When I was a child, and far before I was a Christian, the biggest prayer I ever made to God was to make me white. “Why?” you may ask?
Frankly, I didn’t like being a little black girl.
None of my favorite movie heroes were black and neither were the most popular celebrities. Black people weren’t making the annual “100 Sexiest People” lists. (No, number 99 does not count.) To my childhood mind, black people, by and large, seemed like nobodies. I didn’t want to grow up to be a nobody. I wanted to be heroic. I wanted to be attractive. I wanted to matter! I believed that if God were to miraculously make me white, I would somehow feel better about being myself. Though I now laugh when I think about that prayer, I distinctly remember the sinking disappointment of mornings when I woke up feeling "the same." I didn’t want to open my eyes and find that I was really going to have to go another day being black.
My childhood insecurities may be laugh-worthy, but if recent racial-related news is telling us anything, it’s that, for blacks living within white culture, black insecurity seems to be a fairly common experience. And maybe the insecurity isn’t entirely about being black. Maybe it’s more about one's blackness being a reason to feel insecure in a predominantly white culture: to feel worried about safety, concerned about fair treatment or even apprehensive about receiving empathy from fellow humans over common experiences.
While the black community was grieving lost lives and reacting emotionally to difficult, sudden and very personal tragedies, the media, wider culture and even members of the church responded with a list of reasons why that emotional reaction was too extreme. Rather than respond with comfort, the public far too slowly acknowledged that a life had been lost and that news matters.
This response instigated the sweeping popularity of hashtags such as #blacklivesmatter and #icantbreathe. These battle cries should be heartbreaking to the church. It’s devastating that this many people feel the need to prove to anyone that their lives matter. In their grief, they desperately repeat the last words of a dying man because they don’t believe anybody is listening.
As our church discusses racial reconciliation every January, we have a significant opportunity to step into these issues and think about the role we can play. We have a huge opportunity to “weep with those who weep,” to “live in harmony with one another” and to work toward the picture of the kingdom to come, a people made up of every tribe, tongue and nation, worshiping the Lord together for eternity.
In thinking through this topic, here are three ways that we might respond:
Ask the Lord for help overcoming the barriers of race. If you’ve only embraced deep fellowship with people similar to you and you’ve neglected the significantly harder work of pushing past cultural barriers to invest in equally deep friendships with people of other cultures, ask the Lord for forgiveness. Ask the Lord to give you a heart that empathizes with others who bear His image.
2. Look for Common Ground
As fellow human beings, what unites us is greater than what divides us. There’s nothing wrong with questions about differences. They often lead to funny or memorable conversations. But, over time, habitual “difference” questions make friendships hard to grow. Yes, we have differences, but deep relationships are built on what is shared.
3. Go the Extra Mile
In John 13, Jesus gives us a “new” commandment to love one other. If loving one another were simple, it wouldn’t require a command. If we don’t work hard to meet each other halfway and, even more, go the extra mile, even when a person may seem uninterested or distanced, friendships will never take place. There are many who are struggling to connect and who believe that the majority culture doesn’t value their lives. We must war against that and strive to let our brothers and sisters know that they are worth the effort to befriend.
Brothers and sisters, the way we love each other is one of the biggest ways the world will see Jesus. So let them see His loving kindness through our efforts at racial reconciliation. Let us love one another as He commanded; the world is watching.