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Guidelines for Conversations About Race in the Church

4 Daily Prayer Practices For Pastors and Church Leaders

Since the MLK50 conference, T4G, and the flurry of tweets, blog posts and rants exploded onto the Internet, I’ve noticed a distinct fervor in the conversation surrounding race and the church (especially in reformed spheres). We seem to need some guidelines to make these conversations fruitful rather than frustrating. We’re failing to demonstrate fundamental unity, clarity or brotherly love. It’s coming from the “famous” pastors and the “every day” pastors, from those of us with many Twitter followers, and those of us with 50. If we want to see true progress in the area of race and the church, then we need to work harder at how we discuss it.

We are not on “sides” in the race discussion

We are not on different sides when we are talking about race in the church. We may have different perspectives on specific topics, but we must do the hard work of maintaining that we are one body. If someone is a believer, we are compelled to treat them as part of the body. The world argues with one another as opposing factions and tribes; we must be different.

The gospel tears down all worldly barriers; we are united fully in Christ. That doesn’t mean all of our perspectives have to be uniform! We might have different perspectives on everything from worship style to social issues, but we are still one in Christ. Thus, we address each other from a place of love—not a place of resentment. We must demonstrate this fundamental love for each other, especially when we disagree. Before we are white, black, American, European, Asian, etc., we are in Christ.

This failure isn’t coming from one “side” of the debate, but both. From believers of all skin tones (including my own) I see unfair pieces that try to impune others’ motives unfairly, or simple strawman arguments. There are many examples of this. Instead of trying to hear the issues raised by others by virtue of them being raised by professing believers, people try to shut others down.

We don’t get to say, “Either you agree with everything or you are not my brother.”

“For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God…”
Ephesians 2:18-19 ESV (emphasis added)

“[Be] eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Ephesians 4:3 ESV

Whether you are white or black, you are a Christian, and it is your duty to “endeavor to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.”

We put comfort over listening

We need to have the patience to listen to others, especially godly Christians with different experiences than our own. If we are one body, then we should seek to understand others before we seek to convince them of our perspective. This doesn’t mean that we simply listen when someone is tarnishing the truth. When the truth is at stake, let us humbly, patiently, persistently call it out.

We put being heard over being understood

We must care more about speaking clearly and graciously than about winning an argument. We ought to talk about race the way the Bible does (for starters, that we are all one “human race,” with many different ethnicities). Scripture is clear that we are responsible for how we speak—not just in content, but in tone. Speak graciously to one another so that others have a chance to listen and understand without feeling attacked. This principle from scripture applies whether we are white or black.

“I could be wrong…”

“I could be wrong…” is an under-used phrase. These issues are not black-and-white, one-size-fits-all. Whether you are black or white, you can still be wrong, no matter your personal experience. No matter the color of our skin, you and I both must reject the thought that we have nothing left to learn from other godly people. There is no skin color that has an immunity to being wrong. We need to get over ourselves, our politics and our skin color, if it leads to idolatry of our own perspective.

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”
James 1:19 ESV

Let’s put unity, humility and patience first. In doing so, we will demonstrate the authenticity of the gospel to the world around us. As others see people disagreeing and struggling together in love, the salvation that Christ purchased for us will be made known in a deeply meaningful way.

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
John 13:35 ESV

This article originally appeared here.

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David Appelt serves as the music director at NewLife Community Church in Canal Winchester, Ohio. Full-time music snob. He plans on pursuing pastoral ministry in the future.