It seems to me that we need to listen to various people share their hearts and personal experiences so we can have a deeper appreciation of the issues surrounding us. How can a person respond unless he has first heard? And I think it is wise to hear perspectives from several people so I can come to a more complete and balanced understanding.
I recently watched an excellent interview by Steven Furtick, pastor of Elevation Church, as he asks John Gray, a black pastor, to share his thoughts on racial issues. It was a deeply personal and touching exchange between two good friends and it helped me gain a better glimpse and feel greater compassion for those with different life experiences from my own.
I trust you will enjoy and benefit from the interview below. I’ve also asked my daughter Charity to share some of her thoughts and unique perspective on these issues as well. After listening, why not journal and ask the Lord, "What do You want me to take away from this discussion?" Then act on what He speaks to you.
To Not Belong – by Charity Kayembe
In another one-on-one conversation with Joel Osteen, John Gray shared some of his scarier encounters with police. The one I found most disturbing was when an officer came towards him with his hand on a gun while Pastor Gray was sitting in his own car, in his own driveway, in front of his own home. He had to call his wife and tell her to walk out the front door and meet him before it was safe for him to exit his vehicle. He was in an affluent neighborhood and was perceived to be a threat. He was presumed to not belong.
Unfortunately these kinds of guilty-until-proven innocent scenarios are experienced all too often by our brothers and sisters of color. In this revealing four-minute video, Bryan Stevenson shares openly about how exhausting it is, that after all his hard work, education and success, he still needs to navigate the minefield of racial bias and prejudice: “Black people in this country are presumed dangerous and guilty and we have to manage and navigate these presumptions. And I think it’s important to admit to the burden of that.”
Perhaps you have seen or read Just Mercy, which documents his 35-year career of legal service ministering to “the least of these.” Mr. Stevenson attended Harvard Law School and is a brilliant attorney who has argued cases before the Supreme Court. He is an award-winning, bestselling author, and there is even an epic film based on his extraordinary life.
He is also African American.
Unfortunately for Mr. Stevenson, that means he has had police officers threaten his life. That means he has walked into courtrooms and had judges assume he was a criminal defendant, and told him to leave until his lawyer arrives. He was perceived to be a threat. He was presumed to not belong.
The "Threatening" Phone Call
These are not just other people’s stories; my own family has experienced this kind of prejudice ourselves. For example, a few years ago my husband Leo and I were visiting my parents for the holidays and staying at their home in a gated community. Leo, who is black, called his brother on the phone to wish him Merry Christmas. He stepped outside onto the front lawn and proceeded to chat with his family on a bright and sunny Florida afternoon, on my parent’s property.
Imagine how we felt when a neighbor saw him, and immediately began to interrogate him: Who are you? Why are you here? What are you doing? Now, nobody has ever questioned me like that. I’m white. I belong. I’m not seen as a threat. However, straightaway Leo’s dark skin meant he was perceived to be a threat. He was presumed to not belong.
This is what we’re talking about. No wonder black people are tired of being treated this way! No wonder they are frustrated and angry. How would you feel if you and your children were always perceived as a dangerous threat? If, day in and day out, you and your family had to constantly prove yourselves, prove your honesty, prove your worthiness of being? It is inconceivable the burden we have placed on an entire race of people created in the image of God.
A pastor, a lawyer, an engineer. These spiritual, educated, middle-aged men of color are all perceived as a threat and treated as if they don’t belong based entirely on their race in 21st century America.
This is not okay.
So What Can We Do?
I’ve been asking that question of my friends and family of color, and have been working to educate myself through books and documentaries on the issue. What I’ve come to learn is that, more than anything, they simply want our understanding and acknowledgement. Acknowledge that racism exists. Acknowledge that white privilege exists. Don’t deny it. Don’t defend it. Don’t try to excuse it away.
In a word, people of color want empathy. They want us to see and to care. Jesus said that we would be known as His disciples if we have love for another (Jn. 13:35). As Christians, our high calling is to be the most loving and compassionate people on the planet. How are we doing on that?
To start addressing these problems in our nation in a meaningful way we must first acknowledge they exist. This means we must have racial humility and realize that, as white people, we have no idea what black people are experiencing. I’ve been shocked to have white believers tell my husband, repeatedly, that there is no such thing as racism in America. While it’s true that we Caucasians are living in the same country as people of color, it’s clear that we are living in two totally different worlds.
Therefore we must go out of our way to get into their world: Listen. Learn. Educate ourselves. We want to live in a society where nobody is seen as a threat on their job, visiting their family’s home, or sitting in their own driveway simply because of the color of their skin.
It is our responsibility to acknowledge this is how things are, but refuse to allow them to stay that way. We ask Holy Spirit to highlight any prejudiced beliefs in our hearts and negative biases in our minds and we repent of them. We invite Him to show us our blind spots and open our eyes. We resolve to never judge what we can’t possibly understand, and to do everything God is leading us to do to help alleviate the suffering and right the wrongs.
It is our responsibility as the Body of Christ to ensure that everyone feels accepted. Everyone feels included. Everyone feels like they belong. And while the problems can seem overwhelming, we know God’s love and light through us can make a difference. By Holy Spirit’s grace and power, we purpose to be the change we want to see in the world. It starts with the Church, today. It starts right now, with us.
Race in America Series
- Understanding and Responding to Racial Tension
- Should I Just Hunker Down, Pray, and Try to Avoid All the Turmoil Engulfing the USA?
- "All Sheep Matter!"
- T. D. Jakes Explains Racial Issues in a Way I've Never Heard Them
- A Lieutenant Discusses Racial Discrimination Within the NYPD
- Perception, Presumption & the Pain of Not Belonging
- What Can I Do To Help Heal Racial Tension?
- It's Time for Blacks and Whites to Talk About Race Issues