My hunch is that some of us white people feel anxiety and confusion about scenes of racially-related strife not because we ourselves feel threatened but because we just don’t know what to do. No white person I know wants to be a racist. But my hunch is that some of us honestly don’t know what racism is — beyond the blatantly obvious. We then respond defensively to the forthrightness of our African-American friends, to whom the problems are clear. Maybe we are discovering in ourselves a blind spot.
Bryan Loritts’ article reminds us all of the various levels at which we connect with one another: clichés at the surface, then deeper to facts, then opinion, then feeling, then transparency. In my own words, “What everybody knows” to “What the facts are” to “What I think” to “How I feel” to “Who I am — really.” If our interaction with one another stays at the level of “the facts,” it can feel objective and fair. That’s why we get stuck at that level. It feels solid. But it doesn’t satisfy wounded people, nor should it. The true value of “the facts” is greater understanding, not gaining advantage. And reaching for more than “the facts” is not a slippery slope; it is love.
God’s loving alternative is all of us taking our discourse down to the level of “Here is who I am. Here is who and what I really am, in my own failure and need. Here is what troubles me about myself and all of us. Here is how I need to grow, and here is what I need from you.” This high-risk-high-reward transparency is biblical: “But if we walk in the light” — utter honesty with the Lord and one another — “as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
Where can all of us experience that eye-opening redemption? Primarily, in churches with a gospel culture. Ground Zero for progress is a relational environment of gospel + safety + time, such as a church is ideally suited to provide, where no one has anything to fear, where no one has to say everything perfectly because a good intention is taken for granted, where we are more eager to listen than to speak.
The more churches with that divine glory upon them, the more convincing our witness will be as an alternative to the flame-throwing discourse of our angry world. So, I don’t see any quick fix. But I do see a powerful long-term remedy: churches so honest, so gentle, that it feels like Jesus himself has come to town.