It feels like racial and ethnic divisions are greater now than they have been in my lifetime. For those of us who are in Christ, we do not have the option to sit on the sidelines and shake our heads. We are called—no, we are commanded—to pursue reconciliation.
Reconciliation, empathy, and humility are at the very heart of God. In Philippians 2:6-8 we are taught that Jesus, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”
Jesus is God and yet he set aside his status as God, took on human likeness, and came from his throne in Heaven to Earth. With a heart of empathy and a willingness to lay down his own life, Jesus Christ left his exalted status in Heaven and became a lowly human, that we might be reconciled to God the Father. He is the ultimate bridge crosser and our example as Christians. If the Lord is not too good to cross bridges then we, his followers, are not either.
Philippians 2:5 instructs, “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.” How can we—Christians of every color, but especially my white brothers and sisters—have the same mindset as Christ in the midst of our current national crises?
I’m no expert. Far from it. I’m a white girl who was raised amidst diversity, moved overseas, and now I’m back, heartbroken, and angry that my home country is divided. Many of us white Christians are paralyzed or apathetic or ignorant—myself included. I am not without fault. It’s a messy situation and we don’t know what to say. We’re scared of saying or doing the wrong thing and so we do nothing. Or we don’t feel affected by the disunity and anger in our nation and so we write it off. Or we don’t even know about what’s happening in the corners of our cities where we never venture.
But if we are truly submitted to Jesus, then we don’t have the option to do nothing. How can we pursue humility and cross bridges in our own communities? Below I offer some ideas. As I said above, I am no expert. These are a clumsy offering to those who want to be bridge crossers. We have to start somewhere and I readily admit that these ideas are a rough first draft. But they’re a start.
1. Get educated. If you cannot understand why black people feel marginalized then you must start here. Even if you have some understanding, don’t stop learning now. Please commit yourself to finding out where their feelings come from. Take the next several months to learn the historical context for these high emotions. At the bottom of this post I will link to several good books to get you started or to keep you going if you’re already on this path.
2. Make a black friend. I realize this sounds ridiculous. I am not advocating that you find a black person to be your token friend and spokesperson for all black people. But the reality is, you need to have friends with skin colors different from your own. The experiences that they, their spouses, and their children are confronted with everyday are different than yours. How can you know their stories, struggles, sorrows, and successes if they are not your friends? Are there people of color at your kids’ school? Your place of business? Where you spend your free time—sports team, gym, dance studio? Find a few families of different ethnicities and start inviting them over for dinner. Learn their stories. Invest in them for the next year and let your eyes be opened.
3. Travel across your city on a regular basis and spend time in other neighborhoods. Every city in the United States offers a plethora of Christian ministries that seek to serve the marginalized. Whether it’s tutoring a young student, mentoring a teen mom, playing with kids at an after school program, offering administrative help at an inner city center, volunteering at a health clinic or meals ministry—all cities have many places where you can plug in and serve. Serving in such capacities is not for our own benefit—it is not for the purpose of feeling better about ourselves, photographing our efforts and applauding ourselves on Facebook. These efforts are not to enlighten those we serve and seek to assimilate them into our camp. The purpose is to know them and see them and to be a genuine friend. It is immeasurably valuable for us to know people who are walking in very different shoes than our own—then when the news features atrocities and heartbreaks we already have friends who look and live like those in the story. These friendships will enable us to have empathy and understanding when things happen way outside our own neighborhoods.
4. If you already have some good friends who are a different ethnicity than you, have them over along with your friends who are just like you. Mix up your groups of friends that they might cross bridges over a meal in your own dining room.
5. Call or text your friends of color and simply say, “This last week has been really sad. I don’t know what to do or say, but I recognize that it’s affecting you in ways that it’s not affecting me. When you’re ready I hope you can share your thoughts with me.”
6. Pursue Christians of color. About 16 years ago I met a handful of women from different activities in which I was involved. After relentless prompting from the Spirit and my husband, I called each of them and said, “I know we only met once but would you like to come to a women’s bible study at my house?” They all said yes. The ladies were from different corners of the city, different churches, different racial backgrounds, different career paths and worldviews. It was one of my most rich experiences and we all remain dear friends. You’ll feel like a fool when you make that phone call, but you will not regret it.
7. Pray. Let us not forget that “nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). Our God’s specialty is bringing life from death. His resurrection power is in us and He will help us as we cross bridges.
In sum, we need to pursue education, relationships, and prayer. Let us answer the call of Christ and “in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3-4).