Bringing Grace to the Issue of Race: 4 Guideposts for White Christians
(This post was originally published on March 27, 2018. In light of the recent deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, I decided to highlight this post once again by republishing. I believe it’s just as timely for today.)
Anyone with an ear toward current events can feel it—race concerns are still raw and real in our country. Opinions abound on every side of the issue, and at all points in between. Sometimes, as a white person, I’m not quite sure how to respond. And so the temptation is always there to simply shrug my shoulders and do nothing at all.
In recent years, God’s been pushing me to see how that response is a personal failure. A failure to listen. A failure to care. A failure to love.
So I’ve been on a journey–a journey to leave “colorblindness” behind and start engaging the uncomfortable issue of race. (If you want to hear more about that journey, you can read about it here. ) What I’ve learned, above all, is that it’s one thing to say you believe in racial equality: It’s another thing to actually open your eyes and see the work that still needs to be done.
In this post, I’m sharing the things that have helped me, as a white woman, “see” better when it comes to race. But at the outset, I want to say this: I’m not an expert. I still have so much to learn. I do know this, though: It only takes one step to get started. And if you feel uncomfortable and scared and worried what people might think—well, you’re probably headed in the right direction.
Listening. Learning. Lament. And Love.
These “4 Ls” have helped me make sense of what I’m seeing in the news, reading on Facebook, and hearing about in books and articles concerning race. They’ve helped me get “unstuck” from politics or personal reaction, and to see that, above all, this is an issue of faith. A way to be more like Jesus. In the Book of Common Prayer, I recently read this beautiful petition: “Lord, give us a good start : and the grace never to give up.”
My prayer is that these “4 Ls” will give you a place to start. And that safe in God’s grace, you’ll continue to move forward.
How often do you hear perspectives/voices of people who live in a different skin color than you? Do you hear sermons from them? Read books by them? Engage in meaningful conversations with them? I know, this can be very hard to do in communities that are predominantly white.
But it’s mighty hard to listen if you’re never in the presence of diverse voices.
Here are a few of the resources I’d recommend for those seeking to hear new perspectives about race:
- Be the Bridge Facebook group: A great resource for hearing news and perspectives from Christians of color around the country. (Note: this is a place where, even after a couple of years, I still haven’t posted anything. I’m there to listen.)
- Local diversity groups. I found some doing a simple Google search of “diversity groups in _______” (my city). Subscribing to their Facebook pages and email newsletters helps me hear about diversity events/issues arising right in my own community.
- The Witness blog – This organization is self-described as a “Black Christian Collective” and I appreciate that it comes from a Reformed perspective. I check out their blog from time to time and gain great insight into how many of my brothers and sisters of color feel about current events.
- Pass the Mic is the podcast for The Witness. I especially enjoyed some of their earliest episodes: “Defining Systemic Racism,” “Defining Implicit Bias,” “Defining White Privilege,” and “How to Be a White Ally.” These would provide a great primer for understanding some of the current concerns about race.
- Watch Blackish, a TV sitcom currently airing on ABC at 9 (Eastern). This might be one of the “funnest” ways to hear new perspectives about race. It’s a comedy, yes. But it’s also very cleverly providing an eye-opening commentary about current social events, and particularly the experiences of many black families in our country.
A few words of caution:
- Be careful. Not every person of color wants to talk about these issues, and no one person can be a token representative for their race. Be sensitive, and above all, just try to love people on a personal level.
- Check your urge to explain away what you hear. Or make excuses. Or get defensive. I had to check these knee-jerk reactions all the time. This isn’t about coming to agreement on every point and premise: It’s about hearing the heart of what people are saying.
- Pray for ears to hear. The race issue has been incredibly clouded by politics. But a clearer picture emerges when I look at it through the eyes of faith: Ask God’s Spirit to lead you in this journey. Ask him to help you hear the Truth, no matter what political party or perspective it may come from.
- Check the urge to do something right away. Listening is doing something.
On this journey toward better racial understanding, I’ve learned so many new things! There’s so much I didn’t know that I didn’t know. Implicit bias. White Allies. Privilege—these are just a few of the new terms that have found their way into my vocabulary. I’m not going to write about all that knowledge here: There are plenty of others, far more insightful than me, already doing this important work. What I will do is ask: How much do you really know about our country’s history of racial bias, beyond slavery? Of the way the idea of race developed in the first place? How familiar are you with terms like implicit bias, white culture, white privilege, systemic racism, and redlining? Even if you don’t agree with the premise of every term, I think it’s helpful to learn what they mean and how people are using them in dialogues about race. Taking an honest look at the history of race can help us avoid repeating the mistakes of the past–and give us a better understanding for moving forward. Yes, it’s a hard education—the story of white supremacy is ugly and harsh. But I am thankful to God for learning it, because it’s also helping me to see His healing work—past and present. A few resources to help you learn:
- If you are just getting started, I recommend “Be the Bridge 101.” It’s a 19-page guide that will take you through basic terminology and get you thinking about racial issues from a Christian perspective. It’s published by Be the Bridge, a Christian organization working toward racial reconciliation in the US, and can be accessed here. This document also offers several other great sources of info you can check out to learn morel
- Implicit Bias Test. https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/education.html): This test will help you learn about yourself. Does your sub-conscious align with your beliefs? This project and text explores that question.
- I found this documentary by PBS to be a very helpful look at understanding the history of race in the US.
- There are so many great books that dive into the issue. I put together my own reading list in another post for those of you who learn well by reading.
And a few words of caution:
- You may encounter ideas in your reading that you suspect, or just don’t agree with. I encourage you to keep at it anyway. Look for the common ground, the places where you can support the argument or cause. This is how we move forward with grace.
- You will be tempted to forget about all this: To set aside your good intentions and return to blissful ignorance. This fight for knowledge isn’t for the faint of heart. Resist the urge. If God’s calling you to this task, ask Him for the stamina to keep at it.
- You may find yourself grieving, feeling a sense of heaviness or loss. That’s okay. You don’t need to hide it or resist it. It’s part of the journey.
I’m thankful to Daniel Hill’s book, White Awake, for introducing me to the concept of lament as it relates to the work of racial reconciliation. It gave me language to make sense of what was happening in my spirit as I learned more about the ugly roots of white supremacy in our history, and its lingering effects. The learning has been hard. Life was much easier and sweeter when I was unaware. But it was an illusion. Letting go of that illusion is painful, yes: I can only imagine how much more devastating it is for those who never had an illusion to begin with. Hill writes in his book that “Lament is a beautiful and needed resource because it has a unique way of remaining awake to sorrow without succumbing to it. Lament allows us to grieve injustice but not fall into despair.” So as I become aware, I lament.
- I lament the years where I was blind to racial injustice, and how it put up walls around me.
- I lament the evils and indignities that people have inflicted on each other throughout history, simply because of their skin color.
- I lament how many of these things were—and are—done in Jesus’ name.
- I lament that I have brothers and sisters in Christ—and a daughter by adoption—who are not always treated with the dignity and worth God has given them, because of their skin color.
Lament has been a space where I can grieve what I’ve done in ignorance and where I can acknowledge the sins of history instead of whitewashing them. It’s where I find solidarity with others. Where I experience new layers to my faith, new work in my sinful heart. There’s been such a strong temptation to start “doing” as I’ve learned about racial inequality. And certainly, there’s a time for action, for speaking truth. But I’ve been checked time and again by God’s Spirit and by the wisdom of others: Don’t rush too quickly to doing. Take time to truly acknowledge the sin in all this—to lament what racism has done not only to individuals, but to the Body of Christ.
I wasn’t really sure whether to list this: Should Love be the first “L” or the last? Of course, it is both. Because God is love. And God goes with us on every journey He calls us to take. Race doesn’t have to be the politically charged, divisive issue that our country has turned it into. Not for those of us who walk hand-in-hand with Love: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.) It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Cor. 13:5-8) There’s really no way to improve upon these words. They spell out quite clearly what it looks like to bring love to the table, even when you’re facing a difficult issue. And conversations about race can be so difficult, so uncomfortable. We don’t always agree with other’s perspectives, or their proposed solutions, or even their proposed problems.
But we aren’t called to be right. We are called to love.
So bring the qualities of Love to the table. Patience. Kindness, Humility. Honor of others. Service. Forgiveness. If we weave them into our listening, our learning, and our lament, then I believe God will use them to bear fruit. At the end of the day, this isn’t about liberal or conservative. Democrat or Republican. “Awake” or not. It’s about love. It’s about listening to all God’s people. An it’s about loving God and his Church enough to do this work of bringing grace to the important conversation of racial reconciliation. “Lord, give us a good start : and the grace never to give up.”
[…] like to hear more concrete ways to engage the issue of race as a Christian, you can read about that here. I’m just taking little steps, but I’m hoping that sharing my own experiences might help […]
So good! To listen! great point!
Well said, Amy! Thanks for the abundance of resources–I’ll be checking them out!