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Why Does This Keep Happening? Part III

A couple of years ago, in the wake of the police involved shooting in Ferguson, I had a powerful experience that opened my eyes to some of my racial biases—biases I was sure I didn’t have.  One Sunday, I happened to attend a mostly white, upper middleclass, suburban church.  During the service, the pastor, who was white, had invited a good friend of his, who happened to be African American and the pastor of an inner-city church nearby, to have a dialogue about the incident.  Members of this church were also in attendance.

I’ve always thought of myself as very sensitive to racial issues.  I guess the term people use for this today is being “woke”.  If you told me I had clear racial biases I was blind to, I would have been just as offended as the religious leaders were by Jesus in John 9.  
But as this African American pastor spoke about the way he and his congregation processed the incident in Ferguson, it dawned on me that I had no clue.  I was completely unaware of the bias I brought to these kinds of events. 

This is what struck me most: He began by saying when white people see an incident like Ferguson on the news their first thought is: What happened?  What did the officer actually do?  Check.  That’s me!  Isn’t this everyone’s first reaction—to want to know the facts?  Whether or not the officer in question acted appropriately?  
In contrast to George Floyd’s murder, where the facts couldn’t be any clearer, that’s what baffled me so much about Ferguson—before all the facts were in, many in the African American community were already up in arms, protesting against police brutality. 

Exactly!  This was exactly the point the pastor was making.  This was my blind spot, my bias, what never occurred to me before.  As the pastor went on to explain: If you’re black in America, your first reaction to hearing about another incident involving the death of an African American at the hands of police isn’t to know the facts.  No, if you’re black in America, your initial reaction is to be overwhelmed by pain—the pain of such a long and tragic history of injustice.  The pain of feeling so vulnerable all the time.  The pain of other encounters with police that have left you shaken and terrified. 

The trauma of this history; the trauma of experiencing this kind of injustice firsthand all your life, trumps the facts of any particular incident.  The facts do matter, as he went on to say, but there’s a larger context at play that has to be acknowledged first.  And if we all acknowledged this right away whenever one of these incidents happened—if we acknowledged this pain—it would go a long way toward healing these old wounds and then, all together, rationally considering the facts, case by case.
He concluded by saying that the only lasting way to bridge the racial divide in America is through honest and open conversations.  Conversations that are deep and difficult, but when done with a sincere and sustained desire to understand each other, can bring us together. 

Especially for white people, it’s easy to post platitudes about honoring diversity.  It’s easy to wear an “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirt.  It’s easy to preach to other people how they need to be more inclusive.  But, really listening, really trying to understand someone else’s experience—without interjecting our own, or trying to rationalize our attitudes, or offering up solutions—is hard work. 

In fact, up to this point, most of our efforts at racial dialogue have been woefully superficial.  We tend to shy away from the harder conversations.  We just “talk about the weather” and think that because we are interacting on some level we’re breaking down barriers.  We may be, but only to a very small degree. 

To truly smash these barriers, we need to have REAL conversations about race.  We need to let those who have a very different experience express their pain, even as we begin to see that we’ve been blind or indifferent to it.

In fact, this is what Jesus is calling us to in John 9—radical humility.  If we do adopt an attitude of radical humility about race and admit that we need to humbly listen to other people’s experiences in order to see and understand, we will be open to receive His healing grace.

And as He promised, His healing grace will transform our hearts, the real root of the problem.  His healing grace will overcome all our biases.  His healing grace will bridge the racial divide once and for all.

What do you think of this pastor’s perspective?  I’d love to hear what you think!  You can go to the “Contact E.J.” page of the Raising Jesus website and leave your comments there.  May the Lord use this moment to transform our hearts and heal our nation.

About Me

E.J. Sweeney is a true skeptic. He needs to see to believe. Hard Evidence. Compelling Proof. Solid Logic. This is what he believes in. In college, he encountered questions that the superficial faith he was raised on couldn’t handle. So he began a quest for Truth, a quest for the answers to life’s ultimate questions.

EJ Sweeney

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