America is living with a deep racial wound. Many, today, are limping. They're hurting. Not a day goes by that racism relinquishes its visceral sting on our broken world. Yet, it's possible for many of us to ignore issues of race in America, to not see the pain around us.
The racial divide—and more broadly, a divide over privilege—has come to light again this week in the wake of the Trayvon Martin trial. As Americans react to George Zimmerman's "not guilty" verdict, I've heard, in the cries of many, that members of Christ's body have been suffering alone.
"I was and have remained in shock. No—not shocked—devastated and dumbfounded, at a loss for words," wrote Enuma Okoro, for Q Ideas. The words "not guilty," and the deafening ecclesial silence afterwards, sound too much like, "Your suffering is discountable."
From a Christian perspective, that's hugely problematic. In Christ, we've been knit together, across racial divides, as one body. The Bible affirms we are conjoined, our interests so intertwined that there is no such thing as suffering alone. When the apostle Paul described the way the body of Christ was designed to function, he taught "that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it." (1 Cor. 12:25-26).
The concern that Paul describes, so central to the church's identity, has been largely absent from not only the responses to the recent trial but to decades of wounds within the church.
The kairos—time-is-right—invitation for many believers today is to open our eyes and ears to the hurting members of the single body whose head is Christ.
This week, those who suffer include many African Americans. But we also need to wake up to the pain of many more to whom we are joined: believers in China, Latino immigrants to the United States, people with disabilities, and many others.
Some dismiss these groups and their experiences as being tied up in current issues that are not the concern or responsibility of the church. But that's not the case. Paying attention to the experience and suffering of others isn't about being politically correct. Neither the metric of tolerance nor the metric of relevance were ever meant to measure the church's response to a world in need. Rather, the church gleans her identity from the person of Jesus and the counter-cultural kingdom he built and continues to build. Our very unique calling is to behave as the living body of Christ in the world today.
If we're to move together toward healing, this is the moment to face the infection that is poisoning us all.
Facing the enduring sting of our country's race history is necessarily uncomfortable. The first step toward health is to be willing to open our eyes and see. As you watch the news this week—even the most angry protests—ask the Spirit to open the eyes of your heart to see and understand suffering in a new way.
During these days, brothers and sisters of color in the church are our skilled diagnosticians who can point us to the Good Physician. Though it takes a great deal of energy and vulnerability and courage, many fellow Christians are willing to give this gift. Ask a friend at church or work to share with you their thoughts on the trial, the coverage, race, or whatever's on their mind. Take time to really listen and understand their perspective.
As your eyes and ears are opened, dare to speak. This past Sunday morning there were thousands of churches across the nation who prayed for unity and healing in the wake of the recent verdict. In thousands more, no word was mentioned. Something as simple as asking your congregation to pray is one step toward healing.
One local church in my area that is deeply committed to racial reconciliation has discovered together that issues of race are more slippery and wily and confounding than they ever imagined. Driven to our knees, we depend upon the anointing of the Holy Spirit to heal the divides which have separated us for too long.
As someone who, for years, survived emotionally by turning a blind eye to my own emotional wounds, I get it. As someone who still feels weary coming close to the pain of others, I understand. Facing pain, whether our own or that of others, can be uncomfortable, sad, and painful. But to ignore the cries of our brothers and sisters during these days is to allow the ancient wound to fester untreated. It is to deny the reality of the gospel of Christ by behaving as if we are not one body.
By Paul's logic, if we're not suffering alongside other members of the body, we're not being the church. God give us the courage to suffer together.
Margot Starbuck, an author and speaker in Durham, NC, is the author most recently, of Permission Granted: And Other Thoughts on Living Graciously Among Sinners and Saints. Connect on Facebook or at MargotStarbuck.com.