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.

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22 thoughts on “Race Relations: Four Things You Can Do to Help”

  1. Joan says:

    The truth is, people of all races kill people of all races. This is as old as Cain and Abel. The Bible addressed this and made distinctions for different categories of death at the hands of another and the subsequent consequences (including cities of refuge for those who committed an accidental death). I think the root question we need to ask is why do we permit a godless media with malicious intent twist the truth to engender racist reactions on both sides of the fence? Why do we allow them to determine what is news in order to promote a cultural divide that sells their product to the baseness inherent in every human heart? Why do we count the death of some more newsworthy than that of others? In my opinion, this verdict should be evaluated on its merit under the law, and in this country the burden of proof is on the prosecution. There is a very high standard required to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that an intentional murder was committed. As long as we make this about race rather than about lawlessness and death (ie. sin), we will continue to be sidetracked from the gospel. It is all counted sin and is all in need of redemption at the cross.

  2. JoseRoberto says:

    Kevin,

    Is the real problem race, or is it culture? It’s one thing to say “enjoy friendships across racial lines.” But how do you (meaning you, Kevin, personally) engage and form friendships with people in the sort of culture which produced Trayvon Martin? That culture is the result of wrong thinking on basic moral issues — is it one you want your children introduced to?

    Here’s a history quiz. Q: Who said :”…Negroes are 10 percent of the population of St. Louis and are responsible for 58% of its crimes? We’ve got to face that. And we’ve got to do something about our moral standards”.

    A: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1961, and he also said “We know that there are many things wrong in the white world, but there are many things wrong in the black world, too. We can’t keep on blaming the white man. There are things we must do for ourselves.”

    As your post noted, it is difficult (and I think virtually impossible) to have this conversation with those who need to hear it. Daniel Moynihan’s 1965 Dept. of Labor paper, “The Negro Family: The Case For National Action” (see it here, http://www.dol.gov/oasam/programs/history/webid-meynihan.htm) was ignored — not politically expedient and racially offensive. Yet it merely explained in detail what Dr. King’s 1961 remarks pointed out, and accurately predicted what we have today. If you’ve never read it you should.

    To reiterate, the problem isn’t “race relations” per se — it’s the cultural divide which too often is predominantly racial. This divide is one of the main reasons why more churches are not more ethnically diverse. Not the only reason, but a significant reason.

    Again, how do you (Kevin, personally) engage and form friendships with anyone whose culture is so at odds with yours? How is University Reformed Church doing as a body on this?

  3. Josh says:

    Jose,

    You’ve engaged in a gross generalization in your response that is unfair and unjust. It seems as if you’re tryin to tell us that you can’t have any African-American friends because they’re all a part of a culture you find so reprehensible that you don’t want to be around it. That attitude is exactly the problem. Not knowing where you live, I don’t know the racial make-up, but I’d wager to guess that if you stepped out of a normal routine a little bit it wouldn’t be that hard to do what Kevin’s saying. Join the YMCA and play basketball there 3 times a week, for the sake of the gospel. Join a gym and talk to the people you work out next to, for the sake I the gospel. Take your kids to the park and talk to the dad pushing his kid in the swing next to yours, for the sake of the gospel.

  4. JoseRoberto says:

    Josh,

    Let me say as kindly as possible, you avoided my question to Kevin, though I confess perhaps I didn’t make it as clear as I thought it was.

    First however, suppose I told you I was black, a professional who was raised in a ghetto, and now live in a mostly upper-economic scale neighborhood because it’s safer for me and my family than downtown Chicago. Would that make it easier for you to hear what I’m really asking Kevin to address?

    I have many black friends. (Note – not all “African-Americans” are black — there are actually whites who live there too). But my black friends are not part of the culture I referred to. They don’t speak Ebonics, and they don’t allow their children to wear hats sideways, diamond ear studs, pants 6″ below the waist, tennis shoes untied, etc. They are easy to make friends with, because their culture is congruent with mine — work, marry, love your wife, behave yourself, and follow Jesus. These are NOT the people I’m talking about, and they are NOT the problem with race relations.

    What I’m asking Kevin, and you if you like, is whether these are the people Kevin was talking about when he addressed the problem of race relations. If so, there is no problem because our cultures are the same.

    What I was trying to ask, and ask again, is this: What about the culture I described? Tell me how many friends you have in the housing projects, and how you relate to them, and whether their children play with yours, or go to the same schools, and how you would go about forming cross-cultural friendships where your moral and world views are almost completely at odds.

    That’s the question I don’t think either you or Kevin has stepped up to.

  5. JoseRoberto says:

    Josh,

    Take a look at the staff roster of University Reformed Church, where Kevin is senior pastor. Here’s the link – http://www.universityreformedchurch.org/about-us/staff.html.

    See what I mean? I just want to get people to recognize that most of what passes as talk about race relations really doesn’t get to the issue of what the problem is, who the problem is with, or how to do anything constructive about it. It’s much, much harder than most of our talk seems to indicate.

    What do you think?

  6. Jose raises great points. I enjoy and have enjoyed friendships with a very racially diverse collection of people. We never talk about race. We appreciate each other as friendly acquaintances. What people need to realize is that the multicultural movement is highly divisive. It takes away that easy, natural appreciation of differences that is essential for warm, lasting friendships and politicizes everything. Everything. Not only are we prohibited from offering constructive criticism, we’re not even expected to enjoy natural friendships without constantly flagellating ourselves and dissecting our every word, thought and action under a political microscope. This is not building bridges. This is not building community. This is what is destroying the social fabric of America.

  7. Karlito Ricardo says:

    Jose; regarding your question for Kevin,you may want to reread #3 again. If a cultural barrier keeps a genuine friendship from happening, don’t force it for the sake of your “diversity”. Also i’d reconsider if it truly is a cultural divide more than a racial divide. I’d speak to black men who exist in predominantly white cultures about their experiences. or you can read “Aliens in The Promised Land” by Anthony Bradley. Esther; are you suggesting that multiculturalism is the reason that people from other cultures are offended by what you say?

  8. JohnMark says:

    @Jose Your pointed last question isn’t entirely fair. You asked a Pastor of the significantly white (75%) and barely black (6%) community known as East Lansing how he is engaging race relations. As a minister in the Gospel who has works in a diverse community I can say one thing for sure, we become all things to all men. We do what it takes to minister to those in our communities. De Young’s ministry will look very different from mine. Stop pointing the finger.

  9. B.R. says:

    Jose,

    You’re right that cross-cultural friendships are much more difficult to form than friendships just across “racial lines.” But, they are so important and we are called to seek them out as Christians. We have Christ as our example in this– sharing a meal (being in community/relationship) with prostitutes and tax collectors. Christ tells us the greatest commandment: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself (and who is your neighbor? look to the parable of the Good Samaritan to see that — people across our cultural and racial lines). We also have the call of the Great Commission, which certainly includes those of different cultures without Christ in our own home country. We share the Gospel most winsomely when we are in relationship with someone, knowing and loving them.

    Being in relationship with and truly loving people who do not share our culture is incredibly difficult, but God has commanded it and we must trust him to enable us to obey. It’s great that you are asking how to practically do this and what it might look like. I hope some others here can offer answers or resources. I would encourage you to pray about how you might be called to love cross-culturally in the place you are now. If you’re interested in reading more about the kind of cross-cultural issues you’ve raised, might I suggest you check out some of Dr. Christena Cleveland’s writing: http://www.christenacleveland.com/
    She is a Christian and a social psychologist.

    I would also like for you to know, as a person who does have friends living in public housing, that there are many, many godly people who are both poor and black, who share the same exact values you cite (some of them may even wear diamond earrings and tilt their caps to the side all while honoring God). We are called to love them as brothers and sisters, and we are also called to love people who do not honor God with their behavior as image-bearers of God.

  10. Jake says:

    Jose,

    Is your point that you don’t have black friends that “speak Ebonics, and they don’t allow their children to wear hats sideways, diamond ear studs, pants 6″ below the waist, tennis shoes untied”? Is your contention that people shouldn’t pursue friendships with those that do those things?

  11. KG says:

    @Jose,
    You have a very American point of view on this, but I am not sure that it is in line with the kingdom of God.
    You seem to imply that we are to ignore/not seek friendships with/avoid people who grow up in “ghetto” environments with “ghetto” values and issues.
    That fits well into the American ideals of move to “good” neighborhoods, with “good” schools, and have “nice people” as your friends.
    That does not seem to be the call of the cross. Jesus was known for being too friendly with “drunks and sinners”. They thought he was one just because that was who he spent so much time associating with them. When he was asked to define who is your neighbor, he told the parable of the Good Samaritan. The person in the story was the person from a completely different culture, with shady values, and pagan cultural practices.
    It is easier to become friends with people of other races or ethnic backgrounds who share the same values, follow the same Christ, and are no threat to your families well being. It is a much different call to intentionally befriend those who are different. Your comments clearly implied that you didn’t think this is beneficial.

  12. Mike says:

    I’m bailing. I’ll die on other hills. This is a lose lose situation for creepy crackas like me.

  13. KG, my own feeling would be that I think God has called special people to take the living gospel of Jesus into dangerous places. However, I don’t believe families should feel burdened to do so. Preferably, it should be single young men.

  14. So, I am not sure this hits on the necessary points. Part of the problem is that we have enforced legal actions which directly target the culture of poor blacks. Whatever your moral opinions may be about drugs, no one deserves to be locked up for five years for drug possession — and that is a minimum sentence if you own sufficient quantities.

    I put together a historical review of how we got to where we are, and Christians need to see it, honestly. Please check it out and spread the information.

    wp.me/p31dyu-ez

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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