Over the past few years, I’ve become a cycling enthusiast. This year, I’ve taken my enjoyment from going out for a ride to learning about the sport, its history, and the key players of today. As a result, I’ve been following the 2016 Le Tour de France closely. I’ve watched almost every stage (their name for the route they ride each day; there are 21 stages in the race). I’ve read articles, watched videos and even began tracking some riders’ progress via the Tour’s website. I’m all in! It’s fun and intriguing and incredibly interesting to me. I could go on and on about all that I am learning—it’s a lot! But it isn’t just that I’m learning about the sport. I’m also learning about perseverance, endurance, long-suffering, camaraderie, competition, discipline and dedication. Perhaps one day I’ll write about each of these things but today, after what I saw in the race, I wanted to highlight one key area: selfless teamwork.
In Stage 19 (yes, the nineteenth day of racing through valleys and up mountains throughout and around France) the leader, Chris Froome, went down on a slippery and steep decent off the top of a mountain in the Alps. I’d imagine for the average rider, that fall would have been the end of the day (and then some!). But not only did Froome get up, he finished that day’s race—but not without the help of a teammate. As Froome is maneuvering himself out of the way of the other riders, his teammate, Geraint Thomas, jumps off his bike and hands it to Froome. I was shocked. I’d never seen anything quite like that. Had Thomas not been so selfless and focused on the team rather than himself, Froome would likely have lost precious time (maybe even his lead) in the overall standings. Thomas wasn’t the only one to help him that day, but his assistance was for me the most striking and probably the most significant.
I realize that in the Tour de France, whoever wins the general classification’s prized maillot jaune (yellow jersey), wins for the whole team—at least that’s how it’s supposed to be. The winnings are split among the team members. But Thomas is no average rider (none of these guys are, actually), he’s currently in 15th overall. Although I don’t know much about cycling, I do imagine that if he wanted to push on for his own gain, he could have and might have finished the overall race further up in the standings.
In our world where individualism and self-proclamation are rampant, it was uniquely refreshing to see this total lack of self-awareness and regard. Thomas was how I hope to be as a Christian woman. I desire to be selfless, focused more on the good of my husband, my children, my church members and my co-workers than on me. I’m not. I’m often quite self-aware. More than I’d like to admit, I’m aware of my time and my security. I want to be willing to lay down my life for another. What I know and what gives me hope is that I have the power of the Spirit to grow.
Jesus told us, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:12-14). My laying down isn’t like Christ’s. I won’t likely have to die for someone—though there is a great death of self that must happen if I am to truly love my neighbor. Still, Jesus commands us to die. To lay down our lives for our brothers. To, if you will, give our position, our chance for gold, and our bodies to another. For me that may look like being attentive to the immediate needs of my family or meeting deadlines at work, but whatever it is, it takes effort and a willingness to think about someone other than myself. And Jesus told us that if we love, if we do as he commands, then we are his friends. Jesus is a great motivator for living sacrificially. He sacrificed himself for me and His grace is enough to help me do the same.
Before I became a Christian and while in college, I would host multi-ethnic group discussions at my university on the topic of race and diversity. My hope was that we’d be able to discuss misconceptions and together challenge racism. Now that I’ve been talking about this topic for many years, I’m anxious for us to take the topic beyond talking and into action. What I also realize, however, is that for many, the past few years have been the very first time you’ve ever considered the importance of racial reconciliation and how you might be involved in it. So, I’ve often been hesitant to give friends a large list to do. With that said, here’s a list for you to consider. Some of the thoughts below are practical and not related directly to our faith, while others are steps I believe you can take to directly put your faith into action.
What can I do?
- Foster an environment in your churches and in your homes where the gospel is proclaimed and there is a robust understanding of imago dei (the Image of God). God created each one of us in His image and the gospel is for all nations, tribes, and tongues.
- Each of us has a responsibility to love one’s neighbor. In order to do that, we must first have transformed hearts. Then, we must take action to get to know others–even those not like us. As much as possible and when possible, fill your lunches and dinner tables, your conference rooms, your business meetings, and your college study groups with people who you can love and serve who are not like you.
- Promote confession. If we confess our sin, we know that God is faithful to purify us (1 John 1:9). Ask the Lord to reveal any place of pride or prejudice in your own heart. Recognize that racism within our hearts does exist, even though it may be hidden. Promote confession among your friends and in your churches—this, I believe, is foundational, fostering a gracious environment. Remember that love covers a multitude of sins (1 Pet. 4:8). Be ready to forgive when others confess.
- Resist apathy. It’s easy to think that because we are 50 years past the Civil Rights Movement, we are now in a place to move on. Because we are now united under law, let’s work even harder to be united under Christ. We have not arrived yet and, therefore, ask the Lord to give you eyes to see the work yet to be done.
- Get practical: If you read The New Jim Crow, go and visit a prison—pray with the men and women. Begin to see them as human. If you live in a homogenous neighborhood, shop in a neighborhood that is more diverse every now and then, find a way to engage in the community that is not your own (community events, community centers, Boys and Girls clubs, etc). Get yourself in a position to meet new and different people.
I’m afraid to speak. How can I speak about this topic well?
If you have a desire to speak about this topic well, that’s a good sign that you’ll be thoughtful and careful. I do think it’s important for us to pray about our words before we speak them. There isn’t a moment that I share something that there isn’t a slight fear before I share it. Part of this is a sinful fear of man—being afraid of what others will think of me. Another fear, I believe, is a healthy fear of the Lord. I want to honor God with my speech. We also want to love others well. Part of loving others is praying about our speech and speaking with thoughtfulness and care.
But—speak! We don’t want to use prudence as an excuse to be apathetic or uninvolved. This does not mean that you must write blog posts or scream on Facebook or other social media platforms, but it does mean that if you see something that is clearly wrong—speak up. I’ve heard it said that if you are in the vicinity of slander, racist chatter, racist jokes or the like and you do not speak up to those who are around, then they will, 1) assume you are okay with it, and 2) feel comfortable to do it again with you in their presence. Make it so that people know they cannot say anything racist in your presence because they will be shutdown and corrected. Don’t be afraid to stand for truth and justice—and I think this is especially important in private conversations—where they matter most.
Is there hope?
Yes! There’s hope for today and hope for the next life. We are living in perilous times, but I wonder if there’s ever actually been a time that hasn’t been perilous since Genesis 3. There are many reasons to mourn, but no reason to be without hope. Jesus has accomplished the unity that we desire (Eph.2). We need the power of the Spirit to be able to live out this reality in our lives.
We also realize that one day all the sin, pain, and fear will be wiped away. I’m thankful for that reality.
Other questions I’ve received:
Quotas: Won’t it feel artificial?
Yes, it will feel artificial—if it is artificial. It’s about the heart and ultimately about love. Seek to love your neighbor as yourself. Ask God to change your heart if it feels artificial.
Don’t you think it would be weird? Kinda like: “Hi. Will you be my black friend?”
Chances are you won’t do that and if you begin to gain a better understanding of imago dei it won’t be weird at all. Building relationships with those who are different than you and me should be a natural part of our lives. We know, however, this is not the case, so as my friend, Thabiti, once said, maybe it’s time to get a little weird.
What if I’m rejected?
You will likely be rejected. Aren’t we all rejected at some point? God’s word says, what can man do to the soul? Nothing. They can kill the body, but the soul lives on. Don’t fear rejection. Know that not everyone will be open to getting to know you and that’s okay.
What’s wrong with having preferences?
I understand that it is most comfortable for some to be with those just like themselves. I get it. My question is why do we hold to those preference? Could it be that you actually struggle with the sin of partiality? James talks about the rich not wanting to associate with the poor. Could that be your trouble? In this instance, instead of rich and poor partiality it is cultural and racial?
As my little series comes to a close, please know that this is only the beginning but it is indeed a step. I pray that you and I will take some action whether it’s starting a conversation with a neighbor, reading a book written by an African American author, or being a part of a peaceful protest. Whatever it is, let’s make today the day we take our faith and put it in action.
Trillia is an author and speaker and the owner of this site. You can learn more about her here. You can also find her on twitter: @trillianewbell and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TrilliaNewbell/
Also see: Be Strong and Very Courageous: Jemar Tisby Answers Your Frequently Asked Questions, Listen. Learn. Love: Kristie Anyabwile Answers Your Frequently Asked Questions, The Monolithic Black Community and Frequently Asked Questions and Is Racial Harmony a Black Issue?
(Note from Trillia: You’ve asked me to answer some of your most frequent questions regarding racial reconciliation and I’m happy to say that I’ve recruited a few friends to assist me. Over the next few days, I’ll have guest posts from Kristie Anyabwile and Jemar Tisby. Jemar joins us in this conversation today. I have had the joy of serving on the board of the Reformed African American Network (RAAN), an organization founded by Jemar. At the time, he and his partner at RAAN were two of the first people to encourage and support my writing when I began to share publicly about race and the gospel. I’ve been encouraged by his ministry and desire to serve other well. I pray you, too, will be encouraged by his words today.)
What can I do?
Racial justice requires a fundamental posture toward people who differ. It is not first and foremost an issue of doing, but of being. We must be the kind of people who, in humility, count others more significant than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). That said, who you are is displayed by what you do. Instead of developing an endless “To Do” list in answer to the question of “What can I do?”, I like to use the A.R.C. of racial reconciliation.
The ‘A’ in A.R.C. stands for Awareness. This encompasses all the actions we take to inform ourselves. Americans in general suffer from an ahistorical perspective on race. We have to confront this ahistorical perspective and know the context of race in our nation in order to address our present issues. I recommend the following resources to begin building your awareness of racial issues:
- Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith
- Doing Racial Harmony a presentation by Thabiti Anyabwile, Trillia Newbell and Jemar Tisby
- The Reformation and Racial Reconciliation a presentation by Ligon Duncan and Jemar Tisby
- The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross a PBS special by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
- From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race by J. Daniel Hays
The ‘R’ in A.R.C. stands for Relationships. While we have to realize that simply having friends of a different race will not effectively shift race relations nation-wide, personal interactions across ethnic lines do build empathy and familiarity. But we all tend to gravitate toward people like ourselves, so this will take intentional effort, especially from those in the majority.
The ‘C’ in A.R.C. stands for Commitment. Awareness of and relationships with people of other races should lead to action. This analogy has been used many times and bears repeating. Picture a pedway at an airport. You can be walking in the same direction as the pedway (racist). You can be standing still on the pedway (non-racist), or you can be walking against the direction of the pedway (anti-racist). Most people are simply satisfied being non-racist. A non-racist endeavors not to consciously say or do racist things and thus add to the evil. But being an anti-racist means you actively work against racism in various forms. That means interrupting a culturally insensitive joke, initiating conversations with friends and family members who hold racist views, or leading discussions and prayers at church and a host of other actions. Commitment requires a proactive dedication to dismantle racist assumptions and actions in our personal networks and the broader society.
I’m afraid to speak. How can I speak about this topic well?
My main encouragement and admonishment to the Christian church in the United States regarding race relations is “be strong and very courageous” (Joshua 1:6). God spoke these words to Joshua as he was about to take over leading the nation of Israel after Moses’ death. The assurance God gave Joshua was, “I will not leave you or forsake you” (v. 5). God has fulfilled that promise in the coming of his son, Jesus Christ–Immanuel, “God with us.” Christ has given us the Holy Spirit through faith and dwells with us eternally as we carry the gospel of reconciliation to people of every tribe, nation, and tongue. Lean into this difficult charge because you have the power of God to do so. Do not shrink back in fear when people label you, insult you, misunderstand you, and forsake you. Christ told us we would face these things for the sake of the faith, but he has overcome the world (John 16:33). So be bold and courageous in this tumultuous but fertile season for reconciliation.
On a more practical level, people in the majority should let minorities have the microphone. Popular Christianity in the United States tends to favor the voices of the majority. Racial reconciliation requires “centering” the marginalized minority.
It’s time to read books by minorities, have minorities give plenary talks at our biggest conferences, and let minorities write the blogs and make the recommendations. In this way, we honor the gifts of the body and learn from one another.
Is there hope?
While it is true that we may never see the fruits of our labors at racial justice, we take God at his word when he says, “The one who sows righteousness gets a sure reward” (Proverbs 11:18). That should encourage us not to wait idly for the second coming, but to pray all the more fervently “thy Kingdom come” and then act.
But in the midst of a never-ending news cycle of negativity, Christians may often ask themselves, “Is there any hope of racial reconciliation in our nation and in our lifetime?” I think the realistic answer is yes and no. No, because we live in a world that is still broken by sin. Things aren’t right and will never be right until Jesus returns. As it says in Hebrews 13:14, “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” This isn’t our home, and we will always be uncomfortable until it comes.
But there is a “yes” to the question of whether we have reason to hope, because we can make a difference in the small circle of neighbors in which God has placed us. Signs of hope are in the new family who comes into your church, an ethnic minority who finally feels heard and understood, a local law passed or judge elected who upholds biblical standards of morality–all of this and more is achievable where you are and while you live. As Paul encourages the Galatians, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).
Jemar (B.A. Notre Dame; MDIV RTS Jackson) is the President and Co-Founder of the Reformed African American Network (RAAN) where he blogs about theology, race, and culture. His writing has been featured on Urban Faith, Christianity Today, and The Gospel Coalition. Jemar serves as the Director of the African American Leadership Initiative and Special Assistant to the Chancellor at RTS Jackson and is a PhD student in History at the University of Mississippi. He is a member of Redeemer Church, is married and has one child. Follow him on Twitter @JemarTisby
Also see: Listen. Learn. Love: Kristie Anyabwile Answers Your Frequently Asked Questions, The Monolithic Black Community and Frequently Asked Questions and Is Racial Harmony a Black Issue?
(Note from Trillia: You’ve asked me to answer some of your most frequent questions regarding racial reconciliation and I’m happy to say that I’ve recruited a few friends to assist me. Over the next few days, I’ll have guest posts from Kristie Anyabwile and Jemar Tisby. Kristie is up first. Kristie has become a dear sister who I speak with often. She is humble, gentle, honest, and kind. She loves deeply and wants to see the same unity I desire. I pray you will be encouraged by her today.)
What can I do?
Among my white friends, this has been the most asked question. They want to be active and engaged in some way to respond to the pain they see playing out in America and to their own pain. Words like listen, learn, and love may sound simplistic, but I think they go a long way in empathizing with the burdened.
Listen. Ask your black friends how this past week, even the past couple of years, has been for them. Then be quick to listen (James 1:19). Hear their heart. You are likely to hear stories of mistreatment, racial slurs, microaggressions, fears for themselves and their children. Don’t offer explanations or solutions. Just listen. How can we bear one another’s burdens if we don’t listen to what those burdens are?
Learn. Spend some time learning about the history and plight of African Americans. We’ve had to do the same. I was introduced to black history and culture in college. Learning about the broad accomplishments of Africans and African Americans opened my eyes and world in ways that have only benefited me over the years. Prior to that, my exposure to my own history came from a few family stories about their experiences during the Jim Crow and Civil Rights era, watching ROOTS as a child, and a few minutes in a class or two where we heard about Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King, Jr.. Do a little research and learn the history that gives context for what we are dealing with today in regards to race relations in America.
Love. Love one another deeply from the heart (1 Peter 1:22). As you listen and as you learn, love your brother or sister as yourself. Grieve with them. Hope together. Pray for them. Speak and pray words of encouragement to them. Let your love move you to action. Participate in a local peace forum or demonstration with your friend. Lock arms with them against injustice. Actively, vocally oppose injustice whenever and wherever you see it. “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8) In love, encourage your white family members and friends to listen, learn and love along with you.
I’m afraid to speak. How can I speak about this topic well?
Some of you are fearful of speaking up on behalf of your black sisters and brothers who are hurting. You don’t want to be misunderstood. You don’t want to say something inadvertently insensitive. You don’t want backlash from family and friends and coworkers. You’re tired. You’re hurting as well. You don’t know what to say, so you say nothing.
I get it. You feel vulnerable. It too saddens me that often the white voices we hear most and loudest are those that are least empathetic and gracious. I believe there are more of you who have words of grace and encouragement and love and hope for your black brothers and sisters. I believe there are more of you who have gracious words of correction and perspective that you can offer to your harsher white brothers and sisters. We need to hear from you.
May I encourage you to trust the Lord with your words? This is something the Lord has been teaching me for a number of years. Too often when I’m prompted by the Lord to speak, I think He’s gonna leave me once I open my mouth, and that my words are mine alone. But the One who gave me my mouth is with me and will give me the words He wants me to speak. This is true for you as well. You can trust Him. “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe (Proverbs 29:25).” Fear of man can either torment us or tempt us. Torment comes in agonizing over all the “what ifs” and playing back the worst-case scenario in our minds, stifling our voices. Or, in our fear of man, we may be tempted to sin in the form of disobedience or refusing to identify with Christ’s suffering when He graciously grants that stewardship to us through the words He prompts us to speak. But remember that there is safety in trusting the Lord. You never have to be ashamed of trusting Him. He will keep you. He is your confidence and will bless those who have ears to hear by your words that are prompted by His Spirit.
Is there hope?
Of course there’s hope! We are exiles, living in temporary dwelling until our Deliverer comes to take us home to glory. We hope for this. We long for this. It seems far off, but we know neither the day nor the hour when our Savior will appear. So, we ask the Lord to come quickly. We work to make disciples by sharing the good news of the gospel.
But is there hope in this life? Yes! We can hope for a better society for ourselves and the next generation. But we do not have an effortless hope. We must work toward the good of our land, and we must pray. We work for the betterment of our society as we participate in our political process, serve in our neighborhoods, and take an active role in caring for the neglected. No, our world is not perfect. But we must acknowledge the progress that has been made and ask the Lord for more. Our hope fizzles when we forget God’s active grace in our lives. He has been and always will be faithful. He has been faithful to keep us and to bring us this far. We can trust Him to continue to pour out His grace to us. As the gospel hymn writer stated, “We’ve come this far by faith, leaning on the Lord, trusting in His holy Word. He’s never failed me yet.”
Our hope is fueled and enflamed by prayer. We must pray for those who are in authority over us. We must pray for their salvation. Pray for their leadership to be honorable and full of integrity. Pray for laws and leaders who work for the safety of all. Pray for justice. We do this so that we all might be able to live peaceful and quiet lives in a godly and dignified way (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:7)
Kristie is a pastor’s wife, mom, speaker and writer. She joyfully supports her husband of 25 years, Thabiti, as he pastors Anacostia River Church in Washington, DC. They have 3 children. Kristie disciples women in her local church, and speaks and writes about marriage, motherhood, and ministry. She has degrees in History and in African American Studies from North Carolina State University. She has written contributions to the ESV Women’s Devotional Bible; Word-Filled Women’s Ministry: Loving and Serving the Church; Women on Life: A Call to Love the Unborn, Unloved and Neglected; and Hospitality Matters: Reviving an Ancient Practice for Modern Missions. You can find her at www.iamconvinced.wordpress.com and follow her on Twitter at @kanyabwile.
Also see: The Monolithic Black Community and Frequently Asked Questions and Is Racial Harmony a Black Issue?
A few weeks ago I tweeted: If you look at your Black friends, coworkers, writers etc. and think they can only contribute to race conversations, this is wrong and narrow.
The tweet was met with a mix of both encouragement and confusion. Some people chimed in to simply say, “Duh” or “Of course.” Others didn’t understand why I would say this was wrong and narrow and, since I don’t tend to defend myself online, I watched as others explained that it isn’t always assumed that Black people shouldn’t all be talking about race. But there can be a common assumption, perhaps an unconscious one, that topics on race, racial reconciliation and diversity should be relegated solely to African Americans. We are called on to address these topics quite often.
I’ve argued that not only is it not true that African Americans ought to be called on frequently for this topic, it isn’t right or even healthy for the conversation. In order for us to truly grow, we must hear from other voices, particularly our white brothers and sisters. My white brothers and sisters are indeed a part of humanity, a part of the human race and, therefore, race, racial reconciliation and diversity aren’t just “black issues” or topics. Furthermore, our African American brothers and sisters frankly have far more to offer than just their thoughts and insights on race. I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to write and speak on topics beyond race—and I am also happy and thankful to share on this topic. However, many African Americans cannot say the same.
I’m introducing this topic of frequently asked questions by highlighting that we can and should speak into all areas of life and ministry because there’s another temptation that many fall into: the Black community is vast and varied and, therefore, not monolithic (just like each distinct and unique individual snowflake in a snowfall). Perhaps this strikes you similarly as my previous statement, “Duh. Of course not all Black people are the same.” The trouble is, I’ve personally experienced this assumption time and time again and it’s good for you and I to know and remember that the experiences, upbringing, and even culture of people of a certain ethnicity will not be the same. Therefore, when we ask questions like, “What can I do to assist in the fight against racism?” the answers can be widely different.
For example, I’m often asked about my experience in the Black Church. I think this question and many others like it are innocent in themselves—my assumption is that the questioner is simply curious and means absolutely no harm. There are, however, great assumptions being made on the part of the person asking the question.
I became a Christian at the age of 22. A white female shared the gospel with me and then, when I eventually gave my life to the Lord, I entered a predominantly white church.
I did not grow up attending church beyond major holidays, and once I hit high school, my sisters and I were no longer forced or encouraged to attend any church. I was first truly introduced to a church community when I was 16—it was multi-ethnic.
I can count on my hands the amount of times I’ve attended predominantly Black churches.
My church experience has been a mixture of fundamentalism in high school, reformed Baptist, and non-denominational. It has also always been either multi-ethnic or predominantly white.
So, why is there the assumption that I’d know anything at all about the Black Church, beyond what I’ve studied? Simply because I am Black.
My culture, upbringing, and general church experience would likely be quite different from someone of the same ethnicity in Chicago or San Diego or Iowa (are there any Black people in Iowa? Although I kid, there’s only 3.4% of the entire population). However, there’s one thing that the whole Black community does have in common and that binds us uniquely—we share the same history in this country.
Why is it so important that we need to understand there are different experiences that shape people who share the same ethnicity?
Even with the commonality of Black history in this country, I have heard Black brothers and sisters share things about racial reconciliation that I would say differently or would outright disagree with. It’s important that we realize that there are various and varying opinions and methods for communicating on the topic of racial reconciliation. For example, I have friends who will not call this pursuit racial reconciliation; to them it’s racial harmony, and still others wouldn’t use the term race at all. There are some of us who believe that there are systemic problems within our country, in particular in our justice system, while there are others who believe that the greater issue is Black on Black crime. What could be a temptation for you (and for me!) would be to find the person who sounds the most like you and believe that because this person says what you hope to hear, then it’s true for all people within that community.
As we all seek to learn and gain understanding, I believe one of the first things we must realize is that varying opinions, even if you disagree, are helpful for growth, understanding, and gaining empathy. This doesn’t mean we have to automatically adopt the beliefs of others, but we ought to, at the very least, consider and wrestle with what they have to say. We don’t need to feel any pressure to support someone we disagree with either. In our social media age, there can be a pressure to share something we aren’t convinced is the most helpful and specifically on topics about race, we don’t want to look like we aren’t contributing or engaged either. There’s no need for that pressure on this topic or any other. Learn and grow, yes, but we don’t need to feel pressure to share things we disagree with or still need to sort out in our heart and mind.
Because I recognize that I can’t speak for all Black people in America, I’m excited to share that I’ve invited two friends who have wisely spoken and written on the subject of race to also answer some of the frequently asked questions on race. Kristie Anyabwile and Jemar Tisby will answer these frequently asked questions:
- What can I do?
- I’m afraid to speak. How can I speak about this topic well?
- Is there hope?
Admittedly, Kristie, Jemar, and I are likely similar in our overall views, but we do have varying backgrounds and upbringings and, as a result, I thought it could be helpful to hear from others on this important topic.
My prayer is that this short series will prove to be helpful and encouraging to you as we all seek to love one another the way the Lord not only intended, but also has commanded.
Look for their answers later this afternoon or tomorrow morning.