The Best Way White Christians Can Respond to Racial Tensions
“I can’t breathe.”
Those words from George Floyd as he gasped for his mother with a knee on his neck have haunted me. Just like the video of two white men chasing down and shooting Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia while he was running. It’s unfathomable that these things are happening in our country in 2020.
As we’ve witnessed the response play out in cities across our nation, including my own, it makes it clear that white Christians are in need of a wake-up call.
Several weeks ago, we had a tornado warning at our house close to midnight. We had to quickly get our kids up out of bed and go to a safe place in our house.
My 6-year-old son is a hard sleeper. Waking him up in the middle of the night is next to impossible. You can pull him out of bed, and he may even open his eyes to look at you, but he's not awake. He can stumble around his room, but he’s not awake.
It wasn’t until my wife started clapping in his face that he seemed to snap out of it and become coherent.
To my white Christian brothers and sisters, it’s time to snap out of it. We’ve been asleep. Over the past few years, some of us have opened our eyes. Even stumbled around like we are trying to appear awake.
But, we are not all there. What we are witnessing in our country should be our jolt--our clap in front of our face--to stand for what’s right and denounce what is evil.
As a white Christian, I admit, it's hard to even know where to start. It’s easy to post a Martin Luther King, Jr. quote on social media and let the world (or at least our small little slice of it) know where we stand on racial issues.
It’s much harder to know how to represent Christ and follow the prophet Micah’s urging to “seek justice,” “love mercy,” and “walk humbly” (Micah 6:8) in real life.
Advocacy is important, and I think our African-American brothers and sisters need to see us posting these types of messages. But, it’s simply not enough.
In my own personal soul-searching, I feel there are a few things that I, as a white Christian, can and should be doing during our current racial crisis.
1. Recognize Your Own Whiteness
Unfortunately, this critical first action will likely be the most controversial statement in this entire article.
Many of my white brothers and sisters have a visceral reaction to this. When they hear “Black Lives Matter,” they respond with “All Lives Matter.” When you use the phrase “white privilege,” they proceed to describe to you their own hardships or how hard they had to work to get where they are.
White privilege is not a reference to any hardship, or lack thereof, a white person has experienced. Rather, it’s noting that skin color has not been one of them.
I’m a hard-working person; I’ve put in a lot of hours and sweat to get where I am. But, I realize the advantages I was born with that I had no control over: two loving parents in the home; access to food and resources; access to a college education; and social capital that comes through all of that.
I’ve never been denied an opportunity or been looked at suspiciously because of my race. On the contrary, there are societal and systemic issues that are holding back others who don’t look like me.
My heart breaks when I think about the difficult conversations African-American parents have to have with their children.
Benjamin Watson, former NFL football player and author of Under Our Skin writes about his experience having “The Talk” with his children in The Players’ Tribune: “The Talk takes many shapes, but at its core it’s the conversation black parents must have with their kids about what it means to be black in America--both historically and right now… The most important part of the Talk is to teach our children to think of people as individuals. To see a white man, black man, policeman or any other citizen as humans that may look like others in “their” group but don’t necessarily act or think like them.”
“We need all families--white, black, whatever race--to have their version of The Talk, too,” Watson writes. “That’s what I’m hoping: that as I’m having The Talk with my daughters or sons, maybe there is a white dad across town talking to his son about race, too. Yes, the conversation will take a different form, but education always starts in the home. It starts with family. When families decide to teach their children and challenge themselves about difficult subjects like race, I believe that’s when you start to see hearts change.”
As white Christians, it’s important that we acknowledge the history of racism in our country and we strive to understand the “leg up” many of us have experienced. Just because we may have not built the broken system, we are actively unfairly benefitting from it—and we have an obligation to right this.
And, we need to share our discovery with our kids. None of us chose our race or where we were born. But, we can choose to acknowledge the ramifications--what it means for us and persons of color.
2. Believe What the Bible Says about Race, and Let Your Actions Show You Believe It
The Bible is abundantly clear about race, from cover to cover. We see God’s creation of man in His image in the beginning, and we see the vision of every tribe, nation and tongue together in heaven in the book Revelation.
In between, we have the words of Jesus, Peter, Paul and James:
“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31
“So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” Acts 10:34-35
“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” Romans 12:9-10
“For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves[a] or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 12:13
“But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.” James 2:9
Reading these words is one thing. Understanding them and allowing them to guide your everyday life is another. If we believe we are all equal–and family–then it should change how we approach our current events.
Dr. Eric Mason, in his powerful book about racism and injustice called Woke Church puts it this way: “We have the tool of God’s Word to help us become change agents–to make a difference in our spheres of influence. The gospel is the truth that unites us. It is the common ground that knits our souls together as one.”
When one of our members hurts, we should all hurt. Right now, our black family members are in pain. Their pain is our pain. We need to be working together to bring it to an end.
3. Pray for Racial Reconciliation, and Pray That it Starts with You
As Christians, we should all be growing more and more like Jesus. He’s pruning us throughout our lives, so we will produce more fruit.
Several years ago, while our country was experiencing unrest following other police-involved shootings, God began working on me. I’ve never felt “racist,” but the Lord began to expose things in my own heart and life that I needed to deal with.
I needed to repent of the times I sat silently while a family member or friend said something racist. Or, the times I laughed nervously at an inappropriate joke when I should’ve spoken up instead. There was even a time when I said something inappropriate myself that I had to repent of and seek forgiveness from the person I offended.
As Billy Graham once said, “Whether prayer changes our situation or not, one thing is certain: Prayer will change us!”
We should pray for racial reconciliation in our country. As we do, we should be open to the Lord’s leading as He provides opportunities for our own repentance and growth. God has done it–and is doing it in me–and I know He can do it in you.
Christian rapper KB said “We must do more than pray but we can never do less than pray. Prayer is our first protest. Our most effective tool.”
Pray for changed hearts in this country, and then work with the Holy Spirit to change yours. Pray for increased compassion for people of color, and then live out that compassion. Pray for change, and let that change begin with you.
4. Listen to Persons of Color, and Have Empathy for What They Are Experiencing
During these trying times, it’s easy to voice our opinions. And, we have a lot of them.
For those of us who are white, however, the truth is this: we will never understand what it’s like to walk in a black person shoes. Period. So, now is not the time to speak, it’s the time to listen.
“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19).
We need to use this opportunity in front of us to listen to others, learn about them and their experiences.
All too often, I hear white people eager to speak with “whataboutism” or justifications. It goes something like this: “What happened to George Floyd is awful, but there’s no excuse for rioting and damaging property and it has to stop.”
Instead, a biblical, empathetic response should be more like “What’s happening in some of these cities is awful, but there’s no excuse for what happened to George Floyd and it has to stop.” It’s a simple, pro-life stance.
The only way we can move forward on a path to peace is to empathize with what our brothers and sisters are going through. To get to that place, we need to listen to understand, not speak to be heard.
Be intentional about going after black voices to inform your world view. If you’re on social media, find black influencers, black artists, black therapists that you’d like to follow. Read books by black authors. Listen to black Christian leaders. Seek our their voices, and listen.
5. Fight to Make Your Own World More Multi-Ethnic and Inclusive
As white Christians, we need to spend time learning about the issues. We need to seek out black authors, pastors, theologians, activists, community leaders and speakers. We need to read their work, listen to their sermons, hear their grievances.
We can’t continue to stay in our own little world, watching our preferred news outlet, reading our favorite websites and talking to our same, like-minded friends on Facebook.
We also need to be intentional about forming relationships with people who don’t look like us. It’s hard for one person to change the world. But, you can change one person’s world.
We can’t solve racial tension across the nation, but we can make a difference in our community when we show the people of color around us that we are there, we want to listen and support them.
And, we need to do a better job as Christians of all races in pursue diversity in our churches. Martin Luther King once pointed out that Sunday mornings are the most segregated hour in our country. He was right then, and the statement is largely still true today.
I’m happy that I attend a church that includes people of all races, but we can all do more. If you attend an all-white church (or an all-black church), why not work to make changes. We can begin conversations in our communities about joining forces. How can we all work together to learn from each other?
How can we work together to address the underlying issues in our community? By having these conversations, we begin to put feet to our prayers and God will use us to make an impact.
In Woke Church, Dr. Mason writes, “We should feel more at home with people in the Christian family than our own ethnicity. In other words, the best part of our family should be those who have the same ‘eternal’ blood type… Why not fight to make sure that our interpersonal relationships as well as our churches mirror the reality we’ll experience in eternity?”
Now, to my African-American brothers and sisters, I close with this. I'm not color-blind. I see you, and I celebrate you, love you and want the same thing you want--a world that offers you and your children the same things it offers me and mine.
It’s hard to see right now, but I'm praying that God is making a way. That through these difficult trials, we'll ALL wake up and see how it should be.
One day, all things will be made right and new. But, until that reality, I pray that God will use us to make it happen here on this earth.
“Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:19).
I believe God can use us to this end, when we pray, listen to each other, speak truth and fight for what’s right.
The Four Areas Of Change To End Racism
Dr. Tony Evans the founder and pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship Church in Dallas suggests that there are four areas the Church should tackle when doing the work necessary to end racism.
- The Individual Level: Each of us needs to “develop a heart that cares for your fellow man because they’re created in the image of God.”
- The Family Level: We must be transferring these values to our children, teaching them to judge people by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.
- The Church Level: The church must unite to implement and model righteous principles. We must speak with one voice because we have one God, one Lord — Jesus Christ.
- The Community Level: We must challenge all of our civil leaders to be agents of healing in the division that’s been created. They must speak in such a way where unity is reinforced, using words of strength and kindness, not vitriol and meanness.
The only way to see this kind of change is to realign each one of these areas — individual, family, church, and all civil government — under God’s authority. God is calling us to become Kingdom Disciples.