In the Shadow of Charlottesville: Let's be Quick to Listen and Slow to Speak
I’m pretty sure that no one reading this post will disagree with me when I say that this weekend’s display of racism in Charlottesville, Virginia was horrific. Probably all of my white friends, family, and readers want only a great distance between themselves and neo-confederates or neo-nazis or alt-right adherents. We all agree they’re on the fringe.
But I want to invite my Christian white brothers and sisters to listen. Not to me. No, I need to listen too. I want to urge us all to listen to what our black brothers and sisters are saying right now. What are they feeling? How are they processing the violence in Charlottesville? What are black Christian pastors saying? What are black ministry leaders voicing? What are black Christian writers writing?
My friend Brandon Washington who is a pastor in Denver said today, “Never are the divisions of the Church more obvious than when one ethnic group within Christianity ignores the heartaches of another” (Mark 12:30-31).
My friend Tammy asked for prayer for her husband, a pastor in Aurora, saying “he’s in our bedroom crying out to God about how he’s supposed to address these issues from the pulpit tonight.”
Writer and President of the Reformed African American Network Jemar Tisby asked, “Why can’t we—the people who suffer under white supremacy every day in myriad ways—just tell you it's dangerous and you listen?”
Why do we find it hard to listen? Why are we eager to explain it all away? Our brothers and sisters in Christ are asking us to listen.
- Rather than citing our ancestor’s poverty and arduous immigration journeys from Europe, let’s listen.
- Rather than saying our white guilt won’t do anyone any good, let’s listen.
- Rather than citing police brutality statistics that favor white folks, let’s listen.
- Rather than recalling that time we got passed over for the job but the black guy got it, let’s listen.
- Rather than bashing the past eight years of Obama, let’s listen.
- Rather than saying that Hilary is no better, let’s listen.
What if we took our black brothers and sisters at their word? What if we believed them that life is different for them? What if we assumed that they’re not lying, that they’re not exaggerating, that their views aren’t skewed beyond reality?
Do you think we could commit to a season of listening? A season of reading books and watching documentaries? A season of reading blogs and listening to podcasts? A season of sitting across the table from a black friend and saying humbly, “Please, tell me your experience.”
Because black Christians are our family, because of the Imago Dei, because they’re hurting, and because we’re called to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15) we really must listen. Is it possible that you and I could set aside our explanations and only exercise empathy?
No, you and I are not the alt-right. We are not the neo-nazis marching on Charlottesville with hate in our eyes. But are we listening?
If you are ready to start listening now, may I recommend a sermon and an interview?