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Recent tragic events in America have brought to light the deep fissures between blacks and police and between how black and white people process and interpret events. After years of what many white people thought was improvement in race relations in our nation, recent polls indicate Americans now believe the state of race relations in our nation has either not improved or has deteriorated. Protest marches have taken place in many major cities with the cry, “Black lives matter!”

I believe that all committed followers of Jesus do care about and believe the lives of people matter, irrespective of their ethnicity. Jesus taught us, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30-31, NLT). If the love of Jesus is in us then that love extends to all people. Hearts are the same color! But let’s be honest, there can still be major differences between races in our perceptions about and interpretations of events. I am not black, nor are many of the people reading this. I cannot fully understand what it is like to be a black American because I have not walked in the shoes of an African American and experienced what he or she has experienced. I see in part and, consequently, know only in part. Regrettably, a human tendency is to make judgments based only upon the part we currently see.

Will you please allow me to speak to your heart from my heart? I am analytical by nature but I need to set that aside for a moment because if I do not, an analytical bent can dominate and control my heart. That is not who Jesus wants me to be. Nor is that who He wants you to be. In fact, the Word makes it clear that we are responsible for trying to empathize with the feelings of other people. How else can we walk out what we are taught, to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15, NIV)? This is my challenge to you: set aside all of the analytical points about current events while focusing on your heart. I am not advocating that you park your brain. Rather, this is like a “time out” while we go to the bench and consider how our play in a game has been going. If you are white this means that instead of first assessing or arguing about grand juries’ findings, the burning down of buildings, black-on-black crime, authority and characterizations of police, etc., we will try to focus on understanding the feelings of our black brothers and sisters. There is no justification of wrong or criminal behavior on the part of anyone so please set that shared conviction to the side for a moment. Rather, try to understand feelings. Actions, both beautiful and ugly, often flow out of feelings.

• America has a history of racism. We have governmentally committed to eliminating it but we again come back to what flows out of the heart: “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45, NIV). Evil still resides in hearts and it is an equal opportunity occupant.

• Whites and blacks see through different lenses because our histories and experiences affect how we interpret what we see. If you are white do you have any black friends with whom you have a level of relationship deep enough that you can ask them to candidly share about discrimination they have experienced? If you are black what about white friends with whom you can candidly share? If you do not have friends from a different race perhaps that would be a good step to take; find and develop relationships. Relationship helps us to see through another person’s eyes. Again don’t listen in order to judge, but listen in order to understand. Even if you still see some of their experiences through a different interpretive lens than theirs should that keep you from mourning their hurt and trying to understand?

• When we have not walked in another person’s shoes it is easy for us to think it is time for that person to get over something that occurred in the past. However, when that person associates current events as continuation of a legacy of wrongs against his or her people the past is still present. Example: If I had been insensitive to my wife over years, perhaps even to the extent of physical abuse, her trust in me would be damaged, if not crushed. Even if the abuse occurred years ago, healing takes time, especially if it feels like the abuser did not repent. But, let’s say she hears about another wife who just endured cruel treatment or abuse by her husband. It could tear off the scab of wounds my wife experienced. She can’t just get over it because the wound is again oozing. She will be ready to identify with and believe the other wife’s account of mistreatment. I believe that is what happens with African Americans and other minorities. Every injustice, extending to occurrences that might not be racially based but could be, is viewed through the lens of personal experience and the combined experiences of their community. The wound oozes.

Analysis of facts does not address the heart. When a heart is hurting and perceives wrong then facts are seen and interpreted through that lens. A heart cannot be convinced by analysis. If in my wife’s view I have hurt her in some way, I could give her truckloads of facts to dispute her view to no avail. I might even believe she has overreacted to something that seemed minor in my eyes. Different lenses. Only when she justifiably believes my heart is sensitive to her heart, that I care and will sincerely listen in order to see through her eyes because I want to understand and do what is right, do we move forward as we should. That principle applies to other relationships as well, including those distinguished by race.

Past experiences condition how we view and interpret current actions. This reality was recently made vivid to me. We had invited a number of out-of-state pastors to dinner at our house. One of the pastors, of minority ethnicity, was driving a rented car behind me. He seemed to drag behind, traveling well below the speed limit. When he arrived at our house I teased him about his slow pace. He good naturedly responded that, “looking like me, I know better than to drive too fast here.” To my knowledge, he had never driven in our area, but he was convinced he had to exercise particular care, that police would target him because of his ethnicity. Is that what would have happened? My hope and starting assumption is police would not stop him just because of his appearance. However, this pastor’s previous experiences definitely conditioned his expectations and he saw that as a very real possibility. Although he made his observation with a gracious smile, he was serious. I smiled in return and the conversation moved on. But I have since continued to reflect on both what he said and on my naiveté. He is my brother and friend but we do not share past experiences. I have not walked in his shoes. He opened my eyes to what is reality to him but was hidden to me.

America must work through serious issues, such as how law is respected and enforced, the burning of buildings, hiring practices, educational opportunities destruction of the nuclear family, devastation from drugs, and a long list of others. But as long as we walk around hearts while talking about how we perceive and interpret facts this cycle of broken trust and misunderstanding will be perpetuated. The “Black lives matter!” cry is much more than about the facts in a specific case; it is a cry from the heart about hearts. You and I are not in positions to “fix” our nation’s problems. However, I am accountable for me and you are accountable for you. What we can do, and are responsible for doing, is bridge across racial divides within our spheres of influence to care about, seek to understand, mourn hurts, and minister to other hearts. When we do, we could be surprised not only how our hearts are touched, but also how our interpretive lenses and actions are adjusted.

Note: As this article was being readied for release we learned about the assassination of two police officers in New York City. Preliminary reports indicate the shooter was both mentally unstable and racially vengeful in motivation. How tragic. How heart-breaking. Perhaps a campaign needs to be launched that emphasizes police lives matter! We mourn for the families of these public servants who were executed while on the job working to protect the public from such violence. The value of life has become so cheapened. The further we get from God the further we stray from recognizing the sacredness of life as a gift from Him. Life is then easily expendable, from a life in the womb to anyone with whom there is a disagreement, to…

God has been merciful. Our nation needs a wave of repentance.

If you are a pastor:

  • Have we been too silent about current events that are racial in nature? We don’t have to wade into political considerations from the pulpit but what about expressing sorrow for the pain of families who have lost loved ones and the pain families of police officers are experiencing? Too many people see and interpret current events through a cable news channel lens instead of a biblical lens. One of our tasks is to contextualize the Gospel. Lead the congregation to care by compassionately mourning and praying for hurting hearts. Pray for truth and justice to be revealed and applied. Silence speaks louder than we realize.
  • We preachers are not always the best listeners; we are trained and experienced sermonizers. When did you last sit down over coffee with a friend of a different race and ask to learn from his or her racially distinctive experiences? African American pastor Bryan Loritts candidly states, “At the end of the day, we don’t know each other. We don’t know each other’s story.” It will take discipline to not launch into your views. Focus on asking questions, like in an interview, to help with your understanding of the other person’s journey. We sometimes have loving friendships with people of a different race but are afraid to wade into those places where we know we could have different views. Listen first, in order to understand. You will honor the other person.
  • Does your congregation need to be exposed to a minister of color in your pulpit? Many probably have few or no relationships with a person of color. That may leave them to forming impressions of others from what they watch on TV, a disturbing thought.

Interview with Pastor Kyle Rodgers:

About The Author

Randall Bach
President of Open Bible Churches

Randall Bach delights in opportunities to serve the Lord, including his current assignment as president of Open Bible Churches. He and Barbara, his wife, have been in ministry for over 46 years and call it “Our adventure together.” Randall loves the church, pastors, and church leaders and is convinced that God loves to work through them to make disciples, develop leaders, and plant churches.