Dear Friends in Christ,
For the past three months I have been writing weekly letters that have primarily addressed the pandemic situation in which we have found ourselves. While this is still a very real concern, this week there is an even deeper and challenging issue that has come to the fore. Our society has once again been confronted with the reality of racism with the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. People across our country have had strong reactions that have often erupted in violence.
As a white American of northern European descent, I have little experience with being the object of racism. It is primarily an idea for me, not an experience. I have not been afraid that my children or grandchildren or the people God has given me especially to love would fall victim to the violence we have witnessed in the past few weeks. That makes it even more difficult for me to write this letter, because it will be easy to dismiss its message because I am one of the privileged. At the same time, as a follower of Jesus, it is important to commit to the written word the reality of racism, to support those who suffer because of it, and to seek to make it a thing of the past.
When we are faced with such deep problems with such far-reaching circumstances, we have a tendency to react rather than respond. These reactions often take the form of wanting to find fault in others. If we’re angry enough, it might lead us to lash out, even to the point of violence, as has happened in many of the cities in America. It’s also our tendency to want to blame others for the situation, usually those whose experience and place in society is different than ours. We must resist the impulse to react. We must embrace the call to respond, and a healthy response is more than just decrying such behavior as sinful or evil; it means beginning to move toward true change.
Real change begins with real repentance, and repentance is so much more than simple regret. Repentance involves a commitment to making a change. True repentance begins with a simple question – how have I contributed to this situation? The possible answers to this question are myriad, ranging from an active and vocal racism to passive tolerance of something intolerable. Your answer to this question requires real soul searching and prayerful consideration of how our Lord Jesus’ Great Commandment – love one another – has or hasn’t been active in your life. If your response is, “I have no responsibility for this situation,” then you’re fooling yourself. We have all contributed to racism in some way, and, sisters and brothers, it’s time to repent and make some changes.
While northern Europeans like me are among the privileged and may not have real personal and tangible experience being the object of racism, we do share points of contact with those who have. We are parents. We have parents. We have deep relationships, and these deep relationships can serve as a foundation for growing in our understanding of what it means to suffer from systemic racism. It is our calling to live our lives with empathy and care for one another, and for someone like me, that means seeking to grow in my sense of empathy for those who are hurt by racism. It means seeking and growing in relationships with those who suffer. It means listening – really listening to their fears, their concerns, and their anger without dismissing it. It means seeking a more accurate narrative of our nation’s history and how we have allowed this to take place. It means praying that God would change my heart and my mind so that I can be a better instrument of blessing to individuals and to society as a whole. It means being sensitive to opportunities to speak into the situation with the mind of Christ.