With Martin Luther King Day coming up I would like to say something about race relations. I write as a white man, a pastor, and an advocate for Jesus’ style discipleship.
Race relations are a big deal for disciples of Jesus in America today. They have been a long-lingering big deal since the founding of the country. While the Civil War, which involved strong racial prejudicial issues, ended over 150 years ago, the heyday of the Civil Rights Movement was over 50 years ago, and the first African American President has just now finished his term, race relations remain a problem. A disciple is someone who is becoming more and more like Jesus. How should someone like that approach race relations? Many things could be said. I want to focus on just one thing – posture.
By posture I mean the way we listen to each other on race.
We are hosting a forum in the Franklin/Nashville area on Sunday night, January 15th on this topic and our posture toward one another is the key thing (for details click here). We need conversations like the Race Relations Forum, where we truly listen to each other.
The Bible puts it simply in Ephesians 4:2 – “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” This verse, better than any other, describes what our posture should be as disciples.
Here is what I mean. Every African American I know has stories of being stereo-typed, mistreated, and being regularly afraid because of those who have exerted power and oppression over them. It does not matter if one does not see it that way today themselves. It does not matter if one believes that perspective is biased or exaggerated. It is the reality of most African Americans and many of those among other races, as well. That should matter to those who follow Jesus.
Empathetic listening is a basic starting point for a disciple in this matter, according to Ephesians 4:2. Look again at the keywords in this verse. A humble person assumes that they cannot fully know the other person’s reality. A gentle person lets someone describe and express their pain in a non-dismissive manner. A patient person is willing to listen, again and again, to a perspective that they may not easily see from their vantage point. A person who bears with others in love, is also willing to risk feeling that they are being misrepresented in the telling of an alternative perspective on an issue.
That is the posture I believe disciples of Jesus need to take when it comes to race relations in America today. Oh, and one more thing: the posture we take will only matter if we go one step further and actually do the hard work of building meaningful relationships with each other across racial lines. Then we can go all the way, learn to do life together, and truly learn to love for one another.
If we do that, then we will be like Jesus who said that love is the ultimate sign of true discipleship (John 13:34-35).
For those living in the Franklin/Nashville, Tennessee area, come to our Race Relations Forum this Sunday. Register by clicking here.
By Bobby Harrington, Lead Pastor, Harpeth Christian Church
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