What Christians Can Do To Heal the Racial Divide
My heart is heavy. I know yours is too. Every week, it seems, another new story, another life lost, another city burning. The names of Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Eric Gardner tighten our consciousness. Ferguson, Baltimore, all evoke passions that run deep on one side or another.
If you thought race was an issue of the past in our country, you would be sadly mistaken.
The black community has legitimate grievances. Black high school students have a much lower rate of graduation than their white counterparts1. Urban communities have higher arrest rates, incarceration rates, and lower employment rates. Government programs that have promised relief for decades have failed to bring relief. While government spending at federal, state and local levels, has exceeded 16 trillion dollars in the 50 years since the beginning of the war on poverty, rates for poverty have increased.2 White privilege feels to them like an insurmountable obstacle preventing them from having the same hope for the same future as other Americans.
If this were the only perspective, reconciliation would be easy. But it’s not.
There are some in the white community who have a different perspective. Though white privilege may be an underlying and pervasive systemic structure, to every white man and woman who struggled against their own odds to survive and achieve the American dream, the charge that they are racist because of that seems, to them, unfair and largely without remedy. They point to the breakdown of the black family, the absence of fathers, out-of-wedlock birth rates, and drug abuse, as root causes of poverty within black precincts.3
Both sides are angry. Both sides are afraid. Both sides avoid, until they can avoid no longer. Though Jesus commanded the church to recognize and deal compassionately with poverty, the church has at times abdicated its role in the solution to government agencies and programs that have enriched a few through bureaucracy and corruption, yet have done little to help the impoverished.
Race has become such a fierce issue, evoking hatred and bitterness on both sides, that productive discussion seems fundamentally impossible. No one is willing to listen, yet everyone wants to be heard. There is no safe place to even begin to dialogue.
Politicians of every persuasion prove again and again they are marginally relevant because it would appear they profit from being part of the problem, rather than the solution. Their rhetoric does nothing to forward any hope, any help, any real healing.
So what can we do? How do we begin to heal the wounds that have left us so bitterly divided? What has Jesus called us to?
First We Must Pray
What we have tried in our self-sufficiency to heal on our own has brought us to the end of ourselves, perhaps to this place where we should have been along. Prayer. We must pray. We need to pray. Pray in our prayer closets. Pray in our homes. Pray in our churches and communities. We need to pray hourly, daily, weekly, monthly. Our churches should become havens of prayer. Prayer is the only thing that can release God’s divine power into a situation as horrific and overwhelming as this situation. We need to pray the Scripture, If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray, then I will hear from heaven, I will forgive their sins and will heal their land. (2 Chron 7:14 NIV)
We need to call on the only name that can heal. The name of Jesus. We need to pray that God will allow us to see our black and white brothers and sisters as children of God, created and purposed by the Creator Himself, perfectly in His image. We need to ask that God would allow us to see each other as He sees us. We need to ask God to give us His heart, His love, His compassion for others.
We need to pray and ask the light of truth to shine deeply in our hearts, and show us the wounded places in our souls, where we have befriended bitterness or judgment, apathy or anger. We need to repent of our sins. We need to honestly look at the things over which we own responsibility. We must acknowledge where we have fallen short or have failed to be a part of the solution.
We need to pray that God will come and heal our hearts. We need to pray that God would come and heal our land. This should be our call and our cry.
We Must Be Willing to Listen
Only when we lay down our weapons can we truly sit with each other and listen. We must be willing to listen. Each side has valid perspectives, real scars, legitimate viewpoints.
We’ve watched pundits scream at each other on television for so long, we think that screaming is the only way to get our point across. Politicians and pundits are working for ratings, they are not working toward a solution. We shouldn’t look to them for answers and we shouldn’t model our message after them.
We must begin the conversation. We must show respect. We must share our experiences and listen to other’s experiences. Lean in. Quiet ourselves. Be with. Listen to the anguish of another person’s story. See the humanity in their eyes, their experience, their journey. Extend a hand of compassion. Let grace and kindness be on our lips. Let love rule in our hearts.
The Change Must Start Within
While it is easy to see the change that everyone else needs to make, it is harder, more challenging to see the change that starts within ourselves.
Matthew 7:3 (NIV) asks “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”
We must be willing to see the truth about ourselves. We must have the courage to expose the shadowed and shaky places in our souls. We must be willing to change.
Are you willing to change?
The solution will never come from one side alone.
Rhetoric will never lead to reconciliation. Condemnation will never lead to cooperation. Passivity will never lead to peace.
There will never be a government program or policy that binds up our broken places and bridges our divides. Each of us, white, black, Hispanic, Asian, Arab, Greek, or Jew need to realize — WE are the solution.
We must reach deep inside ourselves to discover where God wants to heal, grow and challenge our familiar, perhaps comfortable prejudices and perspectives. We must remove the shackles, take off our blinders so that we can be healed. If God can begin to heal the wounds of one person, He can heal a community and a nation, and He can surely heal a world!
We must pray. We must look within. We must be willing to change.
It won’t be easy. Worthwhile achievements are never easy.
Yet if we persist, if we persevere, in the end we might find common ground. We might find healing. We might find hope.
In the end, we just might find – peace.
1 By Lyndsey Layton, “High School Graduation Rates at a Historic High,” The Washington Post, April 28, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/high-school-graduation-rates-at-historic-high/2014/04/28/84eb0122-cee0-11e3-937f-d3026234b51c_story.html
2 Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield, “The War on Poverty After Fifty Years, “ The Heritage Foundation, September 15, 2014, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2014/09/the-war-on-poverty-after-50-years.
3 Jesse Washington, “The Rate of African-American Unwed Mothers Soars to 72 Percent,” The Associated Press, http://www.blacknews.com/news/black_unwed_mothers101.shtml#.VUamVM6zefQ.