I can tell you two subjects on which I’m not an expert: the Trayvon Martin case and racial reconciliation. As to the former, I did not follow the Zimmerman trial carefully and have nothing to add to the many fine pieces that have already been written (see, for example, Trillia Newbell’s post). And as for the latter, I’m a pastor who longs to see the gospel break down old (and high) barriers between people, but other than trying to faithfully preach, pray, and love I’m no authority on this thorniest of issues.
And yet, like many Christians, I want to do something that may, perhaps, by God’s grace, over the long run, in some small way, make a difference for good. To that end, here are four things I’ve learned, am trying to learn, and you should probably learn as well.
1. Don’t bail. Talking about race in America is incredibly difficult. Suspicions run high. Our histories go deep. Our propensity for getting hurt and frustrated is great. Therefore the temptation is strong to give up on ever thinking about this issue, entering into this issue, or talking with those who disagree with you on this issue.
Those in the minority can easily conclude about their conversation partners, “These people just don’t get it and they never will. I’m tired of trying to show them what they refuse to see.”
And those in the majority can easily conclude, “These people can’t get over it and they never will. I’m tired to being the bad guy and always stepping in some mess I never saw.” Don’t give up when you come to that point, especially when you are dealing with your brothers and sisters in Christ. Keep talking. Keep forgiving and being forgiven. Keep praying. Stay at the table.
2. Be quick to listen. This does not mean agreeing with everything or patronizing someone with the nod of your head. It means what it means: listen.
Consider that your experience could be greatly influencing the way you see things. Consider that someone else’s experience has been very different from yours. Try to understand. Try to empathize. Try to give whatever ground you can honestly give.
Have you ever noticed that when you and your spouse get into a fight, the turning point usually comes when one or both of you concede some small point? “You know, honey, I can see why that made you upset.” Listening by itself doesn’t solve problems, but it can help us avoid new ones and help us build a foundation of mutual trust and understanding.
3. Enjoy friendships across racial lines. Notice, I did not say “make friends across racial lines.” That’s not necessarily bad advice, but it makes friendship sound like a project. We don’t need white people looking to fill up their “I have a black friend” quota. We don’t need people of any race or ethnicity making friends so they can understand diversity and embrace multiculturalism. Real, lasting friendship is not based on anthropological investigation or sociological congratulations.
That’s why I used the word “enjoy.” Have people over for dinner. Go out for a movie. Play basketball every Saturday. Do a Bible study together. There’s a hundred things you can do because real friends enjoy being with each other. And when we have friends across racial and ethnic lines, especially ones formed in Christ, we are less likely to stereotype and more likely to sympathize, slower to jump to conclusions and quicker to hear someone out, more eager to build a bridge and less prone to blow one up.
4. Examine your heart. What do you fear? How are you hurt? Why are you angry? Where has bitterness taken root? What lies are you believing? What promises do you need to trust? What about that beam in your eye? Of course, the divisions in our country–and there are similar ones all over the world–won’t be solved by pure hearts alone, but they won’t be get better without them. And since we in the church know the power of indwelling sin to deceive and destroy, we’d be foolish to underestimate its influence in our own hearts. Sin goes deep–that’s at the heart of the problem. The gospel goes deeper–that’s essential for any solution.