On July 7, 2016, my phone rang; it was my 26-year-old son. With deep emotion in his voice, he struggled to speak as he tried to make sense of the recent police shooting deaths of three black men over the previous three days.
“Dad I don’t understand. Why?” he tearfully asked.
I had no answers for him.
Later that night as I sat in silence emotions began to well up inside of me and tears began to stream down my own face. I asked the Lord the same question – why? I turned on the television only to hear another devastating report of ve Dallas police officers shot down in a revenge killing. I sat stunned; my heart hurting; tears continuing to flow.
As the pastor of a culturally-diverse congregation, God made it clear He wanted to change the upcoming Sunday message. I began by stating boldly, “Every police officer is not a bad cop. In fact, the majority of them are good cops who do their jobs with honor and put their lives on the line every day.”
“We have a number of good police officers in this congregation. In the same vein, not every African-American male ages 18 to 28 is a criminal.” (I would now also add, even those who have criminal records have value and do not deserve to be shot down.)
To say we live in a country full of racial and political dissension is an understatement. It is incidents like these and the August 2017 incident in Charlottesville, Va., that give clear evidence we are still a very racially and politically divided nation. I believe the majority of urban and suburban communities in this country are sitting on a bombshell; they are one major incident away from blowing up.
A few weeks after this incident, I invited two police officers to meet with a young men’s Bible study group. First, we allowed the young men, ranging in age from ages 18 to 27, to share their hurts, fears, anger, and experiences they’ve had with law enforcement. The majority of them, including some who were Caucasian, shared their negative encounters.
The officers then spoke from their perspectives. One explained he went into law enforcement because of negative encounters he experienced with police officers as a teenager.
They also shared with these young men how to conduct yourself if you are ever pulled over. In the African- American community, this is referred to as a DWB (driving while black). The majority of African-American fathers have had “the police conversation” with their sons: how you are to respond if you are ever pulled over by police.
We ended this meeting by examining what God’s Word says. I share this because we have to bring people and groups together, in a safe environment, and allow them to have honest, productive, face-to-face, God-honoring dialogue. Meaning that after all is said and done, what does God say?
There are those who feel our president could do more to unify the nation; however, I truly believe God has called the Church to exemplify unity.
Jesus prayed the Father would make us one (uni ed) as the Father and the Son are one. He commented that our unity would be a testimony to the world that the Father sent the Son and that the Father loves us (John 17:2-23).
Paul states, it is the Holy Spirit who creates our unity. We are commanded to work at it. Unity like this doesn’t happen automatically, we must intentionally pursue and labor in it. Everything about Christianity points to our oneness (Ephesians 4:3-6).
Ephesians 2:14-16 explains the Lord Jesus removed the enmity and created one new man out of two formerly separate groups, making peace. Paul explains Jesus broke down the middle wall partition which separated us. Therefore, we are reconciled in one new body. The Church, by its created nature, is an example of cultural and racial unity, peace and love. When we fail to exhibit love, unity, and peace we are metaphorically rebuilding the very wall our Lord died to break down. is is why James makes it clear that the showing of partiality is outright sin (James 2:9).
“By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35 ESV). The “all” refers to the unsaved world. Our true impartial love for one another authenticates to the world we are true followers of Christ. What is our love for others who are different from us communicating to the world?
We are called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16). Light is seen, it illuminates by being a visual hands-on example that glorifies God and points to Christ. Salt preserves health and godliness in society. Natural salt works as an antiseptic helping to bring healing and it also makes people thirsty for God.
The Church, as a whole, has done a poor job being salt and light in this area of unity. God intended us to be His example, but instead of leading we have followed the culture and as a result in many ways, to the world, we have lost our relevance (saltiness) in the area of cultural and racial unity. However, it is never too late to change that and be what God has called us to be.
So what do we need to do? What is the responsibility and call of the Church? God’s Church?
First, we need to admit we’ve done a poor job representing His love and unity to the world and ask for God’s forgiveness and resolve to be what God has called us to be.
Secondly, we must begin building bridges in the body of Christ. We can’t wait until these social time bombs explode before we attempt to build bridges; it will be too late. We must work at building these bridges and relationships now. Church leadership needs to intentionally build relationships with leadership of other churches and commit to fellowshipping regularly. Leaders must set the example.
In order to build bridges cross-culturally, we need to reach outside of our personal and collective comfort zones. Some ask, “How do I build relationships with those who are different from me?” e same way you build relationships with those who are like you, people are people. We must want to build these relationships.
Social media is not the place to have these discussions. Sadly, it often leads to misinterpretation, judging of motives, confusion, and further division. is kind of relationship building should be done in person, in a safe setting, and be conducive to building and fostering relationships.
Once relationships are being built, we need to HEARU. Initially, it points to the importance of practicing James 1:19, being quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger, in every relational context. We need to make it our priority to listen and understand others first. Furthermore, it is an acrostic.
HONEST – We need to have an honest and heartfelt dialogue. Understand there will be those who are passionate about their experiences and opinions, and that’s okay. Don’t view their passion as negative and let that deter you from having a meaningful conversation that builds bridges.
EMPATHY – Even though I may not totally understand or be able to relate to another’s view and experiences, I can empathize with you. Empathy is the ability and action of understanding, being aware and sensitive to the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of another.
ACCEPTANCE – True acceptance is not tolerance. We are instructed in Romans 15:7 to accept one another even as God has accepted us. You are accepted and will always be accepted as my brother in the Lord, even though we may have different opinions on earthy matters.
RESPECT – There is a saying, “We agree to disagree agreeably.” The believer needs to take this even further. We agree that even if we disagree, I will not lose respect for you, nor will I disrespect you.
ULTIMATE – We will agree that the cause of Christ and the gospel of Christ is our ultimate priority. Do my actions, words, and social media posts, promote the cause of Christ? Do they draw people toward the gospel? All other issues, no matter how important personally and socially they may be, must never take priority over Christ and the gospel. ere are some in Christendom and in the world who equate evangelical Christianity with Republicanism. These two terms are viewed as synonymous in many circles. is is not true. It is it not wise, and it is unhealthy to the cause of Christ and the spreading of the gospel in our society.
What impact could we have on the culture if we would be what God created us to be, what Christ prayed and died for us to be? Let us be the seasoning of love, peace, and unity to our world. Pray for God’s wisdom and direction and then boldly take the actions He leads you to make. — by Irv Clark
Irv Clark is the senior pastor of Grace Brethren Church, Clinton, Md.