You can’t love someone you don’t understand.
It seems simple enough. If you want to have the “same care” for a fellow brother or sister in Christ, you have to ask questions about their unique challenges and experiences of suffering (1 Corinthians 12:25). The problem, of course, is that our default attitude in relationships is not to ask good questions or patiently listen to the answer. Our default attitude is to privilege our own experience by assuming it is similar to everyone else’s experience. We think we’re loving our neighbor, but we’re really loving a projected image of ourselves.
When that happens in the church, it quickly undermines authentic community. Best case scenario, we miss opportunities to share the love of Christ. Worst case scenario, people leave because they don’t feel known or understood. The risk is particularly great when it comes to demonstrating the “same care” toward ethnic minorities in our congregation. Most of us haven’t experienced what they’ve experienced and never will. We need to take time, especially in the context of personal relationships, to slow down and listen.
God was kind to help us take a step in that direction two Sundays ago during our first Every Tribe & Tongue Roundtable. I look a few minutes to establish a biblical foundation for race in the church and then interviewed a panel of four African-Americans about their experience in our congregation and American society at large. We ended the evening by answering written questions from the audience. Personal highlights included:
The humble honesty all our panelists demonstrated in helping us understand their racial suffering without locating their identity in racial suffering
Hearing racism explained as a sin issue and why the gospel solves the sin issue without erasing our ethnic differences
Learning how to be a faithful friend to our minority brothers and sisters when racial tensions are swirling in the headlines
Understanding the combination of deep respect for law enforcement in our community as well as deep sorrow (and fear) when another unarmed black man is shot by the police
Listening to the thoughtful questions my fellow church members asked when given the opportunity
The last point in particular strengthened my confidence that the conversation we started last Sunday can continue in a way that builds our unity as a congregation.
From watching the response of many of you and hearing the questions asked, it was clear that many in our congregation were impacted as well. Below is some of the feedback we received:
“Having some long-standing questions answered by the members of the panel was so very helpful and gave me a lot to consider. The content was everyday-life-applicable. I felt like the transparent format really helped to bring down invisible walls that tend to exist around differences. Learning about someone else’s background, culture and race opened my eyes to a perspective I haven’t had the chance to hear on such a personal level.”
“I was heartbroken to hear about how much racism regularly affects our brothers and sisters and their children. What was even more difficult to swallow was that I was so surprised because I never reached out to ask about their life experiences in this area. I walked away from the roundtable with a fresh motivation to do my part in fighting this sin alongside them.”
“As a white woman, there was much that the panelists spoke of that I didn’t even have a category for. Now I do. I feel like I can live in better relationship with those who are different than me because we are now able to fellowship and share one another’s sorrows and burdens because they were willing to be so open.”
May the Lord keep building our church in a way that reflects the diverse splendor of his glory!