people that have experienced the subject matter. To date, we have covered single Christians, divorced Christians, and adoption.
It seemed appropriate, with the national conversation being what it is, to give the same treatment to the subject of race relations. Below are the responses of four black Christians, one female and three males, to questions about what white Christians need to do and not do when it comes to race relations.
What We Do Not Need to Be Doing
Remain Silent or Neutral
“…don’t be neutral or silent. As Christians, these are some of the most important times to speak out and be a light. Jesus, (who was oppressed Himself), often allied, befriended and supported the marginalized, so I believe this is what we are called to do, especially in moments like these. I think it is very easy to make excuses and hide behind our personal biases by using our faith as a defensive mechanism, at times. Rather than blindly saying, “God created everyone equal” or “We’re all God’s children" recognize that while these statements are true in principle, the reality is, this does not give you a pass to avoid addressing and discussing these topics and issues.”
Silence is how conversation dies. When that silence comes from Christians however, there is more at risk than just the death of the conversation. First, we run the risk of communicating a message we do not believe. Silence is often seen as compliance. In other words, silence on discussions of race, communicate that we have no issue with the trials our black brothers and sisters face.
Second, we run the risk of allowing false narratives to win the day. When truth is not spoken something will take its place. A false gospel will rise in the place of the true gospel if Christians remain silent.
Third, we run the risk of destroying Christian influence. Jesus did not turn a blind eye to the disenfranchised of society. If we do, we will be known as those who do not care for the disenfranchised instead of as those who love with the love of Jesus.
Keep Discussion on the Surface
“Please be aware of the distractions. While I do not condone violence, looting and destruction of property, white people have spoken on the above issues rather than really understanding the root of the issue, listening to people of color, and educating themselves on the situation.”
Humans like to generalize. It is easier, but it is not better. Taking shortcuts in understanding others leads to misunderstanding, mischaracterization, and missing the mark. We must take the time to delve deeper, interact more personally, and listen intently.
Make Black Justice a Hobby Horse
“White Christians should not make this a one-week hobby horse. Fight all injustice indiscriminately.”
There are two parts to this short quote. First, the protesting and focus of the media has caused this subject to be extremely culturally relevant right now. In many ways it is easy to talk about this subject because, well, everyone is. When the time comes that this is no longer discussed as loudly as it is now, Christians must still be vocally crying out for justice (Amos 5:24).
Second, the justice we cry out for needs to be for all. Christians believe all are created in the image of God and, therefore, that any injustice against those image-bearers is repugnant. We fight as servants of a righteous God against the injustices manifest in this fallen world.
What We Need to Be Doing
Understand the Separation of Secular and Christian Worldviews
“Although our Christianity should be our most important identification, it is not impenetrable to the world. Even though I’m a Christian who is also Black, to the world, I’m a Black man who happens to be a Christian. Unfortunately, this means I will face more hardships for my skin complexion rather than my faith. Conversely, this also means that while you may face criticism for being a Christian, your white privilege will often supersede that, secularly.”
There is a separation of worldview between church and state. It is tempting for us to say “racism doesn’t exist” as we look around our churches and Christian friends, but the culture does not look the same as the inside of our church buildings. Christians, we must not assume everyone thinks like we do. Outside the walls of our churches exists a starkly different view of the world.
Understand the Mental Anguish that Comes with History
“I want white Christians to understand that black people as a whole are still dealing with the post traumatic stress of slavery, having no names of their own, and fatherless homes due to breeding stock and shipping us off and selling us. There was no therapy for that when slaves were freed in 1865. This goes for Native Americans, the Chinese, the Japanese, and Hispanics who lived in this part of North America.”
I have heard, and previously participated in myself, the "I-wasn’t-a-slave-owner-and-no-one-I-know-was-a-slave-so-get-over-it" line of thinking. While it is physically true that no one I know was a slave, that does not mean that the effects of slavery be they physical, financial, cultural, emotional, and mental do not still greatly affect others today.
Allow Ourselves to Be Vulnerable
“Ask questions, have real discussions with your brothers and sisters, and be receptive to other’s views. As humans, we struggle being exposed and vulnerable, but as Christians, I believe vulnerability is an integral part to bridging gaps, strengthening the Church, and ultimately, saving souls.”
One of the biggest critiques I have personally seen regarding speaking up against injustice is that this is all just media sensationalism. True or not, time spent with my black brothers and sisters has taught me that regardless of where they grew up, where they live in the country currently, and what they do for a career, they all have similar stories.
When faced with this I am left with only two options. Either all these conversations have been full of lies or there is something going on in the nation that needs to be talked about. Open up and have conversation with individuals and you will be surprised what you hear.
“First and foremost, I believe we all need to self-reflect and assess our ideals. While I’d like to believe we all innately think about such topics with the mindset of Christ, our perspectives are also inherently shaped by our environment, upbringing, political views, etc.”
“Examine your prejudices and biases. They subconsciously play a role on how you react and respond to these issues.”
An instructor of mine once said “we are product of our life’s experiences”. As Christians, we are constantly working to be formed into the likeness of Christ (Romans 12:1-2). Being in the world, but not of the world takes time and effort. We must regularly examine our prejudices and biases in everything, including race.
Listen to Individuals
“Ask questions, have real discussions with your brothers and sisters, and be receptive to other’s views.”
This point has been made already in this article, but it bears repeating: listen. Listen without agenda. Listen without reservation. Listen intently. Beliefs formed without doing so will be beliefs that are incomplete.
Respond to Tragedies Biblically
“White Christians should respond to tragedies like these in fasting and in prayer. I have more faith in God to do what He said He would in Isaiah 58 towards fasting and prayer than I do in white guilt and privilege fighting my battles for me.”
“Look at the situation through the eyes love. We often run to our platitudes but not to God’s word and the Love of Jesus (Matthew 22:37-40).”
“…I believe we must continue to pray (1 Thess. 5:15). Pray for ourselves, pray for each other, and pray for our world that we may come together and be united as one, for this is what God wants and has called us to do.”
Prayer, fasting, faith, love. I fear we have reduced this issue down to politics and forgotten that we are Christians first and foremost. Stop thinking about how this affects your life as an American. Stop thinking about how different political parties will use this to their advantage. Stop looking for secret hidden agendas. Our allegiances lie with God, not our political parties or personal liberties. Instead, “seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause” (Isaiah 1:17).
Do not let the conversation end here. Below are some additional resources to read, watch, and listen to. I know the information presented in this article is a lot to process (at least it was for me). As we bring this article to a close I want to encourage you to continue to listen to the stories of others, pray for opportunities to grow, and speak out on this by sharing the stories of those who are talking.
We will close with the words of Jesus from Matthew 5:14-16: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
Additional resources to read, watch/listen to:
Black Lives Matter by Steve Higginbotham (PreachingHelp.org)
Oh God, Make Us Angry! By Amy Dimarcangelo (The Gospel Coalition)
Racism is real, and isn't what you think it is (Jack Wilkie)
“Is Racism a Gospel Issue?” America, Racism, and the Gospel (The Light Network)
Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man by Emmanuel Acho (YouTube)
On George Floyd by Chad Johnson (Facebook)
A Conversation on Race and the Church (Lee Snow)