Talking About Race...Without Getting Enraged?
Here is a hard truth to grasp: we are going to disagree in the racial conversation. My personality finds that disheartening. Not because I want everyone to agree with me, but because it feels like disunity. But that is not true. Disagreements do not mean disunity so long as there is mutual understanding on what we hold to be true. In the Christian realm, this idea holds most true.
Yet, I have rarely seen the racial conversation go well when people are angry. Sinful anger to be precise. When anger and pride govern conversation over God Himself, the conversation will end with one or both parties feeling isolated and even at war. So how do we do it well? How do we disagree well with the conversation on race and ethnicity? How do we do it without losing our cool? To answer that well, let's look at the book of James.
First, a little background on James. James is writing to the Jewish Christians who have spread across the known world because of persecution. From their spreading out, you have the church dealing with conflict and a clash of culture. Some of them have given into worldliness. Societal statuses between the poor and rich are strained. Overall, conflict and division in the church are growing. So James writes the New Testament edition of Proverbs to aid the church to not only living reconciled to each other but to further the Gospel.
We find one of his most foundational instructions for dealing division and strife in James 1:19,
"Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger..." (italics added).
In the next three blogs, I want to use this framework of James and this verse to hopefully encourage us on how to talk about racial topics without becoming sinfully angry. But with this blog, I want to give some key things to do before the conversation even starts. These are key things I do before a conversation, or at least try to.
Pray, pray, pray! I cannot emphasize this enough. Prayer reminds us who God is in the hard moments, and it brings us before Him, to trust Him, and doesn't allow us to lean on our own understanding (Prov. 3:5-8). So whether you scheduled the time to talk about racial issues, or it came out of nowhere, take time to pray!
Family, it is vitally important to define terms. I know I cannot be the only person who has talked about racism (or anything for that matter), and then halfway through the conversation had to go, "wait, how do you define [insert term]?" Definitions help structure the conversation. This may not keep you from disagreeing necessarily, but it will give you a better starting point. So before you even get in it, layout definitions.
Set a foundation.
Before you even start the conversation, lay a foundation. This means finding common ground. After defining terms, you may find things you will agree on. And even if you don't, in some way or another, there will be some relatability. You, as Christians, will hopefully relate in: Fundamental bases of faith. The sinfulness of racism. Doctrine and the call to godly living. Humanities flawed approach to deep problems. The desire to see people saved. A passion for righteousness or justice. These are some of the things you can find yourself agreeing with before you find what you don't agree on. Be sure to do this at the outset. If not, you can start to view the person across from you as an enemy. If they are a fellow believer, they aren't your enemy, they are your sibling in Christ.
Be sure to come in with a posture of respect. Some may say humility. Regardless of what you say, you must strive to come into the conversation with a view of who you are talking to is not just a talking head. They are a living, breathing, image-bearer of God.
I hope the next few blogs are helpful to you. Stay tuned!