Shopping is hard right now. Kids put their hands, mouths, and sometimes tongues on everything. Entering any indoor space feels like reverse scuba diving—instead of keeping track of how much oxygen you have left, you're measuring how many viruses you may have breathed in.
I know all this. But that didn't stop me from saying something stupid to my wife Emily.
Emily had pulled me over to her laptop to look at some clothing for the kids. I had this look of annoyance on my face, which she questioned. I responded, "Well it seems like you're doing a lot of online shopping these days."
She was angry. Obviously. And she let me know as much. Of course she's doing a lot of online shopping—what other kind of shopping is there?! Moreover, she was asking me about 10% of the never-ending Keeping-Our-Kids-In-Decent-Clothing Project (i.e. Do we have the budget to buy this?), while the other 90% (keeping track of which sizes we have of which clothes for which child for which season) she manages singlehandedly.
Now I had a couple of choices at this point. I could 1) Double-down on my dumb complaint; or 2) admit that I what I said was wrong, apologize, and ask how I can make it better.
I suppose there is a third option, but no one in their right mind would consider this. I could be vaguely aware of my wife's anger, but instead of listening to her, I would instead assume that her anger is 1) due to ignorance; 2) she wants to destroy our marriage; and 3) naturally and unavoidable due to her being a woman.
No one would possibly do this, right?
The Ministry of Reconciliation
2 Corinthians 5:19 states, "God is not counting people's sin against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation."
Reconciliation shows up both in word and deed throughout the ministry of Jesus and the letters of the New Testament.
Think of the Prodigal Son—being received with open arms by the father.
Think of the woman about to be murdered because a man was committing adultery with her—and Jesus asking who was going to throw the first stone.
Think of Jews and Gentiles, men and women, slaves and masters—baptized together, eating together, sharing bread and wine together.
Reconciliation is one of the key effects of the Gospel. It's how you know the Gospel is being effectively proclaimed. Because Jesus is King, we are reconciled to God and to one another.
Reconciliation, however, isn't just pretending differences don't exist. It's not glossing over someone else's pain and pretending it doesn't matter anymore. When God reconciled us to Godself, God didn't just wave a magic wand and say, "Ta-da!" God came in the flesh, in the person of Jesus, and suffered, was crucified, and buried.
Reconciliation sets us free. But reconciliation is never cheap.
Reconciliation Means Paying Attention
Now imagine believing that our country has issues with race; that historically our country has been oppressive to minorities; and that racial discrimination is built into our society and institutions. That's what the large majority of Black Christians believe (81%, 78%, and 66% respectively; source below).
And imagine being told that, for believing those things, you must 1) be ignorant; 2) want to destroy our country; and 3) only believe that because you're Black and "of course that's what you think."
That's the current state of "reconciliation" between Black and white Christians today. Black Americans (Christian or otherwise) have experiences and perspectives that are being either ridiculed or ignored by the majority of white Christians. While 70% of Black Christians say they are motivated to address racial injustice, barely 25% of white Christians are. In fact, white Christians have become less motivated to address racial injustice just this year.
In other words, while Black voices of pain and urgency have been amplified this year, white Christians' response has been, "This matters less than ever."
Whatever this is, it is not the ministry of reconciliation. This is the equivalent of my telling Emily to take her anger and shove it, and then calling it the "Christian" thing to do.
What Then Should We Do?
Really the only thing I can suggest at this point (and can't stop suggesting) is simply to listen. If the statistics above are anywhere close to accurate, that means that the large majority of Black voices haven't been heard, much less understood, yet. That means that white Christians are still in the plug-their-ears-and-shut-their-eyes stage of reconciliation—which isn't a stage at all!
Rather, white Christians (i.e. the majority that believes that race is not an issue for our country, that systemic racism does not exist) need to take a posture of humility, empathy, and silence. Scripture is quite clear: when in doubt, favor the voices of those who are likely to be granted no favors.
My fellow white Christians, you have nothing to lose. If you are right in your current perspectives on race, then hearing a contrary voice will do nothing to change that. If you are wrong, then being made to understand the truth should be our ultimate goal anyway.
If our ultimate goal is reconciliation, then we have to be willing to at least listen.
But Practically, What Should We Do?
The fact does not escape me that 75% of white folks have entirely white social networks—they don't know any people of color. Nor is it the job of every person of color to educate you on issues of racial injustice.
So, to begin with, you're gonna have to do some work. Remember, reconciliation isn't cheap. It's not merely saying, "Well, I don't even know any Black people, so what I could possibly need to reconcile!?"
Secondly, until you've done some of this necessary work (some real, honest to God work, reading, listening, conversing, discussing, learning) about issues of race—be quiet. Don't post about it on social media. Don't pontificate your opinions at work. Simply put yourself in the posture of a student, learning in quietness and submission (1 Timothy 2:11).
If we hope to be Reconciliation kinds of people—people with a reputation of bringing radically different people together; of admitting our mistakes, of paying attention to the ignored, of seeing other's needs as more important than our own—then we must stop ignoring any voice we disagree with. Let's start listening instead.