Behind Closed Doors – Hard Conversations among Christians about Racism

My friend called me out. I’m a writer. A Jesus-follower. I have a platform. Of course, I should use it to speak into this moment. Why else would God give me a voice in these times? I literally wrote the book on how to have hard conversations.

So this radical Jesus-lover sent this: “Lori, we need to you to write a blog/post sharing your wisdom on how to have the hard conversation about race. Hope to read it this week. THX.”

I looked God straight in the eye because conviction is swift and crystal clear. He responded by bringing Galatians 5:13-14 ESV to mind, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

And I understood from that that while my ethnicity in one way affords me the “option” to wrestle with the question of racism, my relationship with Jesus leaves no such default on the table because the default of every believer is love and truth. The loving truth is that racism has no place in the Body of Christ. When my neighbor suffers, I suffer.

And that’s exactly how it should work, these hard conversations about race. My friend was watching for me to do what is right to do and when it didn’t happen, he called me on it.

Honestly, I’ve hesitated to write on this topic because I’m not having substantive hard conversations with black friends. At least, not in person. I’m listening to everything they say through protests, written words, films, art, music, and sermons. And it’s right for me to listen because what business does some middle-aged white woman have writing anything about conversations of race?

But, here’s the thing. I’m not just a middle-aged white woman.

That’s what the world sees. But, what I am at my core is a daughter of the Most High God. What I am, in my inner being, is in Christ. All my hope for the world, for change, for deliverance, for overcoming, for true freedom is summed up in Jesus.  I don’t believe that change comes through politicians or protests or programs (though I don’t object to those and believe God uses them for His purposes.) I believe change comes by way of the cross – changed souls, changed hearts, changed ways – because I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

Growing up in the sixties and seventies, I believed racism would be eradicated in our times. I grew up in a mostly white rural area but in the church – let me say that again – in the church, I saw men and women of every color gather to worship as one people. The favorite folk song at our church camp was “Rainbow Race” by Pete Seeger. As a youth, I honestly believed it was a done deal.

I confess that as I’ve grown aware through my almost sixty years of life that racism has proved more stubborn and persistent than we imagined, I’ve adopted a learned helplessness/hopelessness that honestly isn’t representative of Christ at all. But that’s no reason to give up on the work. We must be refreshed and renewed by the Holy Spirit – when we’re beaten down, we must allow Him to revive us.

There are hard conversations to be had outside the church but let me begin with conversations we can have between Christians. I’m pretty practical so I believe we each should be begin at home – hard conversations with our inner circle.

  • Right now, people in my inner circle are asking “What should I be doing? How can I help?” The temptation is to join a march and call it a day. Or rush out to find a black friend and press him or her for ideas. It’s always tempting to look for the quick fix for discomfort – like comfort food for the soul, but let’s not allow one another to get off so easily. Instead, let’s take one another seriously and ask, “Are we willing to commit time in fasting and prayer asking God what we should do? Are we willing to listen to black sisters and brothers who are preaching on this now – to read their books and engage in discussion? What are we willing to set aside to make space for this work in our lives? Are we willing to fan this impulse to flame or do we just want to quiet a flare up of cultural guilt? Do we accept the urgency our black brothers and sisters feel?”
  • We need to get comfortable with hard conversations about sin, repentance, and change – with other white Christians. (Yes, this can also apply to Christians of every color – sin is not bound by skin color.) We need to be persistent about calling one another out for the everyday attitudes, remarks, and Facebook memes that express thoughts that represent shades of hate, bitterness, or resentment. We’re too savvy to be outright hateful but we must be zealous for the name of Christ that we present ourselves for cleansing from every hint of it. Many of us who are white hear comments in those quiet conversations with others and we think we’re standing firm by just not joining in. That’s not enough. Here’s a rule I’m adopting – if I hear something I would be uncomfortable hearing in the presence of a black friend, I’m going to speak up.
  • Speak up how? Like every other sin, we speak directly but with humility, gentleness, and the hope of redemption. “I hope I’m wrong, but that comment sounded hurtful and unkind regarding people of color. Did you intend it to come out that way?” Racism is sinful. Period. We MUST confront it in ourselves and in our communities.
  • And while we’re praying for courage for our black brothers and sisters, we need to ask for a healthy dose of our own. A white reader asked me this week about speaking out. Here’s our conversation:

Reader: “I have a question and I hope this is a safe place to ask it. This is how it goes for me:
SJW- White people should speak out
White person speaks out
SJW- White people should shut up and listen.
Lol. I don’t know what to do except concentrate on my own actions and my own heart. But that’s probably going to look like I’m being silent. Advice?”

I responded:

“I love that question and have been praying about it. Here’s where I’ve landed: We need to speak or be silent in accordance with the commands of Scripture and the leading of the Holy Spirit. Period. There will always be someone who calls us wrong no matter what we choose so we cannot choose our actions in response to other people’s demands but only in obedience to God. To speak in these times is to risk being misunderstood, criticized, rejected, mocked, dismissed, labeled, or opposed. But we must represent Jesus and God’s Word regardless of the fallout. If we are silent, it must also be in His name and at His calling, not out of fear of the consequences of speaking or the fear of getting it wrong. If we speak and someone shows us rightly where our words betray an inner prejudice, we should receive that in humility, process it with God, and grow. We will make mistakes but that’s not a reason to not try.”

I do have more to say about having hard conversations about race, but this has been a long post so there will be another.

For me, this is the place we begin – having hard conversations on our knees – repenting and seeking God’s counsel and then having hard conversations with our inner circles about the words we speak behind closed doors and the actions we could take that will lead to lasting change in the name of Jesus.

Frankly, there is no hope outside of Christ. None. In the history of the world, when the oppressed rise without Jesus, they simply become new oppressors. If we, as Christians, don’t involve ourselves in this work, there is no hope.

But, we know there is hope because we have all been to church and we’ve seen it happen before our very eyes – brothers and sisters of every color worshiping as one.

There is more work to do, but we must live and speak as people who know this hope. And because God has taught us how to have hard conversations, we can serve our brothers and sisters of color by engaging in this work, in the name of Jesus. Not without consequence on this side of glory, but with the hope of Christ in our hearts, we are already more than overcomers.

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7 Comments

    The Conversation

  1. Janira Perez says:

    Very well written and said

  2. Nancy K. Sullivan says:

    Our pastor spoke on this yesterday. He had stayed out of the conversation, but also felt it was time to join in. God is calling on our leadership (present company included) for such a time as this. Thank you for your obedience. Your voice matters. The times of testing you’ve been through must have been huge preparation. Thank you for your faithfulness. God bless.

  3. Joann Biewer says:

    I came from a racist home and tried several times to befriend people of different color. It was an impossible undertaking. When I left home I had the opportunity to be friends with someone yet she was constantly leery of my intentions. Heaven will be so wonderful – no one will care once we get home.

  4. Deb Kreyssig says:

    Amen Lori! It’s a heart condition no one can truly change but Jesus. I feel bad because I thought we, as a country, were past all of this. I’m glad we are more aware now so we know how to pray. I am weeping with my brothers and sisters, praying for the day they will no longer be judged by the color of their skin as well as so much more regarding equality. Praying the church, the Bride of Christ, will be a shining example of unity to the world. May our love for each other draw people to Jesus. One Holy Spirit in all joining our hearts together, making us one in Christ.

  5. Gary Boden says:

    From our narrow points of view, we forget that the Church (the people of God) is the most racially and ethnically diverse association of people that will ever exist – spanning not only countries, continents, and national identity, but all human history. It is an expression of God’s boundless creativity. We stain it when we let the Enemy drop in the thought, “Did God really say?” or when he pokes that deeply embedded fear of the different and unknown. Oh Lord, shield me from those fears.

  6. Jim Klock says:

    Amen.

  7. Sherry Carter says:

    As I sat in church Sunday, I looked around – really looked around. I saw a sanctuary full of freshly-showered, nicely-dressed men and women. I asked myself how we’d receive those who didn’t look like us. Truthfully, I don’t know. I’d like to think we’d welcome then genuinely, not just for show.

    But that’s not the question God asked me. Do we speak and act and reach out in love, so much love that ANYONE would believe they’d be accepted with open arms? What do our actions and attitudes speak outside our church walls? Are we open and welcoming?

    If we’re not, how do we change? We don’t need a committee or a sermon series. We need time on our knees, on our faces (if we can get up from the floor) before God. Even for believers, change must come from the inside out.