Sometimes, you must slow down to move forward in the right direction. To be agents of Christ’s love and healing amid the darkness of racial division, racial violence, and racial inequity, you must be willing to be still to know.
Are you willing to slow down for self-reflection? Ask Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and Father God to refine what is of the flesh and to deposit what is from heaven. Make the choice to be compelled by Christ’s love. Prayerfully consider (emphasis on prayerfully) these questions:
First, are you engaging with information to better understand how you can contribute to the healing, the well-being, the honor, and restoration of people of color? What is your motivation as it relates to reconciliation and justice? People of color can feel when a white Christian is committed to growth and love as it relates to race and justice, cultural humility, and reconciliation. People of color can feel when a white Christian is committed to her own value system or his own way of living, thinking, and being. We can also feel when white Christians are only in the conversation to defend themselves, be right, analyze, object, and scrutinize. We can feel when it is about you being able to say you did something versus putting your preaching into practice, humbling yourself, pursuing understanding, and choosing to become a Christlike lover of our community.
Second, if your motivation is to be a contributing, life-giving, and restorative participant in racial reconciliation, are you honoring the voices and resource recommendations of those you desire to be reconciled with? There is a difference between honoring the voices and resource recommendations of a small, contrarian subset and honoring the voice and resource recommendations of the majority of the people with whom you seek reconciliation. For example, I am increasingly weary of engaging in race-related discussions with white Christians who make time to take in content from productions like the recently released Larry Elder film Uncle Tom but cannot make time to listen to Henry Louis Gates Jr. or consume historically rich resources like Michael O. Emerson’s Divided by Faith.
Third, are you motivated enough to be open to hearing hard things about your own culture, your unconscious participation in the harm of people of color, and your interpretation of Jesus’ words and actions that do not actually align with the Scripture? Have you considered how the Enemy and your flesh might tempt you to respond defensively rather than humbly and openly? Will you arise as you grow?
Fourth, do you apply a double-standard that makes actions from your group acceptable but diminishes and dismisses those behaviors when they come from an ethnic group different than your own? For instance, are you accepting or tolerant when a white political candidate (who claims to follow Christ) designs his gubernatorial commercials with racially coded phrases similar to “I’ll round up all them criminal illegals in my truck” but believe it is divisive and unchristian for believers of color to say, “I’m struggling with how white Christians unravel as soon as you attempt to point out racist patterns in their communications and behavior”? Or do you deem it un-American when a black First Lady says, “I am finally proud of America” but feel camaraderie and a sense of understanding when a white male, political leader says, “Make America Great Again”? Or do you have negative reactions when people groups who have experienced recurring injustices react in organized (primarily peaceful) ways, while every July you celebrate the independence of the United States of America, which was attained through the destruction of property (Boston Tea Party) and bloodshed?
As it relates to race and justice, slow down and apply what you’ve learned. As you do, pursue feedback from people of color. One starter question could be, “What can I do to ensure you feel equipped to challenge or confront me when my communication, actions, or lack of action does not align with the gospel and hinders the work of reconciliation?” Soliciting, receiving, and giving feedback can be hard, but feedback is an irreplaceable component of true reconciliation work. Ready yourself with humility to remember that perfection exists in only one being, the Trinity, and in one polis, New Jerusalem. Every other person and every other nation (including you and yours) should be expected to reflect glorious aspects of God and life-stealing aspects of the Devil. Ready yourself to feel anger, but do not sin. Ready yourself to manage the guilt, shame, joy, and apathy that will undoubtedly arise as you discover the heavenly and hellish ways you have engaged in racism.
Lastly, how do you view Christ’s love and God’s commandment to do justice? Do you believe Jesus commands you to love individuals of other ethnicities and groups of other ethnicities? Do you believe Jesus calls you to sacrificially love other individuals, entire groups of individuals, and yourself? Do you believe Christ’s love requires you to advocate with and for groups that are suffering and disenfranchised? As you slow down, you might find that your convictions about Christlike love are more reflective of your ethnic group’s interpretation of Christ rather than the Scriptures’ description of him. We are all prone to over-elevate our culture’s view of Christ, but this is idolatry. We cannot pledge our allegiance to two masters—our culture and Christ’s kingdom. Every moment, we make conscious and subconscious choices to love one or to hate the other.
You do have a choice. Slow down; make space to make a clear decision. Consider its likely consequences. If your motivation is to love with the “no greater love” Christ describes in John 15:13 (NLT), your only option is to lay down your way of life so you can find Jesus' way and his life. No individual or ethnic group (Christian or non-Christian) can demand Christ’s love from you. The beauty of the gospel is that God gives his love to those who follow his example and those who do not. It is your choice.
If, instead of choosing courage and humility, you choose to disengage and/or perpetuate the paradigms that have helped to maintain the unjust status quo, it is likely that black people, indigenous people, and people of color (BIPOC), as well as conscious white Christians will leave or avoid your church, your ministry, your company, your small group, and more. Our departure or avoidance will be our choice. We can be kind, practice honor, advocate for your well-being, and celebrate your victories whilewe worship and pray at a distance to ensure our discipleship experiences align with the true gospel, not your cultural idolatry. You are not being canceled, coerced, or manipulated. You are receiving an appropriate response based on the choices you make.
So slow down, self-reflect, gather feedback, re-examine, make conscious choices, and stand on them when you are called to give an account by your brothers and sisters in Christ and ultimately by Jesus.
Zakiya Mims is founder and lead consultant at Shepherd & Stone Consulting, which serves marketplace, church, and nonprofit leaders committed to being agents of reconciliation in their local communities.