5 Steps to Racial Peace-Making

Article
09.25.2015

There is an abiding polarization in the American church when it comes to racial reconciliation. We see the tension play out in the blogosphere, in our denominational discussions, and in the verbal jousting among Christians on social media.

5 STEPS TO PEACE-MAKING

But I would like to briefly offer five steps to peacemaking within our churches as we work for racial reconciliation. And I get all of them from 1 Peter 3:8: “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”

1. Have unity of mind.

In this short verse, the Apostle Peter minces no words. We don’t have to hold identical opinions, but we must be agreeable and sensitive to each other’s concerns, prioritizing our common spiritual bond over our particularities.

Responding to this exhortation should lead us to stop caricaturing our brothers and sisters and impugning the motives of those who see things from a different angle.

We have become very good at building and demolishing straw man opponents that do not fairly represent the concerns of our brothers and sisters on the other side. We can have vigorous discussions about our disagreements, but we must work hard at listening to those with whom we disagree. Our shared commitment to the glory of God and the centrality of Christ must shape the way we process our different approaches.

2. Have sympathy.

Once we come to an understanding of the concerns that our brothers and sisters have, we must then take the time to process their struggles, wrestling to understand the fears, struggles, and anxieties that the issue may raise for them.

We have to “walk in their shoes” and ask the Lord to help us to sense the whole range of emotions and experiences that play into the issue for them. If you can begin to feel their sense of loss, their feelings of betrayal, powerlessness, or hopelessness, it will go a long way in dispelling mutual suspicions and fostering understanding.

“Feeling with” another person can be exhausting but it is relationally rewarding and surprisingly fruitful in our own knowledge of God.

3. Have brotherly love.

We must always keep in mind the centrality of brotherly love in the church. As the apostle Peter wrote these words to his people, we can only imagine the flood of images coming to his mind. How many times did he hear the Lord’s command to love! He was an eye witness to the costly example of Christ’s love played out in many ways, even unto death.

I wonder, when Peter wrote this verse, was he remembering Jesus’ washing his dirty feet and then commanding the disciples to love one another as Jesus loved them? Was he remembering his denial, the Lord’s restoral, and then that soul-searching question, “Peter, do you love me?”

Redeeming love necessitates brotherly love. It’s not an optional pursuit. We must weigh the command to love with great care and sobriety as we engage discussions of racial reconciliation because love must be demonstrated in concrete ways.

Love is patient with those who “just don’t get it.”

Love always hopes. It assumes that my brothers and sisters on the other side of this discussion really desire the same Revelation 7:9 picture that I long to see—even if we disagree on what it looks like to anticipate that final day right now.

Brotherly love will surely change the climate of the conversation, but we must take this out of the abstract and see those before us as people to love rather opponents to conquer.

4. Have a tender heart.

To my mind, this is one of the best things you could say about a person: “They have a tender heart.” It communicates warmth, care, and interest. It’s full of kindness and approachability. Those with a tender heart have a conscience that is sensitive to the impact that their words and actions have on others. If they should ever cause damage, they are quick to repent and repair what they have broken.

But it’s easy to identify with the flip side of this picture, isn’t it? In the mirror, we sometimes see that hard-hearted person, the person who is mean-spirited, cold and prickly, overly stern and seemingly incapable of feeling when it comes to our “opponents.” Unfortunately, it seems that the more cognitively-oriented denominations and local church fellowships are the ones that draw these cold and prickly types in spades.

It is true, all of us are familiar with hardheartedness in our own lives, but we should simply take this good word from the apostle into prayer, asking the Lord to give us tender hearts through spiritual renewal. After all, if “my name is written on his heart,” then my heart should be growing ever more tender toward my brothers and sisters in Christ. But there is one final Christian commitment that I’d encourage us to consider: humility.

5. Have a humble mind.

Have you ever considered the possibility that meaningful progress in racial reconciliation has been so slow because humility has been so absent? Our hearts have not been soft because our heads are so hard. One of the ways that pride works is that it always convinces you that those people are the problem—every time. They are the ones who need to change. They need to get it together. They are the ones who are theologically, culturally, and socially ignorant.

The fact is that we are very good at making sure that we are the ones who are always cast in a favorable light. We are constantly placing ourselves in the “enlightened” camp while all of those people continue to be mired in ignorance. We are the good guys, they are the bad guys. It’s no wonder we often find ourselves at an impasse when all of us are thinking this way about the other!

NOT MAGIC, BUT DISCIPLESHIP

We must replace pride, condescension, callousness, and self-interest with unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, tender hearts and humble minds.

It’s not magic, it’s discipleship. The manner in which we deal with one another is not up for grabs. These virtues are in your possession by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

The question is, will you draw upon these vast resources so that you can be an instrument of reconciliation for the glory of God alone?