“Are you for me or against me?”—this was my thought as I waited at traffic intersection and looked at the driver in the vehicle adjacent to me. Why did this question creep into my mind on a seemingly calm Sunday afternoon? The simple answer is: distrust is sneaky.
The man driving the vehicle I was looking at was an older, Caucasian male. I am a younger, Hispanic male with brown skin and what I like to think of as a beard (on most days). We were both in Charlottesville the day after our entire nation witnessed the violent and racist events that transpired in our little city back in August 2017.
In that moment at that intersection I was being tempted with a choice to treat my White neighbors with suspicion. Never before had I experienced the fear of discrimination as an ethnic minority in the city of Charlottesville until that day. The longer I pondered this feeling, the more I began to realize how sinister and destructive hatred is.
I’d like to offer two insights into this personal experience I had. As a disclaimer, I’d also like to say that my comments aren’t meant to reflect the feelings of all minorities. These are just my humble, Hispanic-American-Christian opinions. Take them as you wish.
First, I think it’s important that we as a body of Christ’s disciples would choose trust over suspicion. Within our Chi Alpha group at the University of Virginia, this is one of our “24 axioms,” scripture-based phrases that our community lives by. This axiom is one I often need to be reminded of.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that suspicion can destroy relationships. However, what I often find surprising is how it creeps into my life, like that day at the intersection. It feels justified, it feels cautious, and it even seems logical. I’ve observed how on our campus there are many people who live in fear of being discriminated against and how there are also those who live in fear of being seen as discriminators. What a paradox to live in; at every turn people are suspicious of one another.
I can imagine the thoughts of a hypothetical situation where two strangers pass each other. One thinks of the other: “Do you see me as less than you because I am not White?” While the other stranger wonders: “Do you automatically see me as a bigot because I am White?” This is how destructive suspicion can be in the hearts of people.
Paul encourages the church “to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness,”(Eph. 4:23-24 NIV). Christ taught us a better way to live with one another, even with those who do not profess his name. Christ taught us to love.
In a recent Voice of the Martyrs podcast, Edward Aruba, a former Bangladeshi Muslim, recounted the story of beating-up a Christian student who tried to share the Gospel with him. He mentioned how surprised he was to see the Christian student return to him days later, with bruises and scars. Edward expected retaliation; but instead he was faced with love, friendship, and one of the biggest smiles he had ever seen. This show of love was the catalyst that turned a staunch Muslim into a redeemed and reborn follower of Christ.
Love beautifully disarms hearts. Even when someone believes the worst in me and acts upon that, I am still called to love extravagantly. Edward’s story is an example of how true Jesus’ words in John 13:35 are, “By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.” It’s not about having all the answers, the most knowledge, or the best arguments. It’s about choosing love, especially in the face of suspicion.
Secondly, as a minority, I’d like to encourage other minorities to propagate understanding and not hatred. Recently, we held an outreach at our university where we engaged students by asking them, “How do you address racism?” Many students brought up the important topic of stopping microaggressions. I was saddened by the bitterness in many of them (the minorities) who recounted situations where they received unwarranted generalizations and remarks based on their ethnicity. One even commented about how close she was to punching someone after receiving an insensitive comment.
The Scriptures teach us of the power of our words in various places (Prov. 18:21; 19:1, 5, 9, 28). We should guard our words and speak lovingly and considerably towards others; but what good is it to just stop acts of microaggressions while holding on to the bitterness of the experience? This is why we need to promote understanding. It’s important for all people to know why their comments are hurtful, how they can respectfully refer to others, and how to affirm diversity.
There will always be people “less educated”on matters of diversity around us because we live in a diverse world. I didn’t choose to be born into a third-world country or to grow up in the melting pot of New Orleans. You can’t fault someone for growing up in an ethnically homogenous environment. Often times, I’ve met students at our university who say UVA is the most diverse place they’ve lived in! I firmly believe that Universities are strategic places to teach others on the value of diversity.
Yes, you’re right, not everyone is interested in educating themselves on why calling me a “beaner” is offensive (because I prefer the term “luchador” . . .). Yes, there are those who despite their diverse, university setting would prefer to live ethnocentrically encapsulated in their homogenous world. To that I say, "I am innocent of this man's blood," as Pilot did after washing his hands in front of the crowd about to crucify Jesus. If they are unwilling to listen, unwilling to learn, that’s on them; but let it be far from me that I withhold wisdom from a weaker brother if I have it. In my experience, this has not been the majority of people I have encountered, so the “benefits” outweigh the “risks.”
What a shame it would be if I gave into the feeling of suspicion that moment at the traffic intersection. My heart can be so easily “prone to wander,” as that timeless hymn says. I pray that it would continually wander into the grace and love of Christ. I hope my opinions are helpful for you. Again, you don’t have to agree with them; but at least I hope they help you process your actions next time you find yourself at a personal, metaphorical intersection.
In light of recent events from last week, we wanted to share Rev. Sadell Bradley's blog on the importance of teaching our younger generation how precious and sacred life is.
Fellowship. It’s more than potato salad and pies. It’s intimate sharing, a comingling of persons. It’s taking individuals and making them one.
John the apostle in his letter we call 1 John states clearly his intent in proclaiming what he has seen and heard concerning the word of life that they (his audience) have fellowship with “us”. The “us” being the Christian community. “And our fellowship is unto the Father and with his son Jesus Christ.”
This is beautiful but not original with John. He’s simply calling others to the place he was called by Jesus himself. He records in what we call the gospel of John, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”
What a promise! “We will come and make our home with them.” This is fellowship. Abiding in the vine, living in relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
“‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.’”
John 15:9-17 (NIV)
Notice that the invitation to fellowship with the Father is also an invitation to fellowship with each other. We are not the only ones in the vine. To love God is to love each other. Of course the command to “love each other as I have loved you” would appear right here. Right where the disciples were told “as the Father has loved me, I have loved you.”
The Father’s love is the foundation of the gospel and it became flesh in Christ. Thus, John testifies to what he saw and heard. But the call is for his disciples then and now to do the same. Love each other as they have been loved.
It is an invitation to true fellowship. Not potlucks and parties, but laying down our lives one for another. Today we also receive this invitation to love, an invitation to unity. An invitation to fellowship with the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit and with believers from every nation, tribe, people, and language.
“‘My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.’”
John 17:20-21 (NIV).
I was recently watching a television show where the host, a white woman, was discussing the topic of Black Lives Matter with a guest. The host was a proponent for the Black Lives Matter movement, and I was happy to see her using her platform to help other people understand more about racial inequality. At one point in the show, the host was encouraging other white people to gain more understanding about the topic through books and relationships with black people. In the middle of her encouragement she self corrected herself and said something like “but you shouldn’t go looking for black friends just to learn about what it’s like to be black, nor should you expect your black friends to be responsible for teaching you about their black experiences.” While I understood that she was trying not to put a greater burden on black people to be responsible for white people's ignorance, I disagree with the idea that black people or any other minority should shy away from sharing their life experiences with white people to intentionally educate them.
As a black man I definitely understand that minorities don’t want to be brought into relationships to be someone’s token friend. I, like everyone else, want to be valued in life and especially friendships, for who I am, not what I look like. However, I know and other people of color should recognize, that who we are has largely been connected with what we look like. A great deal of our experiences in life have been influenced by our race. Where we live, our family dynamics, the food we eat, our struggles, accomplishments, and even the way we speak is connected in one way or another to our race. So the desire to be valued for who we are is inseparable from our looks; I am who I am because I am black. As a result, I have no issue with a white person wanting to be my friend because they desire to learn about my life as a black man. In fact, I don’t think it would be much of a friendship if they didn’t want to know about me.
I teach a class about racial reconciliation in the church. The class is based on a book called Multiethnic Conversations by Oneya Okuwobi and Mark Demaz. As part of the class I encourage people to intentionally make friends with people who are different from themselves. While the encouragement is for the whole group, the people who are usually most in need of diverse relationships are the white people in the class. Because of the United States’ history of racism and by virtue of being the majority, white people have the opportunity to live in an almost exclusively white environment for the majority of their lives. Without making any effort, they may never have a need for non-white relationships. As a result, they often live segregated lives without really even knowing it. Minorities on the other hand must develop relationships with white people in order to navigate through the U.S. Minorities also tend to seek each other out when in majority white environments and therefore develop more cross racial relationships. Because of these realities, white people often have to be very intentional about making cross racial friendships while minorities do not. If they are not intentional they will never learn about the life experiences of other races. And if non-white people are not willing to befriend white people who have a desire to learn, then ignorance persists and no progress is made. Yes, they can read a book and learn some history, but we all know that a personal story is more impactful than a history lesson.
I believe that this is extremely important for those of us in the church. We stand on a foundation that is more significant than our race or our personal preferences. If white people are not intentional about seeking cross racial friendships and minorities are not open to being that friend, then the church will remain segregated and our witness will continue to wreak of hypocrisy. For the cause of the gospel, white people need to take on the primary responsibility of intentionally seeking these relationships. They must do so recognizing that they will be uncomfortable and are possibly subjecting themselves to rejection. I believe their faith can stand up to someone not wanting to be their black friend. And for the same gospel, minorities should be willing to accept these sincere friendship requests. Perhaps Christ will be glorified, and a real friendship will result from the awkward one that began as you being their black friend.