It's no secret that racial tensions in this country are the highest they've been in many years. The different high profile shootings of black men and of police officers have raised tensions to extreme levels and both black and white Christians are trying to understand how they should respond.
It's clear that Christians should have a response. Christianity holds to a very clearly defined moral understanding of the nature of human beings as ones who reflect God's image, and the sanctity of life. Both issues are central to this crisis. Further, Christianity has always taught that differences of race, culture, sex, or socio-economic backgrounds matter little in the inherent worth of an individual (Gal. 3:28, 1 Cor 12:12-13).
I've previously written that the church should be the place where blacks can turn in their pain and fear. How we as Christians can reach out to our community and begin to promote healing is a little tougher question. Recently, I was able to attend an event hosted by Sandals Church and Pastor Matt Brown entitled "A Real Conversation About Race and the Church" that brought together several black pastors as well as law enforcement and local government officials to talk about the role of Christians in bridging the divide that seems to grow wider with each news cycle.
Stop Asserting Your IndividualityOne of the more common themes mentioned by the participants throughout the evening was that of humility. Pastor Jonathan Bilima of Relevant Church told of how he would intentionally reach out to others in his community by not exercising his preferences or his freedoms, but by trying to present an atmosphere where others would be more comfortable. He said even in his church services, he would prefer more musical styles associated with traditionally black churches, he chose to "turn down a little bit of my identity in order to bridge the gap of ignorance."
I think Pastor Bilima put his finger on a key factor in reconciliation and healing. As Christians we have an amazing amount of freedom to worship and live. However, if we elevate those freedoms to be primary over the needs of another, we sin. The Corinthian church had the freedom to eat meat sacrificed to idols, as that's pretty much the only meat one could buy. The Apostle Paul understood that those idols were not real gods and told them they could do so. However, he added that if their freedom to eat the meat might stumble another, they should spit it out of their mouths. He wrote "Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved" (1 Cor. 10:31-33).
The Ultimate Model of HumilityJesus modeled such humility more than anyone else. He didn't regard equality with God something to be grasped, but he humbled himself so much that he submitted to his own torture and death in order to save those who were doing the torturing and killing. He understood that placing the needs of those who were in the wrong above his rights was the only way to reach them and heal them. This is the model we as Christians are called to follow.
Certainly, the pursuit of justice is important. I do not believe we as citizens should dismiss wrongdoing. However, that doesn't mean as Christians when engaging others in conversation, even in conversations online, we should begin our conversation with calls to justice. Perhaps beginning with calls for understanding and empathy would be better. Empathizing is a great way to build real relationships because it tells the other person you value their feelings and experiences. It is one way each of us can make a difference in the lives of those who see things differently from us. It is one way we can draw each other closer to Christ instead of drawing distinctions.
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