Earlier today for my podcast, I spent almost an hour and a half talking with one of my high school classmates about one of the most difficult and polarizing topics in our culture today: race. And it's been something I've not been able to shake in the hours since we hung up.
In the evangelical circles, my observation is we typically respond to the issue of race one of three ways:
1. We pretend it doesn't exist - It's well intentioned, but we might find ourselves saying "I don't see color," or "We're past this, slavery and the Civil Rights Era are long past."
2. We are apathetic - It's not our problem. It doesn't affect our kids. It doesn't matter what happens in other communities or "in that part of town."
3. We are hostile - Sadly, there are still pockets in Christian circles that hold on to prejudicial attitudes toward minorities. And so there's outrage at kneeling, violence directed at demonstrations, or fiery rhetoric from our pulpits about troublemakers.
Guys. We can't keep ignoring this problem. Our country is divided. We can blame whatever or whoever we want. It's not their fault. It's not Trump's fault. It's not the Alt-Right's fault. It's not Kaepernick's fault. It's not Obama's fault. It's not Black Lives Matters' fault. It's much deeper than blame, it's part of our fabric and history.
Let me put today's conversation in this context. My friend I spent time listening to grew up in a predominantly white, middle-class community, he played D-1 scholarship football, he spent time in an NFL training camp, is a law school graduate who worked in corporate litigation. And over and over again he kept using the term "survival tactic" to share his experience being black in America in 2018.
As pastors and ministry leaders, it must start with us. The division of race in America in 2018 is more than a social problem (although it is), more than an education problem (although it is), more than any of those. No, it's deeper. It's a Gospel problem. Here's how:
When we read Genesis we see Adam & Eve placed in the Garden, there reflecting the image and likeness of God. In some way, they demonstrate a reflection of deity. Fast forward to Genesis 3 and the Fall corrupts everything, creation itself along with our relationships and the way we look at our neighbor. Out of that sparked the godless "curse of Ham" which was used in an evil way to justify the enslavement of millions, the genocide of entire peoples, and the attitude of white superiority through much of our nation's history.
The Gospel message doesn't end with a Fall, it continues with Redemption. And Redemption isn't just where we get salvation in heaven. Redemption is where what was broken is restored. And that's where racial reconciliation becomes a Gospel issue. Our communities are broken. Our nation is broken. Every week it feels like another young black man loses his life in an unjust moment. The plight of our neighbors is ignored even when their blood on the sidewalk cries for hope. The answer is Christ. But we have a role in the redemption of our broken world.
We Listen With Empathy - One of the best things we can do is talk with, and listen with empathy, our neighbors. Guys, when was the last time we listened with empathy to the women in our churches who feel undervalued, who feel like second class citizens? When was the last time we invited an African-American couple into our homes to allow them to tell us what their experiences have been like? And truly listened. Listening with empathy is not listen to respond. We listen to truly try to understand someone else's perspective.
We Partner in the Gospel - It's been famously said "Sunday morning at 11 is the most segregated hour in America." And there's a lot of truth to that. Jeremiah reminds us to seek the welfare of the city. Lostness isn't a white problem or a black problem. Lostness is everywhere. Lostness is more than lostness of soul, but lostness of opportunity, of education, of benevolence and goodwill. We can partner in the Gospel with our neighbors for the sake of our communities that Jesus might get glory in everything.
Guys, I'm not trying to fix everything. I'm just wrestling with an issue we cannot afford to ignore anymore. And we can't pretend it will go away. So let's lead the way in reconciliation to our neighbors who may not look like us on the outside, but are beautifully in the image of God.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.