USA (MNN) — Marvel’s most recent superhero movie, Black Panther, is noted as marking a major milestone in the movie industry regarding race. And while racial reconciliation is a conversation that needs to happen, a lot of times people of the Church in the United States aren’t sure where to start.
The Elephant in The Room
Indeed, many of us have put up conversational fences. The saying might be, “Good fences make good neighbors,” but do they make good Christ followers? Well, considering Christ broke down cultural barriers, they might not.
But if building conversation fences has been a habit, you’re not alone. None of us can undo the days, months, or years those fences have stood, but we can start to deconstruct them today.
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s Carolyn Carney shares:
“For me, I would say that the first part is having awareness that there is a problem. You know, so if you’re not aware that there’s a problem, if you don’t recognize that there’s a problem then you’re never going to address it.”
Carney remembers a time when this awareness became intimate to her own identity.
“I met an African-American man who had my same last name. And it occurred to me that probably back in the past my ancestors could have oppressed his, because we shared the same last name, and knowing that African-Americans were given, were forced upon them the name of their slave owners,” Carney shares.
“So being aware of people’s pasts, their histories, where they may have come from, is I think the very first step we need to take.”
Where to Begin
A good place to start with this recognition is in the Church. It’s a common saying that 11 am on Sunday is the most segregated hour of the week. This segregation isn’t necessarily intentional, per say, but the Church in the United States has been lacking in diversity. It’s known that many churches tend to be mono-ethnic.
“There isn’t a celebration of diversity in church oftentimes. So, we think that we’re multi-ethnic or multi-racial or that we’re doing well in racial reconciliation when we have people of different colors in the room, but maybe we’re all singing Hillsong worship songs,” Carney explains.
“The way that we’re operating in our worship service is still a predominant style. So, I think we need help in the Church. I think there are things that we need to work on.”
Engaging With The Unfamiliar
One of the things we may need to work on, even though it’s hard to admit, is the plank in our own eyes. Carney attended a primarily African-American church in the city for four years. While there, she was able to experience a different style and culture of worship, and what it meant to be a minority in a church with 2,000 members.
“I remember talking with the pastor and one of the things that he said is that rarely does he see a situation where a white person would allow a spiritual authority over them to be a black person,” Carney recalls.
Did that statement feel offensive? If yes, then think about the “why” and acknowledge it. Because that acknowledgment is key in moving forward, deconstructing fences, and being a part of the reconciliation process.
“As a Church, if we’re able to be a minority in the situations we’re in and then operate in such a way where we can learn from people of other ethnicities, I think that will be a helpful way in moving us forward in racial reconciliation,” Carney shares.
Perhaps joining a church of a primarily different ethnicity or race isn’t exactly an option at the moment. In that case, Carney suggests reading. Get ahold of stories which tell events from a different point-of-view, like the Pulitzer award-winning book, “The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead. Another book Carney recommends is, “Beyond Colorblind” by Sarah Shin, which speaks to “redeeming our ethnic journey.”
Or, perhaps start with a shorter read, like Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Regardless of what you read, let it come alive and show a different angle of the ethnic and racial narrative.
Friends and Forgiveness
And when or if friendships with people from other races and ethnicities have already blossomed, don’t be afraid to hurt and be hurt. What is meant by this, Carney explains, is a willingness to speak openly, understand that mistakes will be made and there will be things said the other person finds offensive. But then learn together from those experiences.
“[Say] I’m willing to take the risk of making a mistake. I’m willing to take the risk of saying something stupid because the relationship that we’re building can carry the weight of that if there’s forgiveness that each of us shows to the other,” Carney explains.
Furthermore, exhibit a willingness to listen first, then respond with questions when there are opportunities to learn from people outside your culture.
Responding Like Christ
And if there’s still confusion as to what having an open and loving conversation about racial reconciliation looks like, look to Jesus. He truly is King over all nations and is the best example we have of what it means to listen and love individuals different from ourselves.
“It would be my hope that people could forge new relationships with people, with others who they think are different than them,” Carney shares.
“And in the forging of that relationship, both celebrate the difference and celebrate what’s very similar about our humanity. And really have new relationships that are enlightening, and that are challenging, and that teach us… to be more like Christ.”
So please, let’s pray. Let’s pray for our own hearts, for racial reconciliation in Church and in the USA, and for Christ’s love to be evident in the people proclaiming His name. Finally, pray that we would become the hands and feet of Jesus in this world, not the opposite.
InterVarsity has chapters on campuses where students can begin the process of joining the racial reconciliation conversation.
To find a chapter, click here!