One of my favorite moments in the entire Bible is at the conclusion of Acts 16 when Paul helps plant the first church in Philippi and its first three members are a Gentile jailer, a slave girl, and a woman named Lydia. The great irony of how this scene concludes is that prior to his conversion, the former Pharisee, Paul, would most likely have begun his daily prayers by declaring, “God, I thank you that you have not made me a Gentile, a woman, or a slave.” Surely, outsiders who didn’t even yet believe in God must have looked at this beautifully-bizarre, countercultural community and thought, “the only explanation for this is God stepped in and moved.”
Historically, the church has always been at its best when we’ve been a people of reconciliation in times of division. Unfortunately, we’ve been at our worst when we’ve ignored this responsibility in favor of cultural preferences and comforts. Today, with the increased fracturing and divisions in our own culture that we’re painfully and perpetually reminded of through our social media feeds, the church must reclaim this vision that was part of what made it so great at its inception.
There are countless implications here, but in pursuing this destination, I’d love to challenge fellow majority culture leaders and pastors to help lead in this pursuit by responding well to the concerns and questions of our minority brothers and sisters by making three simple commitments:
- I want to develop diverse relationships where I listen more than I speak
One of the greatest impediments to reconciliation is a lack of diverse relationships, which feed into the false belief that “my experience is everyone’s experience.” I started to recognize this when my family adopted our first child of a different ethnicity, and we fairly quickly encountered racism, even in her infancy. I not only realized that my experiences growing up as a white male will be vastly different than my daughter’s, but are radically different in many ways from my minority friends. Consequently, I stopped assuming that my experiences were everyone’s experiences.
- In these relationships, I refuse to diminish my friend’s pain
One of the most dehumanizing things we can do is to dismiss another’s pain, or diminish it by making it seem comparably insignificant. Unfortunately, I’ve been in many rooms where the concerns from minority voices are downplayed because of “how far things have come.” Yes, we should be deeply thankful in the ways there have been progress. At the same time, just because we don’t have slavery doesn’t mean there aren’t still major issues that have to be confronted and worked through for authentic reconciliation to spill into our communities. Striving to empathize with pain is the path towards healing. Immediate dismissal of pain only worsens the hurt.
- In the public sphere, I’ll join the fight for justice and reconciliation
Our silence and inactivity in response to another’s pain communicates something. As one friend told me, “When the church won’t speak out or acknowledge my pain, I feel put in this place where I’m once again unrepresented and unheard, and the pain only compounds.” The question of when and where to speak out is a complex one, and it requires much wisdom. I’ve found myself increasingly asking these trusted friends when and how is the right time to act. But what’s not complex is that quiet apathy only further creates hurt and division. We also must be people of action.
These are troubling times, and yet, times of unique opportunity for the church to reflect that it’s in the darkest of days that the God of light shines the brightest. Let us humbly pursue this great chance to be a people of reconciliation in an age of division.