Just a few months after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American in Ferguson, MO in August, 2014, I began meeting with a racially diverse group of pastors to build friendships, establish trust, and prepare to lead our churches and community in case a “Ferguson” situation occurred locally. We began meeting every other week discussing, “Letters to a Birmingham Jail,” a collection of essays written to Martin Luther King, Jr. edited by Bryan Loritts. Each of the letters, as well as our discussions, concluded that only the cross and empty tomb of Christ can bring true unity and that the Gospel demands justice in all its forms. These amazing people were not only colleagues in ministry, they quickly became treasured friends.
Our weekly discussions expanded to more and more small group discussion groups and eventually led to the formation of Threaded with the mission of inspiring relationships, reconciliation and collaborative action among the diverse Body of Christ. Almost six years later, we’re still meeting together every other Thursday.
With heart-breaking sorrow, however, it seems that way too often when meet as Threaded we have another shooting, another death, or another dark example of racial injustice to lament (cry, complain, grieve, vent, etc) and pray about. Tomorrow will be the same after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the racial profiling and false accusation of Christian Cooper, a birdwatcher in New York City yesterday.
What can we do?
First of all, PRAY. Ask the God who created us and wove us together as His image bearers to heal us of our bias, fill us with His Spirit, and empower us to see and love others as He does.
Second, READ. Or listen to audio books. Read with an open heart and open mind. If you are white like me, I highly recommend (after Letters to a Birmingham Jail) “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People to Talk About Race” by Robin DiAngelo and “White Awake: An Honest Look at What it Means to Be White” by Daniel Hill. Other books you should digest with prayer are “Roadmap to Reconciliation” by Brenda Salter McNeil, “The Color of Compromise: The Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism” by Jemar Tisby, and “Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision of Justice, Peace and Healing”- Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice. If you’re a pastor, “Divided By Faith” by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith is a must read.
Third, LISTEN. And by listen, I mean seek first to understand, more than being understood, prove your point, and show that you’re right. What I’ve noticed from “Black Lives Matter” movement to Collin Kaepernick taking a knee is that most people didn’t really listen to what was being said. They just reacted to what they heard, then yelled back. Listening requires asking questions, seeking another perspective, and assuming you don’t have all the answers.
Fourth, SERVE. Look for opportunities to serve others in your local community. And do it. Whether it’s volunteering in a local school (especially ones that are Title I), donating to a food pantry, delivering food to a neighbor, and intentionally serve and build relationships with others who are different than you. Your church, most likely, and mine has many other ways that you can get involved in serving and engaging where there is systemic injustice.
For today, I’m praying. I’m praying for justice of wrongs (both individually and systematically), peace for so many who are afraid (because of their skin color), and healing of relationships that can only come through the reconciling work of Christ (His grace, love, and mercy) by His Spirit. And I’m asking God to use me and any influence He has given me to initiate and bring about change in His world.
Tomorrow, I’ll be listening. I’ll listen to the cries, the grief, the anger, and the sorrows of godly men and women, my friends who fear they can’t drive a car, go for a jog, or even watch birds without being perceived as a threat and, possibly, lose their lives because of the color of their skin. They are not a threat to anyone. And neither am I. We are people made in the divine image of God Himself and saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. And because of God’s love for us, we are threaded.
Follow me...as I follow Jesus Christ.