I’m the pastor of a medium sized church in Alexandria, Virginia. We are predominately white, but are growing in diversity of all sorts—including ethnic diversity. Our members come from all different backgrounds. But they aren’t just church members; they are people I love.
So when I hear news stories about white police officers shooting black men, it strikes close to home. My mind immediately goes to how some of our black friends will be receiving the news.
How might fear grip them this time?
Will despair pull them toward the pit?
How will their children hear the news?
My heart is pulled toward them, because I love them.
But in our church we also have white police offers, and they are people I love deeply as well. So when the news comes in, I wonder how it will affect them.
Will they be angry that they will likely be seen as crooked cops?
Will they become a target of retaliation?
How will this news affect them when they are thrust into a tense situation?
I care about them, so my heart considers them as well.
And then, I wonder…
How will those two groups love each other?
How will they perceive each other when they sit next to each other on Sunday?
Will black members be jaded against the white members?
Will white members ignore events in the news that are hurting black members?
Are they talking and listening and praying with each other?
Do they even know God wants them to do this?
How should our elders speak into and shepherd along our congregation?
What are our blind spots on this issue?
These are the sorts of things that keep pastors like me up at night. Why? Because the unexplainable love of the church is the way God shows the world that He is their only hope for healing from racial pain.
As our church processes these realities, we try to keep a few things before our eyes.
- Admit that racial pain is a real issue.
We will not all feel this pain in the same way, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. Not all blacks will perceive pain in the same way or agree on how to move forward in fixing it. Neither will all whites. But we must admit there is an issue in our country and it didn’t end when slavery was abolished.
For my white friends, if you don’t feel pain about these issues, but your black neighbor does, what does that mean? Do they need to be corrected and told not to feel a certain way? Might you have room to grow? Loving those who are different than you begins with listening and learning from them. I wrote an article “I Don’t See You As a Black Friend” that chronicles my own journey in this area.
The realness of racial pain isn’t just popular opinion; it is God’s opinion. In fact, you could make a case that the entire New Testament is God glorifying Himself by bringing people of different ethnicities / races together in the church through the blood of His Son. The Bible is about reconciliation. Yes, sinners reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:18-20), but also sinners reconciled to one another (Ephesians 2:11-22).
The hard work of reconciliation didn’t stop when Jesus ascended. In one sense, it just got started. The Gospel alone has the power to change hearts, but change will not come until we admit there is a tragic and painful wound festering among us.
- Pray that we will see people as God sees them.
God created all people in His own image. Every person, light-skinned and dark-skinned, citizen and police officer alike, was knit by God in their mother’s womb as one who would radiate God’s own glory for all to see. That image is corrupted by sin, but it is not erased. That must mean something when we watch videos of people being shot, hear orphaned children wail out the words “I want my daddy”, or learn of police officers being struck down by vengeance seekers.
The LORD instructs His people to “regard no one from a world point of view” or merely “according to the flesh” (2 Corinthians 5:16). This means God gives His people eyes to see that people are not just ideas to debunk or problems to fix, they are people. They have mothers and fathers and children. They cry tears and have real hopes and fears. That must matter to us, because it matters to God.
Compassion for one another is essential to healing the pain caused by racially charged sins against one another. This compassion is birthed when we realize that we are in this together, though our experiences along the way are often vastly different. Do you see others as God sees them? Do you tend to categorize people and say “oh those people” are _____?
There are systemic issues to discuss, but who is going to discuss them? People. If change will happen systematically, change must first occur personally, so I’m writing to you as an individual right now. Ask God to help you see people as image-bearers, no matter how different they may be than you.
- Pray for God to help you weep when others weep.
You don’t need all the facts to weep with another person. As a H.B. Charles has rightly said, “the Bible exhorts us to weep with those who weep. It doesn’t tell us to judge whether they should be weeping.” Love leaves room for unanswered questions, especially when another is brokenhearted.
When news about a police officer killing a black man breaks, what happens in your heart? What comes to mind? Do you find yourself considering how others might be hearing the news or do you automatically make judgments about those involved?
I trust that we all agree there must be investigations into whether police action was warranted in these cases. But can we not understand why many from the black community would be cynical about the process?
White friends, do you ever feel cynicism toward the system when a politician or celebrity gets off the hook?
I trust so.
Can you not then, understand why black brothers and sisters could have cynicism about how trials and charges will be played out in the courts?
And black friends, do you wonder how your white brothers and sisters in Christ who serve as police officers process these situations? Are they in a place of privilege and authority? Yes, maybe so. Should the “bad cops” be outed and punished to the fullest extent of the law? Most certainly.
But 1 Corinthians 13 tells us all that “love believes and hopes all things”—so I’m assuming that you know that all cops are not bad cops, and I hope that you’re fighting to believe that, like my brother Trip Lee is.
Black or white, brothers and sisters, we have to work hard to believe the best of each other. In other words, we can’t assume someone using the phrase “black lives matter” means that person doesn’t believe that “all lives matter.” And we can’t assume that a police officer that says “all cops aren’t evil” means that he doesn’t care about black life.
We each must ask how we are obeying God in the command to have a sympathetic heart that breaks when others break.
One of the best ways to soften a heart toward others is to spend time with them.
Have you ever sat with a weeping black friend? Have you ever seen the deep grief in their eyes when they talk about the fears they have for their life an the life of their children? You may not understand their pain, but have you helped them wipe tears away?
This kind of tear-wiping love is what God will show His people when He welcomes them to heaven (Revelation 21:4) and it ought be the kind of love His people show each other when we exist as the church.
- The church must be the church.
The church has not loved each other well across racial lines for many decades, but today is a new day. It must be. If there is ever a time that blacks and whites must risk comfort, pain, and misunderstandings for the hope of greater change, it is now. The world is longing for an answer to the deep problem of racial pain.
The church must be a place where members can openly grieve about things that break their heart without being concerned that they will be judged for it. Is that kind of freedom found in your house of worship? Love makes room for weeping with each other, especially when we don’t fully understand why they are weeping.
The church must be the place that says to someone different than you, “I have been praying for you, and I would love to hear how the events in the news are affecting you, would you be willing to get together so I can learn more from you?” Love learns from each other.
The church must be the place where we say I am sorry, will you forgive me. One of my most heart-wrenching moments as a white pastor is when another black pastor shared his pain from the pulpit two weeks in a row and was never asked by a white member to learn more about his pain. That kind of apathy or fear-driven silence is not love. But in the church we can say we have sinned against each other and move toward reconciliation. Jesus died to forgive and heal those sins, so let us go to Him together for help.
Jesus told His people to “let your lights shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). That light is made visible when the power of the Gospel enters into the lives of very different people and brings unity at the feet of the risen Lord Jesus.
Unity among people is so precious that Jesus shed His blood to purchase it. Satan hates unity in the church, which is why working division is the devil’s delight. Racial pain is an easy place for him to attack, but the Lord Jesus delights in stepping on his neck in victory.
Prayer is one very real way we unite together to war against Satan’s aims to divide us. Consider the prayer requests one black brother sent to our elders:
“I encourage you to pray that our black brothers and sisters can be spared from the things we so regularly see in the news…Pray that we not become desensitized to the violence or oppression…Genuinely pray that our hearts are not turned cold towards our white brothers and sisters, particularly those we are in not in close relationship with. When white brothers and sisters in the body remain silent, it doesn’t take much to begin seeing them as the same as those who cause injustices to occur…Pray that as some of your black brothers and sisters grow increasingly distrustful of police and of those in authority, silence can cause us to subconsciously (or intentionally, depending on the person) think, ‘They think the same way, would react the same way, and simply don’t understand.’ That is a temptation seeded by the enemy, who desires to cause dissension in the body. But pray also that we will pray for those in authority over us, as God commands, so that our hearts will be tender and loving toward them with the hopes that relationships can be built and peace can be known. Pray for us to have an openness to share our hearts, feelings, thoughts and emotions, regardless of how confused, with our Christian family.”
Jesus is the hope of the world, and the church is the people through whom He displays this hope. If you are a member of a local church, the responsibility falls on you to make changes. Are you willing to trust the Lord to help you? He promised to be with us (Matthew 28:18-20). We must come together in humility and fervency, for His glory and the good of one another.
Come, Lord Jesus, come.
Comments that are constructive will be posted, but I filter as much as I can and won’t be posting any combative or inflammatory comments here. Thank you for adding to the conversation with thoughtful and compassionate insights.