Mar

29

2013

Thabiti Anyabwile|2:33 pm CT

Once More Into the Breach: Pushing Toward Reconciliation

I suspected that when the conversation regarding Black and Tan turned to specific citations of racial insensitivity (which I obligated myself to make in the conclusion of the first post), things might actually get more difficult. Such allegations create fever. Understandably so. When these things are alleged we naturally feel that more ground is at risk, and often it is. And there’s the heightened temptation to either attack with the allegations or to be defensive in hearing them. The flesh may be involved in the anger of the accuser or the pride of the accused. Precisely at these times we need the most patient effort and the grittiest stick-to-it-ness. We’ll either fold or double down.

But if we’re in it for genuine reconciliation and understanding, we find ourselves called upon to attack the citadel once again, even if it means filling the breach with our dead. Wilson rightly says that the discussion is “harder than it looks,” a fact I’m praying all the onlookers will keep in mind as they watch us talk and offer their opinions. Surely we’re all closest to falling when we’re most self-confident and self-assured (1 Cor. 10:12).

But risks taken to achieve understanding, reconciliation, and peace are worth it even if they’re “deadly” to us. I waivered for some time about whether to post a response to Wilson’s “Harder Than It Looks,” a reply to my charges of racial insensitivity. Three drafts later, two things have led me to this post: (1) offers of apology require response and (2) the duties of love.

Wilson is absolutely correct when he writes:

“Real racial reconciliation is not a game, and so if we want it, we have to stop playing games. We have to be willing to have conversations in which everybody says what they actually think, and where we all stay at the table after we have said it. That’s what love actually looks like.” (emphasis added)

It’s so easy to smash mouths, step on toes, and give people the remaining piece of our minds then peacock strut our way from the table, congratulating ourselves all the way to our camp, where our friends await to join us in our self-congratulatory and self-righteous retelling of events. “You sure told ‘em!” sounds so good to the flesh.

But we’re after reconciliation, which implies genuine confession, genuine repentance and genuine forgiveness.

Now, to be completely honest, the last year has included a measure of the Lord’s chastening when it comes to my tendency to easily abandon relationships that prove difficult, especially distant relationships that don’t require regular accountability and love. I’ve been guilty of a passive approach to friendship and the last year has brought opportunities to relinquish that approach. While part of me wanted to move to the final summary post, another part, that part that knows the tendency of my flesh to not requite love, insisted that I “stay at the table” as Wilson put it. So here I am rushing into the breach crying, “God for Harry, England, and Saint George!”

I want, however, to limit myself to only what I think needs saying. And I must confess to some difficulty here because there’s so much I really want to say. I don’t think we’re to say everything we could say, for not everything that’s permissible is convenient. I trust that if we can remain focused on the needful we might have a conversation that, while it feels more intense on the one hand, will yield more fruit on the other. I’m praying to that end for us all.

In that spirit, let me offer three observations about Wilson’s comments in “Harder than It Looks” that, if addressed, would move us even farther down the road of reconciliation.

First, the apology follows prefacing comments that appear evasive and to shift blame.

Second, the apology follows defensive explanations where he essentially denies each instance of insensitivity.

Third, the apology gets caveated with references to those he thinks are “taking flops” over the very same comments I find offensive.

While I accept Wilson’s personal apology to me, these three problematic aspects of his post leave me wondering what he means when he refers to his “affront.”

Now, I’m very eager to avoid the appearance of a couple things. I’m not trying to say Wilson was insincere. I don’t know that. I’m not alleging that. Also, I’m not trying to hold Wilson hostage with some super-high and capricious standard for apologies. I realize that even writing these things can make me look like that perpetually-hurt, emotionally-manipulative person who is never satisfied. As best I know my own heart, that’s not what’s happening here. So, I’m neither questioning Wilson’s heart nor letting my own run renegade.

What am I trying to do then? I guess I’m trying to get to a couple things:

  1. Some clear sense as to whether Wilson thinks the comments I cited, his circumstantial explanations notwithstanding, were in any way insensitive along racial lines.
  2. If so, whether Wilson joyfully owns complete responsibility for those comments.
  3. If so, whether Wilson thinks repentance might include a more complete and specific apology along with written retraction of the insensitive things he believes he has written. (Bear in mind, I’m not asking him to retract an argument he thinks is true, but to retract and restate the way things have been said—much the same way he argues the way slavery was ended was wrong, not that its ending was wrong).

If it’s “yes” to all three, then I think we’ve come a long, long way and would only encourage Wilson to make a full apology and retract offensive statements without qualification and defense. It would be honoring to Christ to: address everyone involved; avoid “if,” “but” and “maybe”; admit specifically; acknowledge the hurt; accept the consequences; alter behavior; and ask for forgiveness (to borrow from Peacemaker Ministries).

If it’s “no” to one or more, then I’d like to know what I could do to help him see my perspective more fully. What have I not done that might give him a sense of things from within my shoes, and by extension the shoes of others who react similarly to his writing in Black and Tan?

In the final analysis, I’m not engaging all of this to either score intellectual points in arguments or to see a man cry mea culpa. My purpose is redemptive. It seems clear to me that a brother in the Lord, a brother with considerable gifts, finds himself embattled on every side and perhaps needs a way out. That way out and the way to greater usefulness for his Lord and mine involves repentance, confession, and forgiveness.

After re-reading all of our exchanges, I still believe we have a ways to go in the way of confession and repentance. Were Wilson to offer such, then I stand ready to make four promises (again, to borrow from Peacemaker Ministries):

  • I will not dwell on this incident;
  • I will not bring this incident up and use it against you;
  • I will not talk to others about this incident; and
  • I will not allow this incident to stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.

That, I believe, would be the heart of forgiveness and reconciliation. That’s what love looks like; love keeps no record of wrongs. But the wrongs have to be genuinely confessed and repented of.

With faith, hope and love, I’m staying at the table and hoping we don’t have to close the breach with our dead.

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