Brothers and sisters, you have been cordially and cheerfully invited to come sit at the table and partake in a wonderful event that God has offered us human beings. This event, when executed with care and concern, is known to heal hearts, soothe souls, calm quarrels, and promote peace. The event is called conversations; the goal is empathy. As I look around the world, and the church, it’s an event both sides of any argument can’t afford to skip.
Brothers and sisters, I am hurt. As I turn on the news, I am constantly faced with recurring images of the same depressing narrative. It seems almost monthly there is a new name to march for, a new hashtag to tweet, a new debate to be had. But that is not what actually saddens me the most about these issues. What saddens me the most is that I have some brothers and sisters in Christ, beautifully and wonderfully made in His Image, who don’t seem to have the capacity for empathy that issues like these require. Please know, the invitation to this conversation is not one where the goal is the make anyone feel guilty, angry or confused. In fact, I am convinced that this will bring about the exact opposite of those results. I am quite aware that a lot of you in the church are ready and willing to give empathy, yet don’t know how. I also know that some of you may not have empathy to give, whether out of lack of care or lack of information. Please know, I love you all. But allow me, if I may so graciously and gently, enter a difficult space.
The church should be the place where empathy is always found. Jesus came to this earth to die for a people to be set apart. Those people are His church. Hebrews 4:15 calls Jesus our empathetic High Priest. I think its safe to say that if Jesus is the Creator and Cornerstone of His church, then the church was created, in empathy, towards us, and therefore created for empathy to be given to others through us. Yet, around the issues of race, there seems to be a wall that rises immediately when the conversation tries to begin. This wall rises for multiple reasons and is built differently depending on the reason. Regardless of the reasons why the wall comes up or the bricks chosen to build it, it is a wall. This is what Paul has to say about walls: “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph. 2:14 ESV). The “He” is Christ. Paul is talking to the Gentiles in the church of Ephesus about how now they are one with Israel in Gods eyes through the blood of Jesus. That they are no longer considered “uncircumcised” but are now one. Christ “has made us both one”. I am you. I am your brother. I am a part of you in Christ Jesus. Before we were one in Christ, we were both equally created in Gods image. The wall, through Jesus Christ, has been broken. Here is what it means: You and me are able to be totally and freely empathetic towards each other in Christ Jesus. How do we do that? You follow Romans 12:15 and “mourn with those who mourn”. Empathy. This is not Paul talking to random strangers anymore, he is talking to family. We are family. And we have some family members who are hurting.
So here it is. An invitation to open, honest, passionate, truthful, sometimes disagreeing, yet always gracious and empathetic conversation. I’m so excited to have these conversations. Yet I am also nervous. I know that some of these conversations will be fruitful, producing the desired empathy and understanding so many of us desire. And I know that some conversations may not fulfill these desires. Yet I am encouraged. Romans 8:28 says God is able to work ALL things out for the good of those who are called according to His purpose. This is such good news! This means regardless of the outcome of our conversation, God is able to work it out for our good and His glory! That frees, and obligates, us to have tough conversations knowing God is able to do far above and exceedingly more than we can imagine (Eph. 3:20). That we serve a God who can turn what was meant for evil and use it for good (Gen. 50:20). Let us, together on both sides, repent of not engaging each other in tough spaces, whether out of fear, detachment, doubt, anger or hatred, myself included. These are not of God and therefore shouldnt be found among us. The power and glory of God through Christ has torn down the dividing wall. We are free to dive into dark spaces because we do not dive alone (Psalms 23:4)
Now you be asking yourself some questions:
How do these conversations start?
Ask a question. A lot of times both sides are waiting for the other side to initiate. If not you, then who? The question does not have not be an elaborate question about social injustices in cities with high minority populations; it can be as simple as “Hey what do you think about…”. Staying informed and relevant will help to form these questions. Reading different sources of news will allow for a broader perspective on issues.
What do I say?
Say whats on your heart. If you asked because you are curious, say that. If you asked because you think the events may concern the person you are speaking to, reveal that. It’s not just a matter of “what” you say, but more of “why” you say it. BUT! I would stay away from anything that sounds like the opening statement of a debate. Questions are always better than opinions, initially.
How does my heart approach those topics?
This is where empathy and building relationships play a vital role. You should always love the person/people you are speaking to. Loving them doesn’t mean you have to know everything about them, but simply that you acknowledge the hurt (which sometimes masks itself as anger and hatred) in the person and want to walk with them through this hurt, if allowed. Ask the Lord to show you how to “mourn with those who mourn” and how to lovingly and truthfully “bear one another’s burdens”.
How do I deal with the fear of the topic?
Ask the Lord to reveal the true reason for fear of the topic. It is natural to feel uneasy about controversial topics, but fear is paralyzing and not of God. In fact not only does God not give us a spirit of fear but instead He gives us His spirit of power, love, and a sound mind. Fear and love can’t be roommates. That doesn’t mean you will not be nervous to start these conversations or that the temptation to fear will not be there. What it does mean is that we have a choice to not let that fear decide for us.
So if you needed an invitation to have tough talks, here it is. Pray about who to have these conversations with. When these conversations arise, let us humbly sit under the edict of James 1:19, and be “quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger”, being reminded that the “anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God”. The invitation has been formally sent. Will you respond?