Dr. Alvin Sanders is the author of “Bridging The Diversity Gap,” and led the EFCA All People Initiative from 2007-2015.
Ferguson in Dialogue
Monday night, I was literally done, pretty much racially fatigued.
I was tired of incident after incident of unarmed black folk being killed by police. I was tired of having to convince my socially engaged, Christ-loving daughters not to throw all whites under the bus. And I was especially tired of going on Facebook and seeing white Christians more concerned about justifying the killing, and the protection of private property, than they were about another young black life being snuffed out.
With this verdict, I now fully understand what the Apostle Paul meant in Galatians 6:9, “Let us not become weary in doing good…” because frankly I’m there. You should know that this isn’t my first rodeo. I’m a guy who in 2001 planted a church in the middle of a Ferguson type situation in Cincinnati. But then it started to happen – hope.
A particular white Christian, who is on the opposite end of the spectrum from me concerning Ferguson, sent this:
Let me buy you lunch. I just want to listen to you tell me why this is happening. I don’t want to challenge anything you say or start any debate. I don’t want to tell you what I think either. Rather, I just want to understand the frustration. I have not walked in your shoes, but I am easily educated. I would even like to bring a friend or two if that’s OK.
A colleague from work sent me this:
My heart is breaking as I watch from an ignorant distance. I will not pretend to understand and, therefore, I am seeking out you, my brother, for wisdom. I know that you are likely addressing this issue and involving yourself on many levels and in a wide variety of contexts, so I don’t presume to be a priority for you today. But you are my “first line” of understanding and I need your input for my heart and any conversation or influence, and even to inform my prayers.
But maybe the note that gave me the most hope was this one:
I just spent a few minutes praying for you. There is no way I can connect with how you’re feeling about Ferguson, but I’ve been up late thinking and praying since the grand jury results came out.
I have your book. We met when you spoke at the CPLF last November. I’ve wanted to reach out to you a number of times and just haven’t. Feel free to respond to this or disregard. I realize we don’t have a personal relationship. If you do respond, please feel liberty to directly correct any misstatements, inappropriate references or inaccurate portrayals.
I haven’t addressed diversity in the church with respect to black and white, not publicly at all, except for passing generic statements that could be endorsed by any followers of Christ. Here’s why I’m writing.
• I feel guilty that I’m not better versed in how black Christians experience life here in the U.S.
• I feel guilty that I haven’t pushed and sought out understanding sooner.
• I want to have open conversations, but I’m afraid of accidentally asking an offensive question.
• I’m afraid to address race issues because I’ve seen guys get devoured for it.
• I have a deep love for people and don’t want to hurt them.
• I also think deeply – and I’m not sure how to determine the extent that I’m wrecked by my own racism and I’m afraid if I start trying to get to know people better, such darkness may arise.
• I’m intimidated by some of the anger I see coming from African Americans. I don’t want to unintentionally push a button to cause the anger.
• I don’t want to be the recipient of the anger.
• I don’t understand the anger.
• I feel like, as a white guy, if I ask the wrong question, I’m gonna lose big time. As if I stand to lose more in influence than I could potentially gain in understanding.
• At the CPLF, one person asked you a question that turned up your temperature a bit. I don’t recall the topic, but I’m very afraid of asking the wrong question and losing influence with people.
• In my own mind, I’ve lied to myself to some extent. – I grew up in a horrible family in working class poverty. We should have been removed by the state. I also received a college scholarship for minorities because of the sliver of Native American blood I have. – So I’ve told myself that I understand struggle due to my background. But I realize that it’s not the same. I’ve overcome a good bit, why can’t others.
This has been deeply on my heart for a number of years. Then, meeting you, hearing you speak, reading your book – I have wanted to reach out, but I’ve been hesitant due to some of the above mentioned fears. I’m open to any words you might have for me. I’m also open to you not responding if you’re too busy. Blessings to you dear brother. I’m so thankful for your work and ministry.
Paul, in Galatians 6:9, tells us to not become weary in doing good works because there is a payoff. The second half of that verse says “…for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” As I stated, I am racially fatigued. But my faith must be my basis for healing, and I must remember that the power of the multiethnic church is its potential to reverse racial division.
There are people out there who want to talk about Ferguson. Not debate, not rage, not assassinate black identity – but talk. I have an imperative to engage. The nation might be splintered, but the Church can’t afford to be because the gospel message is at stake. We can’t give up.