It has been just over a month since the In Justice evening on racial reconciliation in March. As we approach niceSERVE week I want to come back to one of the main themes of the evening as well as touch on a major line of questioning that came up during the Q&A following the service.

There were a number of questions that fall into the “How?” category:

How does a church embrace diversity?
How do I avoid accidentally saying something wrong or offensive?
How can a white person practically advocate for racial justice?
How can I tear down stereotypes?
How can I tangibly engage in racial reconciliation?
How do I understand another person’s perspective with things like the Black Lives Matter movement?

These are great questions and I certainly have asked a number of them myself. In fact, it was the overarching question, “How do we do this?” that led to the major action point coming out of the evening on racial justice. That point of action, that next step:

Be in relationship with people who are different than you.

Could the answer to such complicated questions about such complicated issues really be that simple? I am coming to believe that it is exactly that simple. I don’t mean to say that it is easy, but I am increasingly convinced that the answer to most of our “How?” questions is to be in relationship with people who are different than you.

In the weeks leading up the the racial reconciliation evening I had meetings with the other pastors represented on the panel for the evening. We talked about the challenges in our city, the issues around racial isolation that have profound impacts on education and poverty. We talked about challenges of fostering helpful conversation on topics that can be socially and politically divisive. Then, feeling a bit overwhelmed by complexity of it all, I asked “How do we do this?” and my new friends both answered quickly and simply, “Be in relationship with people who are different that you.”

That invitation comes with it’s own set of “how” questions. The answer to those questions may be equally simple. Ask, and then follow through. At least that is what I have been doing, and it has been far less awkward than I thought. I have asked to be in relationship with Pastor Sylvester and Pastor David and I have begun to follow through, showing up to church as I am able and keeping in touch throughout the week.

...over time it is no longer that I am in relationship with someone different than me, instead I simply have a friend.

A couple of weeks ago I attended a conference that had several sessions on embracing racial diversity in the church. There was a ton of great content and presenters, but the person whose insight had the strongest impact on me had the most profoundly simple affirmation of how we go about championing racial justice. Many people were asking questions about stereotypes, white privilege, facilitating healthy conversations, understanding another’s perspective, and basically trying to figure out how not to make a mess when we are trying to bring healing. She replied to all of that expressed anxiety by stating that we never seem stupid or ignorant in front of friends. While that is not always true (I have certainly been both in front of my friends over the years) the idea, in the context of multi-ethnic relationships rings true. If I have intentionally invested in relationships with people who are different than me, then I don’t have to worry so much about getting it wrong. Why? Because over time it is no longer that I am in relationship with someone different than me, instead I simply have a friend. The differences are still there, but added to it is trust, empathy, affection...

There are two practical steps we can take as individuals and a community that will put us in relationship with people and churches that are different than us.

The first: visit each other’s churches. I heard of a group of Summit folks who did just that last week. That is awesome and I hope it continues to happen!

The second: serve together. This coming niceSERVE is open to folks from all three churches represented at the racial justice evening. Our desire is that in serving together, we will see the common ground we have for relationship.

 

 

niceSERVE is a helpful opportunity for each of us to be in relationship with people who are different than us as we serve our city together. Join us.

John Parker is Lead Pastor at Summit Church. You can email him at jparker@summitconnect.org.