Stream or download the audio recording from this breakout session titled Hopeful Strategies for Hard Conversations with Mika Edmondson that was delivered at The Gospel Coalition’s 2019 National Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. In light of our highly polarized national climate, the church has the unique opportunity—and the unique gospel resources—to have hard conversations in a way the world cannot. In this workshop, we discussed practical advice for talking about race. The focus wasn’t directly on the issues themselves as much as strategies for how to talk about the them in the church, especially among people with whom we might strongly disagree.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Hopeful strategies for hard conversations. People who are really thinking about having hard conversations, that signifies to me that you already have a certain commitment, that you have not opted out of talking about difficult things with sometimes difficult people. And so praise the Lord, you are the marines of the Kingdom of God, okay? You are in the trenches. Okay? You are in the trenches. And so today we’re gonna really think about hopeful perspectives first for hard conversations. I feel like it’s important for us to get a really good perspective on why we ought to stay engaged. Because listen, if you find yourself… No one likes awkwardness. No one likes to be talking about difficult things.
There are some people that just like to fight and they like conflict, but in general, folks don’t kinda wanna be in those kinds of situations. So you’ve gotta really have a really good reason to deliberately put yourself in a situation of social awkwardness. Okay? And I wanna talk a little bit about some of those good reasons. So I’m gonna talk about hopeful perspectives for hard conversations and then we’ll talk about a hopeful plan for hard conversations. So I’m gonna really kinda break our time together up into those things. Hopeful perspectives for hard conversations and then we’re gonna talk about a hopeful plan for hard conversations. And then hopefully we’ll have some time for Q&A. Okay?
I wanna direct our attention, first of all, to Scripture, a passage of Scripture that’s near and dear to my heart that is perhaps very familiar with you. All Scripture is near and dear to my heart, but especially this one. Psalm 133, Psalm 133, I’m gonna just read verses 1 and 2, okay, for our hearing, in our hearing. Psalm 133, A song of ascents of David. This is God’s word. “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity. It is like fine oil on the head, running down on the beard, running down Aaron’s beard on to his robes.” Okay.
So this passage really picks up during a period of intense national and cultural polarization, national and cultural polarization. Do you remember, during the period of the Judges, okay, this was a period in which God’s people were living in the land with one another, but not really living in unity. Three centuries long period in which there was much division amongst the Lord’s people. And then following the period of Judges, there was a long war between the house of Saul and the house of David. God’s people had increasingly segmented themselves into ideological and cultural silos that reinforce their assumptions and beliefs about the world and particularly about the other side.
I believe we can relate to that today. They only listen to media. They reinforce their beliefs. They only have friends over to the house that voted the way they voted. Okay? They had found themselves in cultural and political and ideological silos. And because of that suspicion and hostility grew as they increasingly viewed every national event, not through a Gospel lens, but through the ideological grid that they had been handed down from their particular side. So the Bible is not surprised at our division. It’s not surprised that we are not excited about unity.
In the King James or ESV, it says, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers live together, in unity.” Okay. Behold. That Hebrew word “behold” is the word “hinneh.” Repeat after me. Hinneh. Okay. All right, good. Hinneh means simply behold, or check this out. Check this out. Look at this. In Scriptures, when you see the word “hinneh,” it means that there’s something happening that is a shock to you. Okay? Something happening that goes, runs against your preconceived notion. Something that’s happening that’s sort of cutting against what you would expect and notice that the Bible is saying hinneh, surprise. It’s actually good when people dwell together. It’s actually good when folks are living together and doing life together and we can relate to that today because if we think about the ideological and political and moral divide in our country, it’s really a shock to people that it’s actually good to be together.
And if you don’t believe me, I want you to think about where you are on the socio political and moral landscape. How do you think about yourself? And you don’t have to say it out loud, but how do you think about yourself? How do you categorize yourself? Do you think about yourself as a social and political conservative? And if you do, I want you to think about whether or not you think is a good thing to live with folk that are social and political progressives. And if you’re a socio political progressive, I want you to think about whether you think it’s actually good to do life with folks that are social, political conservatives.
And I want you to think about the people that are just the polar opposite of you. And I want you to think about how you would feel if your son or daughter brought a person like that home to date, have mercy and heaven forbid, let’s say they were talking about getting married. My son or daughter marrying one of those people, heaven forbid, heaven forbid. And that shows us that in our sinfulness, in our polarization, we are not all that excited about unity. And so the Bible has to tell us that this is something that we should be excited about.
Listen up. You may not think this is a great thing, but this is a wonderful gift that the Lord has given His people. Behold how good and precious it is, how good it is for brothers to dwell in unity. And the Bible first lifts up…I wanna talk about two things here about this perspective on hard conversations. I wanna talk about the significance of our unity and the significance of difficult conversations that cross the social, political, and racial divide. The Bible first…it uses two analogies to talk about how good and pleasant unity is. I wanna just talk about the first of those analogies. This is what it says. It says how good and pleasant it is when brothers live or dwell together in harmony or in unity. First it says, it is like fine oil on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard onto his robes.
We remember that Aaron was chosen to serve as high priest before the Lord. Y’all remember that? And to signify and confirm God’s choice, Aaron was anointed with a special holy oil. This holy oil was made of myrrh and cinnamon and sweet calamus and cassia besides olive oil. And it was a special mixture, a very special mixture that the Israelites could not use for any other purposes. This was a special cologne that could not go anywhere else but on Aaron’s head and on all of the articles that were used in holy worship. And so Israel couldn’t reproduce this fragrance, or use it on any mundane thing because this was, listen to this, the fragrance of holiness. The fragrance of holiness.
It was meant to remind them of the Lord and it was a sweet savor before the Lord themselves. And so whenever they smelled this aroma, it would remind them of God’s presence. You know, I’m a child of the night, so I wanna say it smells like teen spirit, but it didn’t, it smelled like holiness. Okay? Smelled like the Holy Spirit. And listen. But I want you to notice this very specially chosen analogy. By likening union to the oil that runs down Aaron’s robes, Scripture is telling us that the unity of God’s people smells like holiness. The unity of God’s people smells like holiness. It carries the distinct aroma of God’s presence. You will know that God is present and active in powerful ways when you see God’s divided people come together. Come together across racial lines, political lines, social lines, all these things. When we come together, it smells like God’s presence. And there’s something distinct about God that is being communicated only as we are unified with one another.
One of the most fundamental realities that God reveals to us about Himself is that God is unified with Himself. Remember, Deuteronomy 6:4, Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And so when we are unified, when we are one, we communicate something fundamental about the character and nature of God. Remember, God Himself is triune, an eternal unity of three persons, father, son, and Holy Spirit, okay? And so when we refuse to be unified, okay, when we refuse to be unified, we are actually rejecting something about the character and nature of God Himself. Undermining the unity of God’s people or denying the unity of God’s people or doing something to undermine the unity of God’s people. That’s a major offense before the Lord.
You all remember, in Proverbs it talks about the abominations before the Lord. And the seventh abomination, which is a kind of the…one of the supreme abominations is when you actually sow discord between brothers. I want you to think about the things in your mind that you think of as abominable before the Lord, abominable before the Lord. Just things that are just absolutely intolerable before the Lord. Things that you look at other people’s lives and you point to that person and you say, “Now that right there is an abomination. I mean, I know I’m bad. I know I’m a sinner, I know I need grace, but that person over there, they really need grace. That’s an abomination over there.” Okay? And what the Lord is saying is, that very same disgust you have about that thing that person is doing, that is the disgust He has about the disunity in the body of Christ and that is the disgust He has about the things that we do to undermine the unity of the body of Christ. The gossip that we spread. Okay?
The false assumptions that we have about one another. Our refusal to come together. Our hardheartedness and our bitterness and our stubbornness and our pride. That’s the way God feels about the things that undermine the unity of the body of Christ. And so one reason why we ought to run after unity and pursue it no matter the cost, even if it costs our reputation, even if it costs our pride, is because we want our lives to have the sweet aroma of holiness. And so we have to seek and pursue unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ, especially our brothers and sisters that we would not otherwise be naturally unified with.
Listen, you ain’t doing nothing until you are crossing a cultural divide to pursue unity because otherwise you just look like a social club. You ain’t doing nothing more than then the local social club, the local fraternity, the local sorority, the local partisan, political faction. If you’re just connecting with people that only think like you, that only vote like you, that only shop like you, that only listen to the things you listen to, that only have the same kind of political ideology that you have. So we must come together across the lines that society says we are not supposed to cross. And you know, Jesus was an expert in crossing those lines. Jesus did that quite often.
You think about the way in which he crossed the line in John 4 to talk to the Samaritan woman at the well. You know, Jews didn’t even go down that way and yet Jesus leads his apostles down through this territory that no good self-respecting Jew would go down through. And then he starts to talk to this woman and the apostles when they come back are absolutely shocked that Jesus is talking to this Samaritan woman. The other. These folks don’t worship like we worship. These are syncretistic folks. These are immoral folks. These are unclean folks. And here it is Jesus talking to this person, Jesus crossing those sociopolitical and ethnic lines, those religious lines in order to bring the gospel.
And so we should do that as well if we want to really follow in his footsteps and we want to reflect his light and his glory. So the significance of our unity, but also the source of our unity, the source of our unity. Notice what the Scripture says here. It says again, it is like fine oil on the head, running down on the beard, running down Aaron’s beard onto his robes. So not only did the oil running down the high priest’s robes, his beard and his robes remind the Lord’s people of holiness, it also reminded them of hope, of hope. When the high priest was installed, when the Lord…when the people saw that oil go on Aaron’s head and when they saw that oil flow down his head, they knew that a high priest, a means of grace was installed on their behalf. They knew that someone was praying for them. They knew that someone was making sacrifices for them.
And so despite all their weaknesses, they knew that God had installed someone, someone, to ensure that the blessing of God would remain on God’s people. That the grace of God would continue working amongst God’s people. And so despite their divisions and despite their weaknesses, as long as the high priest was praying, and as long as the high priest was making sacrifices, then they knew there was hope for the community. And as high priest, of course, Jesus Christ prayed for that very thing. He prayed for our unity. John 17. He says, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one just as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they may be in Us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me.”
Jesus prayed for the witness that would be displayed through our unity. He prayed for our unity. And as high priest, He shed his own blood to become our peace, tearing down the dividing wall of hostility that stood between an otherwise divided people. And when He was resurrected and ascended into glory, the disciples saw Him. In Luke 24, this was the very last thing they saw of their resurrected Lord. Luke 24 says, “Then he led them out as far as Bethany and lifting up His hands,” it said, “He blessed them. And while He blessed them, He parted from them, and He was carried up into heaven.”
And I want you all to think about that now. That the very last image they saw of the resurrected Lord was as His hands outstretched over their lives in high priestly blessing. The nails-pierced hands outstretched over their lives. Okay. And I want us to think about that today. As long as the high priest is alive, as long as the resurrected Christ is alive, and as long as His nail-pierced hands are outstretched over our lives and over the church, we cannot give up hope on our unity. As long as Jesus is praying for our unity, then we can never give up hope on our unity. Because although we might not be able to get a prayer through, I know Jesus can get a prayer through. I have it on good authority that Jesus has favor with the man at the top. In fact, Jesus Himself is the man at the top.
And so as we enter into cross-cultural conversations across divides that the world says that we should not cross, we must remain hopeful because that same great high priest who prayed so earnestly in John 17 is still interceding for us as we go. And that anointing that is upon Him, that the Holy Spirit… You remember, the anointing came upon Him at His baptism and when he ascended to the right hand of the Father, He turned around and He poured out that anointing upon us. That anointing flowed down from the head of the high priest down into His body. Okay. And it empowers us today. It empowers us to have convictions and courage that we otherwise would not have, to cross lines that we otherwise would not have.
How many of you all have heard the name Juliette Hampton Morgan? If you’ve heard of Juliette Hampton Morgan, raise your hand. Okay. So no. Oh, goody. I get to introduce you to somebody. Good. Good. You all should know this name, Juliette Hampton Morgan. Juliette Hampton Morgan was this quiet and shy librarian at the Public Library of Montgomery, Alabama, in the 1940s and ’50s. Okay. She was a seventh-generation wealthy southerner, white wealthy southerner, and actually a descendant of a Confederate general and South Carolina Governor Wade Hampton. And so, Juliette Hampton Morgan seemed to be from a natural perspective, the very last person that anybody would ever expect to be a model of racial unity.
She had been raised by her parents and society to accept segregation and white supremacy as normal and right, but somehow by God’s grace, Juliette Hampton Morgan found her way into an interracial woman’s prayer group in Montgomery, Alabama called the Fellowship of the Concerned in 1946. This was nine years before the famous Montgomery bus boycott. These prayer meetings had to be scheduled in black churches because no white congregation would risk hosting an integrated gathering, which violated the city’s municipal code.
And after participating in this prayer group, Juliette Hampton Morgan began to see the injustice of segregation for what it was. She began to see that it was out of step with the Christian faith, that it was out of step with the anointing of Christ. And years before the bus boycott, Juliette Hampton Morgan began protesting, publicly protesting on the city buses. Ain’t that interesting? Nine years before Rosa Parks ever sat down on the bus, Juliette Hampton Morgan, a white southerner, who was a descendant of a confederate general, was protesting on the bus on behalf of black folk. Then you tell me what Jesus can’t do.
Listen, due to severe anxiety, Morgan rode the city bus line rather than drive a car. Listen, this was not the candidate for a public protest. This was a woman who struggled with anxiety all her life. A woman who was too anxious to even drive her own car. And for years she had witnessed white bus drivers mistreat black men and women who paid the same ten cent fare that she did. And she was outraged when she saw drivers refuse to pick black people up in the rain, throw their change on the floor rather than hand it to them and call them racial epithets and ugly names. One evening on her way home from the library, Morgan watched a black woman pay her fair and leave the bus to enter by the back door because in those days, as an African American, you had to enter into the front, pay your fare, exit the bus, go back to the back, and then go into the back of the bus.
And what often happened was when people would come in and pay their fare and exit the bus to go into the back, people would sometimes just drive off. And Morgan watched this black woman pay her fare, leave the bus to enter by the black door as black folks were required to do in that day, and before this woman could reenter, the driver pulled away. Morgan had seen actions like this before, but somehow by the anointing of Christ and by the Spirit of God, Morgan got courage and a righteous indignation that she had never had before and she jumped up in the middle of the bus and she pulled the emergency cord and she got up and she started screaming at the top of her lungs at the bus driver to stop and open up the back door to let this woman get in. And for the next several years, Juliette Hampton Morgan, the white woman that was too anxious to drive her own car staged protests like this every time she saw an injustice like this for the next nine years.
You tell me what the Lord can’t do. Tell me what the Lord can’t do… So listen, I lift up Juliette Hampton Morgan’s example to you as hope, as a real practical example of hope, of what the Lord is able to do for people that might not be the most anticipated candidate. You may look at your life and say, “Well, what can I do? What can I do? You know, I’m really new at this whole, you know cross-cultural thing. I’m really new at this whole race conversation. You know, I feel a little bit anxious about this whole thing.” Well, so did Juliette Hampton Morgan. But God gave her some courage that pushed beyond her own social standing, beyond her own social fit. God gave her courage that she otherwise would not have had. And listen, beloved God will give you that kind of love. God will give you that kind of courage. God will give you that kind of fortitude to stand up for righteousness’ sake. So, that helps us to get a good kind of…a hopeful perspective on hard conversations.
Now I wanna talk about brass tacks. I really wanna get into the nitty-gritty of what this looks like on the ground. A hopeful plan for hard conversations. Here’s point number one under this. This is what we oughta do. When we go into these difficult conversations with folks that might not think like us, might not have the same kind of socio-political ideology, might be on a different place in the racial divide, this is what we oughta do. We oughta grow cultural empathy, humility and curiosity. Cultural empathy, humility and curiosity.
Romans 12 says this, it says, “Weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.” Listen, it begins, after saying rejoice with those who rejoice it says weep with those who weep. Empathy means that we take the burdens, the sorrows, the concerns of our neighbors upon ourself to the point of crying tears with them. It means that we don’t just hold them at a distance, but it means that we actually, we take their hurts upon ourselves as if they were our hurts. We think about their children as if they were our children. We think about their concerns as if they were our personal concerns and we cry tears with them.
And listen, listen, this is an amazing thing that actually really brings a… This goes a long way to having a cross-cultural conversation when we lead with our tears rather than our fears. Lead with your tears rather than your fears. If people are hurting, resist the urge to deny their pain for the sake of your political gain. If people are hurting, resist that urge because you’re gonna get that urge and people are gonna tell you that you should not feel sorry for those people, that you should not weep with those people, that you should not even listen to those people. But you oughta, oh, listen to Jesus more than you listen to the talking heads on talk radio and on cable news.
We have to love the Lord more than we love our own political and social standing and we must be willing to weep with those who weep for the sake of our king. And let me ask you this, okay? I’m just asking you this just as a way to kinda gauge where you are with this in your life, okay? Not as a point of shame, but just as a point of you thinking about it for yourself. When is the last time you wept with someone of a different ethnicity over a point of suffering that is unique to their ethnicity? When is the last time you wept with a person of a different ethnicity or culture over a point of suffering that is unique to their experience, unique to their culture, unique to their ethnicity?
You know, we’re okay crying with people over stuff that affects us too, right? But when we have to actually weep with somebody over pain that they experience that we don’t experience, then we struggle. We struggle because we feel like in weeping with them that we’re giving something up, that we’re giving up ground in the kinda social, political and moral debate. If I feel sorry for those folks, if I even give an inch, then that might be a sign of weakness from my side. And so we don’t enter into conversations with our tears, from a place of vulnerability, from a place of just deep concern. And it’s amazing because the Scripture doesn’t say weep with those who agree with you politically. It doesn’t say weep with those who vote just like you vote. Weep with those who watch the same television shows, watch the same new shows that you watch. No, no, no. It just says weep with those who weep. If they are weeping then we have a calling from the Lord to empathize with them even if we agree with all the reasons they say they’re weeping or not.
Scripture doesn’t say you have to agree with them. Just says you have to weep with them. It says you have to weep with them. And listen, weeping means we must listen non-defensively in order to understand the experiences of other people. Okay? You must listen non-defensively, non-defensively. You know, it’s hard to weep with folks if you can’t really even listen to them. And a lot of times we come into cross-cultural conversations with our sorta Gatling gun of talking points and we will sit for a few seconds but really we’re just waiting on them to shut up so we can get our Gatling gun out and we can just blow them away. Just brrr, like all these…I’ve been listening to such and such person. I got my 12 arguments for why they’re wrong. And listen, if we’re gonna weep with them, we’ve got to stop that. We’ve got to enter into these conversations in a genuine way.
And when we began our conversation with empathy, it tends to cut through the impasse of polarization. Listen, the talking heads on the news are not encouraging empathy. They are not encouraging empathy. Look, their business is to make you not empathize. Their business is to caricature other people and to humanize other people in such a way that you won’t feel sorry for them people. In fact, they will give you five reasons for why you shouldn’t feel sorry for those people, for why you should be okay in turning away from their suffering, for why you should be okay with passing the man on the side of the road, and even though he’s beaten and bruised and battered, you can just keep right on going. Because after all, I mean, he doesn’t deserve your empathy. Oftentimes we only weep with people that we think deserve it. We have a kind of moral gauge out and we feel like a certain group of people deserve our empathy. That’s who we empathize with. That’s who we empathize with.
But Jesus says, “Weep with those who weep.” You know, the Lord, He gave us grace when we didn’t deserve it.
He didn’t withhold grace and said, “Well, you know, I’m not doing anything for you unless you deserve it.” No, no. The Lord saw I was battered and bruised in our misery and our sin and our woe and Jesus had every right to keep on walking. But Jesus came to us and Jesus empathized with us. And Jesus was tender with us. And Jesus came in our place and He cried tears with us and on our behalf. And that’s what He’s calling us to do with others. So empathize. Also, listen, develop cultural humility, develop cultural humility. Notice what it said at the end of that passage in Romans 12, it says, “Never be wise in your own sight.” Never. Well, that’s a big word. Never. Never. Because you know, the Bible kinda knows how we are, right? You know, He knows we’re gonna try to slip it in any way we can. You know, He says, “Never be wise in your own sight.”
What does that mean? It means that we can’t be cultural know-it-alls around one another. Right? We have to stop being cultural know-it-alls because we do have a tendency to think we know it all. To think that we don’t have anything to learn from people that aren’t like us, especially people who we deem less than us. We don’t think we have anything to learn from them. And when we do that, when we do that, we are actually being wise in our own sight. Okay? And so we have to resist that tendency. Again, when we enter into a conversation, sort of just waiting on our opportunity to fire off our talking points, that’s being wise in your own sight. It’s being wise in your own sight. That’s saying, “I don’t have anything to learn from you.”
Listen, a person doesn’t have to be as educationally sophisticated as you are in order to teach you something. A person doesn’t have to have the same degrees that you have or the same tax…they don’t have to be in the same tax bracket as you are in, in order to be able to teach you something. Even if they are very simple person, you can learn how to love them by listening to them. You can learn the things that motivate them, that drive them, their thoughts and their fears and their concerns. And even a person that’s dead wrong, you can learn some good stuff by listening to them. By listening to them. You can learn what it’s like to walk in their shoes by listening to them. And so we can ask good questions. Listen, we can ask questions like this. What’s it like to walk in your shoes for a day?
If you wanna know how to have a hopeful strategy for hard conversations, start by asking someone that’s different than you that question. What is it like to be you? And listen non-defensively, listen non-judgmentally. Don’t interrupt every time they say something that you don’t agree with, just listen. Be slow to speak, quick to listen and slow to become angry. That means stop making all these moral judgments all the time because you don’t know everything. And if you were in that person’s shoes, you might be responding just like they do. So you have to sit and you just have to wait. Suspend judgment for just a moment. Listen non-defensively for just a moment. Ask those questions so that you can learn. Don’t be quick to dismiss them. Be slow to become angry. Be slow to take personal offense.
Realize that people in different places in our world have things that they can teach us. They have a perspective that we need to get from them. Okay? Who here has heard of the artist Lauryn Hill? Raise your hand if you’ve heard of Lauryn Hill. Okay, a lot of you. Okay, most of you. If you have not heard of Lauryn Hill, you need to go listen to some Lauryn Hill today, okay? You need to get her on whatever you use to listen and stream music you need to go on there today and listen to Lauryn Hill, okay? Lauryn Hill. You know, Lauryn Hill’s a celebrity, a hip hop, R&B, amazing artist, who tells a story of going to Disney World. And this is kinda at the height of her fame. You know, she was really big in the ’90s and early 2000s and this is kinda really at the height of her fame.
And so when she went to Disney World, she couldn’t just go in the front entrance like everybody else. They kinda had to like take her through the back entrance to Disney World. And she talks about going through the servants’ entrance, not the servants’ entrance but you know, the workers’ entrance, you know, the folks that…the entrance where everybody else, the regular folk come in at and the folks that work at Disney World. She talks about how dirty it was behind the scenes. She talks about how she saw people sick, she saw people overworked, she saw people throwing up, it smelled bad and folks were just sweaty and hot and tired. You know, those precious people that walk around in those big old Mickey costumes in 98 degree weather and they got to hop around like they’re just so happy to be in this 150 degree costume in this weather and then when they go in the back, they just collapse and Lauryn Hill saw all of that.
She saw the human cost of this Disney World facade and when she went out into Disney World, she couldn’t look at it the same way because she had seen the dark underbelly of this façade. Listen, beloved, there are people in society, they can tell you about the dark underbelly. People who entered into this situation in America a whole lot different than maybe you have and don’t be quick to dismiss them because they can…they might be able to see some stuff that you can’t see. You’re like, “Oh man, things are great here. What do you mean this is bad?” Wait, wait, wait. But you haven’t seen behind the scenes. You haven’t seen the human cost of what it takes to make this look like what it looks. Because this thing came on the back of my ancestors and this thing came on the back of my mama and this thing came on my back and I’m on the bottom of the system and I can see it in a different way.
And so we need to suspend judgment for just a moment so that we can hear from them, so that we can hear from them. Some of y’all may think I’m just making this up. Some of y’all may be like, “Oh man, I just knew he was gonna get into some of that social psychology stuff. Man, I mean, I was just waiting for that to come in.” You know, the Bible actually talks about this. The Bible talks about this. You check out Proverbs 1. In Proverbs 1, after it gives a preface to the Proverbs, it instructs. So Proverbs was a compilation of wisdom literature compiled by Solomon and his administration to help train future leaders in Israel. To help train future leaders in Israel and although Solomon spoke over 3,000 proverbs and 800 of his proverbs are collected in the book, there are other proverbs that are also collected in order to help train Israel’s future leaders.
And one of the things that tell Israel future leaders is this. It starts by saying, “Listen to the teaching of your father and do not forsake the instruction of your mother.” You think, “Why does it have to include that? Why does it need to include that?” It needs to include that because the future leaders of Israel needed to hear the wisdom of God coming from the lips of women in the society, of women in the society. People who knew what it was like to be on the bottom. People who knew what it was like to be in some ways marginalized. People that knew what it was like the to be in a different social state than they were in, okay? Than they were in. And you know, in case you just think that’s kind of enigma or a strange thing, you think about how Proverbs ends. It starts this way then it ends with Proverbs 31.
And you think about, well, hey, you know, okay, yes, it’s just about how to find a godly wife? Well, no, no, no. No, no, no, no, no. Before it gets into how to find a godly wife, King Lemuel’s mama is telling him how to rule the kingdom, telling him how to rule the kingdom. It’s like, wait a minute. What is this sister doing telling this man how to rule the kingdom? And this is some interesting advice that she gives him in Proverbs 31. Interesting, really fascinating advice that she gives him in Proverbs 31. The words of King Lemuel, a pronouncement that his mother taught him. What should I say, my son? What, son of my womb? What, son of my vows? It says, “Don’t spend your energy on women or your efforts on those who would destroy a king. It is not for kings, Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine or for rulers to desire beer. Otherwise, he will drink and forget what he’s decreed.” It’s saying, “Look son, don’t sit around and get drunk. Don’t sit around and drink a bunch of beer. Don’t just waste your life doing that because if you do that… Well, look what she’s saying. She says, “and pervert justice for all the oppressed. Give beer to the one who is dying and wine to the one whose life is bitter.”
She’s saying, “Have empathy for people. Make life easier for the people on the bottom. Let him drink so that he can forget his poverty and remember his trouble no more.” And then she says this, “Speak up for those who have no voice, for the justice of all who are dispossessed. Speak up. Judge righteously and defend the cause of the oppressed and needy.” This is the wisdom that he got from his mama. Okay? And so listen, it was really important. It’s always important that we listen to people who are in different places on the social totem pole. We can’t be cultural know-it-alls, okay? We can’t be cultural know-it-alls. We need to have the humility to listen to people. Okay?
This one is what James 3:17 says, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle…” Listen to this, “open to reason, full of mercy.” And I want you to think about the national discourse around hot topics. Does it sound peaceable, gentle? Are people open to reason when they talk about these things? Do they ever say, “Well, you know, that was a good point you just made”? I mean, you know, you think about what goes on Twitter. Oh Lord, have mercy. You think about what goes on Twitter, and when is the last time that anybody ever changed their mind about anything on Twitter? I mean, people make these long…it was supposed to have 160 characters, but you can string them together, have 1,000, 10,000 characters, right? And you put all these arguments together, but nobody ever seems to change their mind. Nobody ever seems to be really genuinely open to reason. They’re just looking for arguments to further entrench them in the position that they already have.
And so the Scripture is calling us to be genuinely open to reason and genuinely full of mercy. Okay? So when we have cross-cultural conversations, when we have conversations across different divides, we must do it in a way that is full of mercy, full of mercy, okay? That’s an interesting phrase, that mercy is not on a quota, but mercy is full of mercy. You know, when you enter a cross-cultural conversation, don’t say, “Well look, you know, I met my mercy quota. I’m done being merciful. I felt sorry for this person, this person, this person, I ain’t feeling sorry for no more people.” And that’s an important thing because listen, the polarization in our society doesn’t just have its chosen issues. It has its chosen people, it has its chosen people. It has certain people that it says these people are deserving of our mercy and these people are not. And that’s on both sides. Okay?
But the wisdom that comes down from God is full of mercy. The wisdom that comes down from God says, “All of these people are deserving of my mercy.” Even if you don’t see it, my particular or chosen representative, that votes the way I vote. Even if I voted for you. Listen, listen, listen. I see some people that need mercy that you just don’t see, and the church has to be conspicuous in that way. The church has to always be seeing people that need mercy, that our system doesn’t see and our parties don’t see. And if you can only feel sorry for people that your party says you should feel sorry for, then something is wrong. Something is wrong. Listen, if you can only feel sorry for the people that the world says you should feel sorry for, then that’s not the wisdom that is from above. That’s the wisdom that’s from MSNBC. That’s the wisdom that’s from Fox News. That’s not the wisdom from above. Okay? The wisdom from above is full of mercy.
Here’s another thing. Develop cultural curiosity. Be genuinely curious about people. And listen, love to learn about people. Listen, don’t you love people enough to just wanna learn about them? Some of this stuff, some of these silos, it’s just really a love issue. Just frankly, don’t love folk enough to just say, “You know, I kinda really wanna know about you.” Right? Look, listen, if two people get married, okay, and they get married and they go off to their honeymoon and they’re excited about their honeymoon and then the husband turns to the wife and says, “You know, I know all I need to know about you.” Oh Lord, have mercy. We off to a rocky start, okay? We need to call the pastor, okay? We need an intervention, okay? Listen, love wants to know more about a person. Love is curious about a person.
Listen, I got the great blessing of doing premarital counseling with a young couple at Calvin College recently. And when I just met with them for the first time on this past Sunday and they sat down and I was so encouraged because they were genuinely excited about the opportunity to grow and to learn more about one another. Now, you know, “We’ve known one another dating, but man, I can’t wait to know what it’s like to walk with each other when we’re married. And man, I can’t wait to know what it’s like to walk with each other when we both get employed. And man, I can’t wait to walk with each other and know what it’s like to love this person and know this person when they are old, crotchety curmudgeon.” And in fact, that’s what the woman said. She said, “I can’t wait to know him as a old, crotchety curmudgeon.” I said, “Well, you must really love this man, you know? You must really love this man.”
So we have to have a genuine cultural curiosity. Our love should make us curious about our neighbors. Love shouldn’t make us afraid to know our neighbors, right? Listen, love should make you…think about, Jesus is talking to a Samaritan woman who has a whole different worship practice. Syncretistic, okay? He talking to folks that they got they worship all wrong. Just messed up religiously. But you know, love drove Him to talk to her and love should drive us to talk to people that got it messed up. We shouldn’t just say, “Look, I’m only gonna talk to the folk that go to my church that’s in my denomination.” We should be able to go out to folks that are Christians and we should be able to go to folks that are non Christians. Love should make us show up on the front step of the mosque. “Hey neighbor, just coming down here to meet you. Just wanna learn more about, just wanna be a good neighbor.”
Listen, you’re not giving up anything when you do that, to be kind to people. You know, we really have a hard time saying, “You know, I disagree with you but I’m still gonna love you and be kind to you.” We only think that we can be kind to people that we disagree with. Well, somebody might see me down here at the mosque and think that I’m a Muslim now, think that I promote their religion. No. He should know that you are promoting the religion of Jesus Christ, the religion that would cause you to go beyond your own boundaries and come down here to get to know your neighbor and love them well, and love them well.
Another thing, cultural courage. These conversations demand cultural courage, cultural courage. Listen, beloved. When you start empathizing with people and talking to people that the world says you’re not supposed to be empathizing with and talking to, you’re gonna pay a price, and you should just know that upfront. You’re going to pay a price, okay? Listen, this happened to Jesus when he preached His inaugural sermon. He came in and He opened up the Isaiah Scroll. The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because He’s anointed me to preach good news to the poor.” And all those folks, all the folks in his hometown was so excited indeed because to them He was just talking about them, you know? They were like, “Oh man, the hometown boy is coming and we hear he’s been doing all kinds of miracles and we’re so excited about him because this means good news for us and us alone.”
And Jesus smells the ethnocentrism. He smells the nationalism. He smells the polarization and He hates it. And then he starts talking about God’s grace to the other folk, to the widow at Zarephath, to Naaman the Syrian. And it’s amazing how quickly the attitude changed from, “We love him, we love him, we love him.” And the Scripture says, “The whole synagogue was filled with rage and they wanted to throw Him off the cliff.” They went from loving Him instantly to hating Him. And when you start obeying the Lord and empathizing with people and talking about God’s grace to other folks and treating them well and looking after them, people that you’re not supposed to be looking after, people you’re not supposed to be loving, the world, your social circle, your family, your friends, your so called friends, they will turn against you.
They will call you names. They will unfriend you on Facebook, right? They’ll call you a social justice warrior. They’ll call you a Marxist. They will label you. They will label you because they’re afraid of that witness. Because in empathizing with other people, you’re showing a kind of love that actually humanizes people. It’s messing up they categories because them people over there they ain’t supposed to be human. They just a problem. They’re statistic, they are an issue. They’re a burden. They’re not a blessing. They’re not real fully formed human beings. So when you start showing empathy and showing love, that messes people’s categories up. Messes people’s categories up. So you’re gonna have to have some courage.
Remember Juliette Hampton Morgan? 1952, Juliette, after doing these bus boycotts for a number of years, wrote a letter to the Montgomery Advertiser warning white residents of Montgomery that the African-American population were tired of remaining silent about Montgomery segregation statutes and that things had to change. Some of y’all are worried now. Some of y’all are like, “Uh-oh, she spoke out. What’s gonna happen to this sister?” Soon after the letter was published, Morgan began to receive hate mail, obscene phone calls. Her few remaining friends abandoned her and even her own mother lamented at the damage she was supposedly doing to the family name. The public abuse went on for months. The mayor of Montgomery demanded that the library fire Morgan. And when the funding for the city library was reduced in the amount of Morgan’s salary, it became clear that the end of her position was near.
On July 15th, 1957, she returned home to find a cross burning on her front lawn and all her windows smashed. She resigned her position at the library the next day. And on July 16th, 1957, Juliette Hampton Morgan’s mother found her daughter dead. Next to her lay an empty bottle of sleeping pills. She had written a suicide letter that said, “I am going. I’m not going to cause any more trouble to anybody.” It’s a high cost to standing for righteousness. It’s a high cost. Martin Luther King Jr. would refer to Juliette Hampton Morgan as the only casualty of the Montgomery bus boycott, a hero of the Montgomery bus boycott. So we must be willing to pay a cost.
Here’s my final point. Grow cultural agility. Okay? You must not only have cultural courage, you’ve got to grow cultural agility, grow cultural agility. This means you’ve got to grow your intercultural muscle. You’ve got to grow the muscle that allows you to be able to engage with people of different cultures. Okay? And here’s the interesting thing, in order to grow your muscle, to be able to engage with people of different cultures, you’ve got to know your own culture really well. Got to know your own culture really well. I want you to think about somebody in Scripture that had a lot of intercultural agility, okay? That person, besides of course our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, was the apostle Paul.
The apostle Paul was a man that exemplified cultural agility, but you know, it’s interesting because he, although he was the apostle to the gentiles, he was the Hebrew of Hebrews and he talked about that. He often talked about his Jewish street cred. He talked about his Jewish street cred. In Philippians 3:5 he says, “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more.” He’s saying, “Look, if you think you are Jewish, I’m more Jewish than you are. Circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews.” You have to know your own culture well enough to distinguish between cultural preferences and Gospel principles. Okay? You’ve got to know your own culture well enough to distinguish between cultural preferences and Gospel principles.
There are a lot of people that confuse this because they actually don’t know what’s just personal and cultural preference and what is actually God’s command, right? A lot of times, you know, people know the cultural orthodoxy more than they know the Biblical orthodoxy. And if you don’t believe me, go moving stuff around in your church, right? I mean, you know, just one day when nobody is looking, just kinda push the piano two feet to the side and watch the letters that come in. “I cannot believe it. How can we do worship with the piano on the left side rather than the right side? I’m distracted. I can’t pay attention to the Gospel because the piano is getting on my nerves.” People know the cultural orthodoxy better than the Biblical orthodoxy. They really do. And so you’ve got to know your culture well enough to be able to distinguish the two. And that’s exactly what Paul could do. That’s what he could do so well. And it’s interesting again, God chose this Hebrew of Hebrews, this Pharisee to be the apostle to the gentiles.
Paul was more Jewish than anyone around and yet he was called to be the apostle to the gentiles because he knew his culture well enough to distinguish it from the Gospel. He knew his culture well enough to keep it in perspective. He knew it well enough to know that all foods were clean. He knew it well enough to know that you could eat meat sacrificed to idols and so he understood his own culture, okay? He understood his own culture.
And listen, beloved, whether you’re African-American, whether you’re Anglo-American, you need to learn about your ethnicity. Listen, if you in here and you’re just like, “Look, I’m just white.” No, you ain’t just white. You’ve got a culture. You have an ethnicity. Somebody came from somewhere. Unless you’re an indigenous person, somebody had to get on a boat from somewhere and get over here and they brought their culture with them and you need to learn about that. You need to learn about that. You need to understand that. You need to understand how it functions, learn your culture. Listen in an appreciative way. Learn to appreciate it because when you can appreciate your own culture, it gives you an understanding of why other people appreciate their culture and it will make you genuinely curious about theirs. And so learn your culture, okay, and learn other people’s cultures. Engage and study other cultures appreciatively, using them for gospel purposes.
You know, the Apostle Paul, not only did he know his culture well, he learned and studied other people’s cultures. Now I’m about to finish here, I know y’all gotta get ready to go. Not only did he know his culture well, he studied and learned other people’s cultures, okay? And he actually used them not just as negative examples. He used them as positive examples, right? He oftentimes quoted philosophers and poets from other cultures. Acts 17:28, remember this passage, this great speech at the Areopagus, “For in Him we live and move and exist, even as some of your own poets have said, for we also are his children.” This comes from Epimenides. And so this is actually Paul’s example of actually engaging a different culture and using it for Gospel purposes, okay? And so he does this throughout Scripture, okay? And here’s my last thing I wanna share with you all.
Engage in cross-cultural immersion. Engage in cross-cultural immersion. If you wanna know how to have good cross-cultural conversations, you can’t be scared to engage in other people’s lives and in the stuff that they’re engaged in, okay? Listen, I want you to think about Peter for instance. Peter in Acts 10. Remember, the Lord Jesus Christ told Peter to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. The Lord Jesus Christ when He gave this great commission, He called, told him to baptize all the nations in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, okay? But Lord behold, by the time we get to Acts 10, Peter still has not talked to nobody but just Jews. Nine chapters, 10 chapters and this brother, “I know Jesus said that, but he didn’t really mean that, you know? He didn’t really mean that. He just meant different kinda Jews, you know? He didn’t mean those people, you know? He didn’t mean those people. There’s all different kinda Jews, but not those people, right?” Not those people. Okay?
But you know, one day he’s sitting on top of a roof and he’s hungry and the Lord gives him this vision in Acts 10 and in this vision, this great sheet gets let down. It’s got all kinds of animals on it, okay? And the Lord, the risen resurrected Lord speaks to Peter from glory and He tells Peter, “Rise, Peter, kill and eat.” And that’s a really interesting thing, okay? God could have just repeated himself, said, “Look, boy, I told you to go into all the world, preach the Gospel to every creature. You need to just go do it. You just need to do this. I told you to do it, just go do it.” That’s the way the Lord could’ve done it. But that’s not what He did. Instead, God gives Peter a cross-cultural immersion experience. He said, “Look, I’m gonna let down this sheet and you’re now going to eat like a gentile. You’re gonna eat the stuff that all your…” I just want you to think you know, to the Jewish cultural sensibility, this would have been hard to do because their entire identity was staked on not eating that stuff and not being like those people.
And the Lord says, “I want you to go through the experience.” Listen, rise up, kill and eat means that Peter had to go through the experience of touching unclean animals, killing unclean animals, preparing unclean animals and eating unclean animals. And Peter does not wanna do it. And so he said, “No Lord, I’ve never eaten anything unclean. Come on.” Now this is the resurrected Lord. He didn’t stutter, right? He spoke to Peter, he told him and Peter just, you know, he didn’t wanna do this. He didn’t wanna do this. But listen, God wasn’t just preparing Peter to preach to the gentiles. God was preparing Peter to live among the gentiles, to accept them as equals. And if you’re going to accept people as equals, you can’t treat their culture as if it’s unclean.
You say, “Man, that’s some stuff that them people over there do, that’s kinda music that they listen to, kinda clothes that they wear, some stuff that they eat that I just, man, it’s just unclean. We don’t do that. We don’t eat that kinda stuff where I’m from. We don’t dress that way. We don’t listen to that kinda music.” And the Lord is saying, “Go on over there and do that. You need to know what it’s like to be among these people. Listen, so that you can truly accept them as an equal.” And you know, this is a lesson that Peter had to get time and time again because you move over to the book of Galatians and find Peter in Antioch, he’s still messing up. He was with the gentiles. He said, “Man, their bacon is good. I’ve been eating ham sandwiches and bacon for a long time and boy, that stuff tastes better than I thought it would, that it would.” And now he’s eating with the gentiles and then suddenly the Judaizers show up.
Suddenly the Jewish home folks show up and Peter forgets all of the cross-cultural immersion that he had gotten, all these lessons that he’d gotten and he found himself socially ashamed of the Gospel. That’s when Paul has to rise up and Paul has to rebuke him to his face and tell him that what he is doing, his way of behavior is out of step with the Gospel. Not what Peter said, but what Peter did. The way you treat those other Christians, treating them as if they’re beneath you. Treating them as if they’re culture is less than your culture. That’s out of step with the Gospel.
Don’t call what God has made clean unclean. Okay? All right, all right. I know we gotta go now, so I’m gonna shut it down right here. Thank you all so much. I really appreciated it. Praise the Lord.