I’ll never forget the time one of our staff guys came into my office and asked, “If you could live at any moment in world history, when would it be?”
Without flinching I said, “As a black man?” Before he could respond I told him now.
Like 1783, or 1854 or 1957 weren’t good times for me. And while things are far from perfect (look to the streets of Ferguson, or corner stores in Baton Rouge and Staten Island), I’m incredibly hopeful. The opportunities that exist for people of color today are both long overdue and unprecedented. Things are trending upward.
But these times might be troubling for our white siblings. Many perceive being white as wearing white pre-Memorial Day, in the dead of winter in Chicago—not a crime, but certainly not optimal. Phrases like “white privilege” not only heap huge portions of shame, but make it seem as if “white” is a four-letter word, pushing our siblings away from the table of friendship, ending all hopes for real substantive discourse. How can there be any hope for authentic community when one side of the table is mute?
What makes for a healthy relationship is the willingness to express variant opinions, and wrestle with sensitive subjects with the goal of emerging with clarity and intimacy.
In the beatitudes, Jesus never said, “Blessed are the conflict avoiders,” but “Blessed are the peacemakers.” It’s counterintuitive isn’t it? Many times before there can be peace, there must be conflict. Before there’s health, the surgeon must wield his scalpel. In order for there to be real friendship, both sides must be okay with going there—trusting each other enough to express hard and unpleasant things.
Now is the time to trust each other enough to throw our “PC” sensibilities to the wind. The blood of Alton Sterling, Tamir Rice, Mike Brown and a host of others, demand our careful stewardship. These tragedies should precipitate real dialogue among mult-iethnic tribes. So as we bare our souls over cups of coffee, I’ve found these principles to be helpful:
- Love. God doesn’t call us to change people, but to love. However old you or the person you’re talking with are, is how long the cultural biases and presuppositions have been forming. One encounter will not change them or you. So what has to keep us coming back to the table is love.
- Humility. People love to quote the Apostle Paul who told us to speak the truth in love. But remember, when you sit down to talk about these sensitive issues with a person who doesn’t look like you, you don’t have truth as much as you have perspective. So let’s be humble enough to know we could be seeing things wrong.
- Posture. Many of our white friends are fearful to ask the hard question or to potentially say the wrong thing. In our “uber PC” world, I get this. But what would help is if our white brothers and sisters would posture themselves as Ask questions instead of making statements. This will set your minority friend at ease.
- Keep Coming Back. Talking about race with a white person is hard for me. It brings up old wounds, and if I’m not careful I can leave the table too soon, so to speak. I can take my proverbial ball and go home. My hyper-sensitivity can suffocate dialog. It’s been helpful for me to remember white people are not the enemy. (Ephesians 6:12) And sure they’ll say things wrong, but I need to commit to keep coming back to the table and coming back and coming back. Racism in America is 400 years in the making, it won’t be solved with one conversation. We need thousands of daily conversations across the ethnic divide to see the ball advance down the field.
These are troubled yet hopeful times. While Dr. King and his army were used greatly to change laws, ours is the time to take their baton and go from the White House to dinner tables, trusting each other to go there, and have transformative conversations with what Dr. King called the community of the beloved.
Pastor Bryan Loritts (GLS 2014) is the privileged husband of Korie, and the graced father of three sons—Quentin, Myles and Jaden. He serves the Abundant Life Christian Fellowship of Silicon Valley, California, as the Lead Pastor. He is the award-winning author of five books, including Saving the Saved: How Jesus Saves Us from Try-Harder Christianity into Performance-Free Love, which was given the Christianity Today Award of Merit. He co-founded Fellowship Memphis in 2003, and later founded The Kainos Movement—an organization committed to seeing the multi-ethnic church become the new normal in our world. You can follow Pastor Bryan on Twitter @bcloritts.