I would like to say no. But every once in a while, I am faced with evidence that I allow my racial and ethnic biases to impact my decisions. Seeing such things is never easy or comfortable. Writing about them publicly is even harder.
I was convicted in my daily prayer time the other day after seeing a post on a friend’s Facebook page challenging us all to get involved and help the flood victims in Pakistan and India. Bob Bergmann, one of the most authentic and caring followers of Jesus I have ever had the privilege to spend time with, posted a link on his wall to this post at Gospel for Asia.
Here is what really struck me… in the past, I would be among the first to post links and try to mobilize people to help in times of disaster — natural or otherwise. I would give and encourage others to give and to pray. The earthquakes in Haiti were a good example of this.
Without trying to blow my own horn, I actually think I have a pretty consistent record on these issues. When I was a lead pastor, I would use my influence, our website, and pulpit time to try and mobilize resources and prayers towards areas of crisis in the world. Why? Because I believe it is our duty as neighbors.
But to be honest with you, the flooding in Pakistan (and now India) did not even register on my radar until Bob posted his link.
There might be a lot of reasons for that. I have been busy and haven’t been watching much news. I was away for a couple of weeks. My finances are tight, so I can’t donate. The recent shooting in Manchester has taken my focus on international to local. I didn’t realize it was as serious as it is. etc etc etc.
All of those may be plausible, but I wonder if there is something else at work? Am I simply less inclined to be moved to action on behalf of a different racial/ethnic or religious group/nation? Am I biased? Do I have issues with racism?
Those are hard questions. And to be honest, the only possible way to answer them honestly is to say YES. I have an issue with racism. And so do you (I humbly suggest).
In fact, anyone who says, “I am never racist” or “I don’t have a racist bone in my body” is probably not being honest. The truth is that we all have biases — ugly, irrational, and often based on fear or dislike of people different than us. It is often subconscious. But, if we are honest, it is often present.
Why do I bring this up here?
Because I am convinced that the only way forward on these issues is honesty and acknowledging the issues and addressing the tension. Pretending like there is no problem is never a solution. The answer to our racial issues in this country (and beyond) is not everyone pretending to be color-blind, but rather building real bridges and having honest conversations. It is about relationships and stories and honest conversations. I also bring it up because, in the midst of the rather crazy “mosque debate” going on these days around the Islamic Community Center in NYC, I think we all need to do some honest introspection about our own biases and issues.
I learned this lesson in college hanging out with a rag-tag group of Christians while I was at Clark University. We were very rag-tag and young and rough-around-the-edges. We were also a very diverse group — racially, ethnically, politically, socio-economically, sexual-orientation, etc. It was in that context that I really learned the power of listening to people’s stories and the power of relationships.
It is interesting that, years later, many of us are still friends. In fact, when my life blew up a year ago, it was this group of friends that really stepped up and cared for me — many of which I had not seen in years. Those reconnections are one of the few things I am truly thankful for from this past year.
Back to the main point… it was hanging out with this rag-tag group fifteen years ago that really taught me about diversity, race issues, and how to move forward.
Lesson one: don’t ignore the issue.
Lesson two: address the tension.
Lesson three: Listen more than you speak. Seek to understand.
Lesson four: Drop your defensiveness.
Lesson five: GRACE! — all around!
Lesson six: This process never ends… we keep growing in it.
Anyway, I know I was personally convicted after reading Bob’s post. And so I share my own thoughts and journey simply with the hope that maybe it might (a) be helpful to you, and (b) further the conversation in our community.