Breaking Down Walls: reviewing what we’ve learned
Quick review: The first four principles of race relations, which were discussed in last week’s blog, are:
1. Commitment to relationship
These come from Raleigh Washington and Glen Kehrein’s book, Breaking Down Walls (available from Amazon.com), the most helpful book I’ve read so far on race relations. Washington and Kehrein continue with four more principles, which we’ll dive into now.
Race Relations, principles 5–8
After you’ve been hurt by someone, it’s difficult to imagine reaching a point in your relationship where you would feel comfortable depending on that person. But only in confessing our need can we begin the journey to true wholeness. The truth is, we are incomplete without each other, personally and as God’s Church. As Breaking Down Walls says, “Bringing like peoples together proves nothing about the power of the gospel, but when you bring dissimilar factions together in peace—Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, blacks and whites—you prove God’s power.”
Application: What needs do you have that you’re willing to let someone from another culture meet?
Let’s face it, getting along with someone different from you means you’re going to have to make some sacrifices. This is a big issue for churches who think they want to be multi-cultural, and then realize they may have to sacrifice some of their preferences in order to make other people feel welcome. Music, sermon style, length of service, expectations about who should serve in which ministries—all of these factors are influenced by cultural traditions, and all represent opportunities for either sacrifice or selfishness.
Application: If you have visited churches of other cultures, what did you like most? What made you most uncomfortable? What changes would you be willing to make in your own church to welcome someone whose cultural expectations are different?
“The black community is doing too much blaming, and the white community is doing too much denying,” says Shelby Steele in his controversial collection of essays, The Content of our Character. Washington and Kehrein agree, and they submit that repentance and forgiveness are the “primary empowering agents” that free us from this blame-denial cycle. Their examples and stories remind me of an example I witnessed as part of “Breakfast Club.” Now called “Common Ground,” the program pairs people of different cultures and equips them to meet monthly for a year and develop a relationship that is enriched by their differences. For most of the year, the pairs meet on their own, but two or three times throughout the year, all the participants are invited to a large-group celebration gathering at which we share experiences and learn from each other.
At one such gathering, a young black woman told how she had shared with her partner, an older white woman, a story she remembered from her childhood. She had been shopping with her mother, and while her mother was checking out, this young woman, a small girl at the time, got a drink from the “white” drinking fountain. The white security guard saw her, yelled at her, and yanked her away from the fountain. He then yelled at her mother and forcibly escorted them from the store. The girl was confused and frightened. She didn’t understand why what she had done was so terrible, and she didn’t understand why her mother accepted such an unfair punishment.
Now a grown woman, she was telling the story to her Breakfast Club partner. The pain, embarrassment, and anger of the experience came rushing back, and she began crying. Her partner, the older white woman, listened sympathetically, then touched the young woman’s hand, looked into her eyes, and said, “I’m so sorry that happened to you.” As the young woman explained to all of us at that large-group meeting, that simple apology made a life-changing difference.
“It was such a relief,” she explained. “I didn’t realize how much that long-ago experience had hurt me! But when my partner sincerely apologized like that, it validated all those feelings I had endured. I hadn’t realized that all my life I had been letting those feelings define my relationships with white people. Even when a white person was nice to me, I assumed that they weren’t sincere, that they were going to hurt me again. But that simple apology allowed me to forgive. It empowered me to move on freely.”
Application: What do you need to repent of? Whom do you need to forgive?
Kehrein and Washington contend that all Christians are called to the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:17–18, NIV). It’s not optional. Yes, some may be specifically called to make racial reconciliation a primary focus, but every Christian is expected to develop relationships with people who are not like us. That is the example Christ set for us when He became one of us and moved into our neighborhood.
Application: What is your next step in answering your call to be a reconciler? Before you answer that, read Part 3 of the book. The authors give separate advice to black Christians and white Christians because, they say, “The agenda for blacks and the agenda for whites differ somewhat, though the goal is the same.”