On Navigating Racial Tension: Advice from an Unqualified Source
“Black lives matter!”
“All lives matter!”
“YOU are the problem!”
These days, I can’t scroll through any social media network without being reminded of the racial tension in the air. That’s not a bad thing, necessarily. We all need to be aware of what’s going on. It’s just that, as a blogger who is encouraged to address current events, one with a regularly occurring deadline, I feel more than a little bit of pressure to weigh in on the topic.
However, my pastor once said that having to say something is not the same thing as having something to say, and I couldn’t agree more. So, I keep asking myself, Do I have anything to say? and if I do, Who am I to say it?
Let’s start with the second question. Who am I?
Well, I’m a middle-aged, middle-class white woman who lives in a quiet suburban neighborhood where all ethnicities are fairly evenly represented—probably a little bit on the white side—but racial tension, if present, is not visible and doesn’t seem to affect the way that people interact with one another. Of course, I don’t know what to look for, really, as I’ve not been on the receiving end of any act of racial discrimination that couldn’t be explained away as something else in light of extenuating circumstances.
Blessed with the opportunity to do so, I have formed friendships over the years with people of all ethnicities, although I didn’t even realize that until a blog post I read challenged readers to make friends intentionally with people of other races. Taking the challenge to heart, I took mental inventory of my friend base to find the gaps and realized that I already had white, black, Asian, American Indian, and Hispanic friends. I just didn’t think of them that way. To me, they were just friends. Admittedly, there are some gaps in the line-up, so to speak, so I will be working on that—don’t worry—although do I wonder how people who know that they’re being befriended because of their race or ethnicity feel about it and truly hope that they won’t find my doing so to be just as offensive as someone’s avoiding them because of their race or ethnicity.
Now, I know that the description I just gave disqualifies me in the eyes of many to speak into the problem facing our nation, and that’s understandable.
However, I am a Christian. I know God, the Creator of all races. I belong to Him. The Spirit of His Son Jesus lives in my heart as a result of my having put my faith in Him for eternal salvation from the consequences of sin—just as His Spirit lives in the hearts of all who put their faith in Him, regardless of race or ethnicity. I may not be the right person to speak into our current crisis, but He most definitely is. As His ambassador, I am compelled—indebted—to proclaim the Truth found in His Word.
This being true, please allow me to share the Bible verse that He keeps bringing to my mind every time I think about the racial crisis and the manner in which those of us affected—that’s all of us—should conduct ourselves.
“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:19-20).
Good advice not only for those who belong to God, my brothers and sisters in Christ who share a common goal of glorifying God in all circumstances so that others might come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, but also for those who simply want to find peace and/or rest in the middle of this present strife and conflict.
“…Be quick to listen…” We humans tend to gravitate not only toward those who look and act like us, but also toward those who think like us. While it’s not necessary to agree with every opinion you hear, it is necessary to expose yourself to other opinions. Why?
- Because you might learn something, about yourself, about others, about a specific situation…about a lot of things.
- Because you can’t help if you don’t know what the real problem is. If you are a Christian, this is especially important, as those of us who follow Jesus Christ are called to love others, extending grace and mercy after Jesus’ example, and can’t do so if we don’t know what’s needed.
- Because what you think you hear may not be what someone else is actually saying. Don’t just listen, but listen carefully. If you know the person speaking, take into consideration your past experience with them and weigh their words in context. Give people the benefit of the doubt, and ask good questions so that you don’t misunderstand.
“…Slow to Speak…” We humans also like to hear ourselves talk, but we’d do well to let our opinions and ideas percolate a bit before serving them up for the general public. Why?
- Because most of what we have to say is self-centered, self-righteous boloney, something we pick up on readily when it comes to others, but are slow to recognize in ourselves. When you bite your tongue and run what you want to say through the filter of purpose and projected outcome before spewing it, you might spare yourself and those affiliated with your cause embarrassment and/or setback, an especially significant consideration for those who claim to represent Christ and desire God’s glory above all else.
- You may not have spent enough time listening. Running into conversation without all the facts is like showing up for work with no pants on, it’s embarrassing for everyone involved, draws focus away from worthwhile discussion, and hinders progress made by those who took the time to prepare—perhaps prayerfully—what they intended to say.
- Because your inner editor needs time to do his job, whether that be the Holy Spirit, as in the case of those who belong to God, or your own sense of decency and propriety. Even when you wait, chances are you’ll still make mistakes and say things you shouldn’t sometimes. The tongue is “a restless evil,” after all (Jas 3:8). When you do, admit it. Take the opportunity afforded by your misspoken words to demonstrate humility, apologizing and asking for forgiveness. Not only will this earn the respect of your audience and peers, but if you belong to God, it will also glorify Him.
- Because cool heads prevail. If you think you are THE person to say what you want to say, you probably aren’t. Likewise, if you think that what you have to say can’t wait, it had probably better wait, lest you burn yourself and others with the hot iron you’re so ready to strike with.
“…And slow to become angry.” That’s not to say that anger is never justified, but there is a difference between the ordinary, run-of-the-mill kind of anger we most often feel and the righteous anger we often profess. The first is selfish and has more to do with ego and personal ambition than the greater good. The second is altruistic and has to do with a deep desire to see God’s character displayed in human interaction—justice, love, mercy, grace, etc.—whether or not you even realize that’s what your heart is longing for or that God has placed the desire there. Before you allow yourself to feel angry, make sure it’s the second kind, and even if it is, make sure that you express and/or act on it in a God-honoring way. Why?
- Because self-serving emotion and/or action is counterproductive in a world where billions of “selves” are trying to figure out how to get along. As God alone is omniscient and just, He alone knows what actions/reactions are appropriate and helpful. The only way to make sure that you are helping and not hurting is to rely on Him for wisdom and guidance.
- Because expressed run-of-the-mill anger cheapens the cause with which it is associated and often compromises the efforts of those behaving admirably in association with that cause.
- Because righteous anger expressed correctly has the potential to bring about real and eternal change, while ordinary anger causes those headed toward God to stumble, both those who express that anger and those who witness it.
Take or leave the personal commentary, but please don’t ignore the verse itself. The Bible is God’s Word, after all, “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness…” (2 Tim. 3:16). Like I said before, if anyone has the authority to speak into our current situation, He does.
Now, back to my first question, What do I have to say? Only this.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways, submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).
If everyone does this, things will turn out fine. They won’t, of course…but YOU can!