This weekend marks one year since Charlottesville, and it’s very hard to tell if things have gotten any better. Last night, white supremacists held a rally in Washington D.C. A book set to be released Tuesday openly accuses President Trump of being a racist. Statistics show that most people believe race-relations have gotten worse during the Trump administration, despite polls that also show President Trump’s approval has risen among minority groups since he took office. The landscape of race relations in America can feel like a hall of mirrors.
It’s all very discouraging.
The temptation in a moment like ours can be to look at the lack of progress on a macro level. There are systemic injustices that haven’t budged, and even worse, after a year to regroup and reflect, there are still white supremacists and neo-Nazis walking around. It’s hard to believe this is the world we live in.
However, successful efforts to mend relationships between racial and ethnic groups often begin on an individual level. This has been proven over and over. Large-scale reform comes as the result of generations of individual work. Take the civil rights movement as an example.
Several cities have developed dinner groups where couples from every kind of different demographic get together to have dinner and listen to each other. Showing deference and respect by humbly building friendships with people who aren’t like you is always a good start. In fact, I wonder if a hundred years from now we’ll look back and see that it was the work done on the local level, even between two individuals, to slowly untie generations of ethnic injustice that might make the biggest difference.
I’ve been stirred over the past year by John Perkins’ book, One Blood. For almost 90 years now, Perkins has devoted his life to biblical reconciliation. He’s advised presidents, been beaten by the police, and spoken to millions. What I love the most is his way of challenging the church to lead the charge for justice. He puts it this way, “The problem of reconciliation in our country and in our churches is much too big to be wrestled to the ground by plans that begin in the minds of men. This is a God-sized problem. It is one that only the Church, through the power of the Holy Spirit, can heal. It requires the love that only our Savior can provide.” He’s exactly right. Christians should be one the frontlines of reconciliation.
What can we do?
We can listen without being defensive.
Somewhere we’ve gotten the idea that listening to someone’s point of view is the same as agreeing with it. We’re worse off for that. Listening to differing opinions does not by any means require that we agree with what they’re saying, only that we believe they have enough dignity to deserve our attention. You don’t have to agree with everything Black Lives Matter says and stands for to understand where they’re coming from.
There are a lot of valuable Christian voices out there that can act as a guide. You never know when you might change your mind. Go into every conversation assuming the other person has something valuable to teach you. Start with this message from Eric Mason.
We can condemn without censoring.
On the other side, there is a pervasive current of censorship washing across the internet right now. It’s not enough to condemn someone’s views, now they need to be silenced. Part of the reason is the bizarre phenomenon of entrenchment that occurs when people to blindly dig their heels in every time their banner-holder is attacked. This is what the media still hasn’t figured out about Trump. If you make it your goal to censor him, call him names, and embattle him, the base will only get stronger. There are lots of reasons for this, one being the fear that they might be next.
As long as the battle of censorship goes on, reconciliation will make slow progress. Using power to silence other people is one of the tactics that created our current situation. Censorship from any group slows the progress of biblical reconciliation. But when we stand in the face of evil and denounce it, stopping only long enough to make our point, and invite our opposition to continue on to the road of redemption, the dams begin to open and justice rolls on like a raging flood.
Take last night’s rallies as a case in point. Unite the Right has the freedom to march. I can’t imagine how hard it is to stomach that fact as a member of a racial minority. But hardly anybody showed up. There were more police officers than protesters. Ignoring those 50 people does more good than censorship ever could. The truth will win out.
We can love without patronizing.
Dignity is the centerpiece of this whole conversation, and human dignity stands in direct opposition to patronizing. The goal of reconciliation is the restoration of genuine loving relationships. This requires more than giving money or stopping to help someone in need. This requires that we redefine the way we see ourselves.
It won’t work to primarily see ourselves as givers; we have to see ourselves as friends. There is nothing wrong with providing funds, opportunities, time or energy, but we cannot allow those things to become excuses that keep us from giving our hearts. Giving to your neighbor and loving your neighbor are not always the same thing. The kind of love we’re after amplifies dignity.
We can give of ourselves without grandstanding.
The people making the biggest difference probably aren’t the ones receiving the majority of the credit. While there’s political and social capital to be had by grandstanding, there’s progress to be made in anonymity. God calls us to love across the line and the only acknowledgment we need.
Reflecting on the last year brings Perkins’ quote into focus. Reconciliation is a God-sized problem. It hard to know where to begin. For those of us in the ethnic majority, it may even feel like a step in any direction is a no-win proposition. A year’s reflection reminds us that doing nothing is not an option. This is a matter of loving our neighbors. By the Spirit, we can all give ourselves to the work of reconciliation.
Cole Feix is the founder of So We Speak and a regular writer. Follow him on Twitter, @cfeix7.
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