Peace Family, over the last few years, as our culture has become increasingly aware and violent about racial tensions, I’ve thought many times of writing a blog about racial reconciliation. I haven’t done it, not because it isn’t important, but because it is a topic that is so overwhelmingly fraught with emotions and differing opinions (I mean, people even argue about the “correct” words to use). It can be very overwhelming! But isn’t it usually Satan who wants us to feel hopeless? It makes me feel like we ought to press into our issues, and press into God, even if we do need to take some breaks every once in a while to catch our breath. In my opinion, some of the lack of perspective when it comes to race can only be attributed to spiritual blindness and our own sin, on all sides. (And you don’t have to agree with everything that I say here, but I feel like it’s important to get the ball rolling.)
God has recently been working some healing in my own heart through honest, private, online dialogue with a friend of mine who is in my same season of life. She is a dedicated believer, a tender thinker, and also a single woman. She is black, and if you are unaware (after all, I work in radio, not tv), I’m white. (For the sake of this blog, I am just going to call us “black” and “white,” typed in that way, because those are the simple terms that my friend and I use.) I don’t know what it feels like to be a black person, so this blog is going to be more from a white perspective. But I do know what it feels like to be a human in need of the grace of God, and in need of God’s healing, and that is all of us, no matter where our skin color falls on society’s spectrum.
Our God is a miracle worker, and he has been doing seemingly impossible things for all of time. If any place should be safe for people of multiple cultures to miraculously work out our differences, it should be the church! We need to offer safe relationships where others can truly express what they feel and perceive without us shutting them down, and where we can truly express what we feel and perceive without being shut down. I’m no expert, and I don’t have all the answers, but I feel like seeking and providing safe relationships is truly going to be one of our greatest weapons in trying to unite God’s body across racial divides.
As my friend and I hammered out some ideas for encouraging racial reconciliation in the U.S., we came back to relationships over and over. I’m not talking about shallow friendships where you say, “Oh, I’m friends with So-And-So (another race), so I’m covered.” I’m talking about sticking your neck out, choosing to share life with someone from another culture, and authentically loving them. All relationships are risky, and costly, but they can also be life-changing, refreshing, informative, and precious. Don’t miss out. Seek out friendships with people of other cultures, and allow God to equip you as you choose to go deeper than you have before.
As believers in Christ, God has equipped us with several other weapons for combating racial division. One is forgiveness. Both sides struggle with forgiving the other side, and both sides have a need to be forgiven- they have both done and continue to do things that are hurtful to the other side. A lot of us probably even need to forgive our own color of people for the ways we have felt personally hurt or disappointed by our culture, or by the ways that we see our own people hurting other cultures. We can’t allow bitterness to block us from offering forgiveness.
A side note, to protect ourselves from bitterness: As believers, let’s also focus on what other true believers are saying. The world doesn’t have the love of Christ, and they are going to do and say hurtful things, no matter what. For example, I have had people of another color, who were strangers, verbally threaten to kill me in conjunction with physical intimidation, on several occasions, and a member of my family was raped by a stranger of another color, who got away with it- you’ve probably had similar experiences, or know someone who did- and not only do I highly doubt they were believers, but I don’t need to hold any whole group of people (as opposed to individuals) responsible for those experiences. I know there are things that I need to forgive people of other colors for saying to or about me, or actions they have done to me, and you surely do, too. However, I need to be vigilant not to categorize every ugly thing I hear as truly everyone of that color’s opinion. I also need to recognize that anger is generally a mask for hurt, and respond to that hurt instead of reacting in a negative way. I have a friend who once posted on Facebook, after a police killing of a black man, that she wished that God had never made white people, because everything would have been easier for everyone else if white people had never existed. My friend (who is a believer), was hurting, feeling vulnerable, and being honest, and I accepted her in her place of hurt. I didn’t attack her, and we actually never even discussed it, but I prayed for her. The devil whispers (and sometimes shouts) garbage to all of us. We need to be able to recognize his lies and ask ourselves, “Is the belief I am holding, really in line with what God thinks and says about other people, or about me?”
This ties into humility and honesty, two other weapons in our arsenals. Even someone who loves you and wants to treat you with love, is going to fail you at times; the only one who loves perfectly, is God. None of us has all of the answers, and all of us have to depend on God. No matter what color you are, no matter your good intentions, if you’re honest with yourself, you (and I) are going to say some ignorant and/or hurtful things from time to time. However, we can’t allow fear to stop us from working through things in authenticity and humility. Remember that no one is perfect, not you, and not the friend from another culture who is interacting with you.
Another weapon against the devil’s plans for racial division, is listening, genuine listening. Take turns and give opportunities for each person to talk without being interrupted. Use a timer like they do during discussion time at Celebrate Recovery, if that helps. If you don’t understand something, ask, and try to ask in a way that is not accusatory. I have been in racial discussions before where someone asked me a question, and then when I gave an honest answer, they attacked me; it felt like a trap, that they were angry and actually just wanted someone to disagree with. So often, we do not know how to attack an idea that we disagree with, without attacking the person. Let’s work together on that. Have grace for people, and give them the benefit of the doubt. Try to genuinely understand their perspective and why they have it, even if you don’t necessarily agree, and be patient. I can think of several times where a friend and I disagreed about a topic (including a racial topic), and the more I thought about it, I realized that he or she was right. By going back to my friends and saying, “You know what? You were right about such and such,” I validated them.
Now, a caveat on listening: I’m NOT saying to just dive right into an emotionally-charged, controversial argument about Freddie Gray or “Black Lives Matter” versus “All Lives Matter” (both of which are loaded terms to opposing sides.) If you are just beginning your relationship with someone from another culture, start by learning about them personally and loving them. Talk with each other about what race looked like in your home, and your personal experiences, and have patience for your friend who had a different experience. Learn about each other, and establish your love and loyalty to each other. There will be time for those more deeply painful discussions later, but it’s important to establish the love that you have for each other first, and be patient with one another.
I’m also not saying you should simply agree with everything that your friend or the other side says. If you and your friend of another color genuinely want to learn about the other side, then you are doing a disservice by hiding your thoughts and feelings, or by failing to provide a safe place for your friend to share without feeling silenced, immediately refuted (even if it’s well-meaning), or even teased. If it’s a group discussion, this includes attacking people of your own color who don’t seem to be on board with you, or who are not living out their racial identity as you see fit (I have personally seen this being done by both white and black people.) Does God’s grace cover that person? Absolutely. Surely we can have grace for them, too. Sometimes honesty is uncomfortable, and in a loving, Christ-centered relationship, that needs to be okay.
Finally, and in response to listening, examine your life. No matter what color your skin is, ask yourself if and how you are living out God’s love for people of other colors, and areas where you might have blind spots. Do you make jokes that are dishonoring of other people groups (or the other sex?) Do you go along with ways that you see others of your own group dishonor, hurt, disadvantage, or spread lies or anger about other groups? Do you feel like you have an understanding of your friend’s cultural perspective without discussing it with them, to the extent that you might be unintentionally thwarting your own ability to listen to your friend? Don’t be afraid to ask your friends of another color how you can make them feel more supported, and then do it. Pray and ask God to give you his perspective. We know from the Bible what it looks like to love other people. It’s important to remember that like any relationship, working out God’s love in our cross-cultural relationships is a growth process, not a once-and-done kind of deal.
Besides remembering that God gives us these tools, my challenge if you’re wanting to get started with a cross-cultural relationship, is to share a meal with someone of another color as soon as possible. There’s something especially bonding about sharing a meal, particularly if you share them consistently. When is the last time that you had a friend from a different culture over for dinner in your home? Since the greatest racial tension seems to be between black and white people, if you are from either of those groups, when was the last time that you had someone from the specific, other group in your home for dinner? Make that your goal over the next two weeks, or until you succeed. Read articles and watch videos that you might not agree with, and prayerfully consider their viewpoints, if not to agree, then to at least understand. Learn how to authentically love the other side, and pray for them, for healing in their culture, and for healing in our culture at large. If you don’t have any friends from outside of your culture, now’s the time to get some! Reach out to the acquaintances who are already in your life. Visit a worship service at a church that is a different culture from your own, or try any new interest group where you might meet some new people (you will already be starting out with at least one common interest, so that’s something positive to talk about.) You can even make friends with random people at the grocery store (to readers elsewhere, I don’t know how it is everywhere, but at least in Texas, I have been able to do that.) Be intentional with your friendships. You will learn new things about God, and how his beauty is expressed through his body.
If you read this blog all the way to the bottom, thank you. This is probably the longest blog I’ve ever written, and I’ve only scratched the surface, but these are important things to think about. If racial division weren’t a problem, then we wouldn’t be having all of this obvious violence and fear.
I don’t have all of the answers for solving a division as big as America’s need for racial reconciliation, but I know a God who does. I know that we can embrace freedom through Christ, no matter what the issue is where we need breakthrough. I know from the Bible that in Heaven, you will be able to tell different races and cultures apart from each other. This means that God acknowledges and values our racial differences, and His glory is increased through them. Let’s glorify God in our cross-cultural relationships, and make an effort to get to know and serve God better through them. As we choose to work through our racial issues, let’s trust God that he can handle our racial brokenness. Our hope is in Him!