This August will mark 401 years since African slaves were first brought to America and traded with European settlers for money and food. Though slavery as an institution was abolished years ago, I don’t have to tell you that our nation still has a long, long way to go down the rocky path toward real racial reconciliation. The tragic events of the last week alone have shaken and rattled us all, as the death of George Floyd has become yet another symbol of our national brokenness.
If the body of Christ is to lead forward with grace and truth, against the backdrop of such pervasive pain and anger, then we better have a plan. What I’ve been pondering is not just a plan to apply within the context of our current racial disunity, but a plan that we might apply to whatever cultural crisis – at any given moment – that happens to be demanding the attention of the Church. Our attention is demanded because you and I have been called to care deeply and to respond wisely. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Friends, the only answer to that question, for the follower of Christ, is YES.
This is where it all starts. Our Lord made that clear. It’s what He has taught us, and what He has shown us. The way of peace can be very costly, but I’m so glad He paid the price.
Now, you and I are called to live as peacemakers and reconcilers. Jon Huckins and Jer Swigart write: “Everyday peacemakers are men and women who choose to see the humanity, dignity, and image of God in others and who understand the plight of the voiceless. We are people who choose to see our own biases, opinions, lies, and fears as well as our contributions to what is broken around us. We are men and women who acknowledge our blindness, understand what has contributed to it, and ask God to heal our sight.”
When people are being divided, whatever the particular issue is that seems to be causing the fracture, the roots of the conflict are often many. Particularly when we’re part of the majority culture, our natural tendency is to offer a solution. Don’t. At least not right off the bat.
Here’s what we must remember: we can’t empathize with someone who’s hurting if we’re trying to prove a point. That just doesn’t work. (And we don’t like it when people do it to us.) We must learn to listen well.
Listening demonstrates love, tangibly.
… weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). I can’t emphasize this one strongly enough. There’s another not-quite-as-old adage: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Truth. One of the things we ought to be doing right now is asking God to give us the compassion we need as we survey the landscape of this broken world all around us. Otherwise, without the fruit of Christ’s Spirit, you and I will become fearful, angry, and judgmental. And fast.
Let me offer an example, in our current context. When someone is grieving over white-on-black violence, that’s not the time to inject into the conversation a discourse on black-on-black violence. Let people grieve, and grieve with them. We want to be “incarnational” in our love for others: crawling into their pain whenever and however we can – the same way Jesus has loved us by crawling into our pain.
Let’s be honest: you and I don’t do “lament” easily. It makes us uncomfortable, as it should. We must have God’s grace in order to do this well.
You and I should be lifelong students.
Here’s just one example of why that matters. According to the latest research from Barna, a surprising number of respondents – across demographics – says they “don’t know” how the Church should respond to historical mistreatment of African Americans (26% overall). I think this simply points out that people are confused about what should be our appropriate response right now. Why wouldn’t we be confused? The issues are complex and, well, confusing. All the more reason why we should commit ourselves to doing everything we can to try to understand.
You may have to read some things which make you squirm, written by people with whom you disagree on multiple subjects. Read anyway. Stretch. Learn. I’ll simply remind you that true learning begins with humility.
You have a sphere of influence. I have a sphere of influence. And, together, we have a sphere of influence. As we gain understanding of the problem facing us, we gain the momentum we need to do something about it. We can really get engaged in creating a meaningful solution. And we can make a positive difference, all along the way, while we work toward seeing that solution come to fruition.
Even when we’re faced with a daunting task, there can be joy in the journey when we know that the car’s finally out of the garage. It’s downright fun to put the pedal to the metal, but it’s always best to know – before we punch that accelerator – that we’re headed in the right direction. That’s why “learning” must precede “leverage.”
We will not all choose to respond to the same crisis in the same way. Some will march in a peaceful protest – others will engage the issue differently. That’s O.K. Leave room for people to be people. But, whatever you do, choose to leverage your God-given energy and resources to help fix the problem. Try hard, and don’t grow weary trying. And don’t give up.
As God heals our sight inch by inch, you and I will be set free to love, and not just to love God – but to love our neighbor more deeply than ever before. I hope you find that a glorious thought.
So there you have six steps toward a brighter tomorrow – regardless of the cultural crisis – for your prayerful consideration. Perhaps most important: #1 and #6 are “Love.” It starts and ends with love. Let’s do it!