It is difficult to overcome barriers - racial, religious, and ideological. We generally want to be validated – to hear things that support our feelings and worldview. This is even more true when accompanied by deep and enduring hurts.
Recently, I challenged a dear brother who is involved in Jewish evangelism. In his newsletter, he wrote:
- Antisemitism has one cause – Satan.
- Understandably, you do not want to blame the victim or give additional ammo to the anti-Semite. Nor do we want to give needless offense to the Jewish community and to further alienate them from the Gospel by suggesting that they have played a role in bringing misfortune upon themselves. Nevertheless, we cannot leave out the fact that the Jews have been in rebellion to their God to this very day, and this rebellion has removed God’s protection and left them vulnerable to Satan.
I argued that we cannot leave this important factor of repentance out. The Prophets of Israel certainly didn’t. To leave out the need for Israel’s repentance is also to leave out God’s plea to the Jewish people to return and be healed. Ultimately, to leave this out is to leave them in a state of alienation from their God.
I don’t think that he appreciated my response. Nor would the Jewish people! No one wants to hear censure. I can even hear my mother saying, “We’ve suffered enough!”
But what does it mean to love? To tell people what they want to hear or what they need to hear? A dear Christian sister, who has devoted herself to the needs of disenfranchised youth, mostly of color, explained how she was able to meaningfully enter into their lives through listening and empathizing, and I commended her for this.
She related a story of her taking her youth group to the white residential area where she had grown up. She was understandably horrified when a white person asked them what they were doing there. The youth also were deeply hurt. At this point, what would love require of her? To affirm their worldview:
- That African Americans remain victims of a racist exclusionary system built on white privilege, or…
- That this nation has made tremendous strides. There are no longer any Jim Crow laws. All are guaranteed equal rights and equal access to the courts, elected office, the vote, and education. However, racial stereotypes remain in the hearts of many on BOTH sides of the divide, for understandable and also sinful reasons. Therefore, we all must examine ourselves, the way we see things, and the things that we might be doing to perpetuate the divide. We must all take responsibility to repent of our own sins and to walk in love. With the help of God, we are not merely victims, but individuals with dignity who can make a difference.
Which course should the sister have taken? Should she have reinforced the worldview of the youths that they are still victims and are purposely being excluded from American society – a worldview which would inevitably provoke their anger and hostility? Or should she have challenged this worldview with a more productive and possibly more accurate perspective? Should she have said:
- This has to be painful, but most whites are no longer that way. We should even try to understand the concerns of the ones who do discriminate. Many whites are aware of the hate directed towards them by African Americans. They are also aware that they have become victims of black-on-white-crimes, which far exceed white-on-black crimes. They are also aware of the many white women who have been sexually assaulted by black men. Meanwhile, there are hardly any white men raping black women.
This is probably not what her youth would have wanted to hear, but it might have been what they needed to hear. Scripture warns us that:
- Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. (James 1:19-21)
What will win respect for the African American? What will bestow dignity upon them? Not hatred, not anger, not unforgiveness, but patience when wronged:
- For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. (1 Peter 2:19-21)
This applies to all of us! It also pertains to the white shopkeeper when African American youth enter his store. For Christ’s sake, he must greet them as fellow human beings, bearing the image of God and not the image of a potential thief. He must treat them with the dignity, for love “is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs… It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:5-7)
However, this isn’t even my primary concern. Instead, I am deeply grieved at how the embrace of the first worldview – the victimization narrative – has impacted the Body of Christ with anger, alienation, and a deep distrust for people of other races. Likewise, I am disturbed by any narrative that separates us.
I grieve for the church - its wounds, divisions, mutual suspicions - the walls we build. I too have been hurt and have built my walls! However, it is through unity in this Body that we can tear down the walls and impact the world for Christ, as Jesus prayed:
· "My prayer is… that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:20-23)
Love and unity are not options. As His children, we must pursue these! If we are not pursuing love, we are not pursuing our Savior!
I long to see us touching the lives of one another in love for the sake of Christ, even for the sake of this blind world, so that they might know our Savior. But how inadequate we are! Let us pray that the Lord will equip us with His love unto love!