I want to speak. Yesterday I was challenged to speak, to speak on behalf of the oppressed and the marginalized, and… I want to.
But I’m hesitant.
Not in all areas. Some areas are easier than others — advocating for the orphan and the widow, standing against the evils of abortion, and working to end sex-trafficking. These needs are overwhelming and I don’t know how to contribute from my small corner of the Texas Hill Country and yet I attempt to eagerly take advantage of any opportunities I become aware of.
And then there’s the race conversation. I am no less passionate about seeing racial reconciliation, but I am less sure of how to speak and how to advocate or when to engage.
I long to see Christ’s church stand as one man with no dividing walls. I eagerly anticipate that Day when there is around His throne a multitude of people of every shade praising God in every tongue. And I want to see the breakthrough of that eschatological reality evidence itself in today’s churches.
Yet I’m hesitant to speak, apprehensive of entering the dialogue.
But I think I am beginning to understand why, at least in part.
Yesterday’s panel discussions about race, entitled “A Time to Speak,” was a wonderful and engaging discussion. A ton of good stuff was said on the panel (I only had opportunity to watch the first panel) and I am convinced that the disagreements are not so far removed from one another. The men spoke with conviction and granted one another grace. There was a spirit of brotherhood and an evident desire to want to understand each other — even if that desire apparently remained unfulfilled.
As positive of the panel was, the TwitterFeed was abysmal. The spirit demonstrated as #atimetospeak scrolled across my phone was either superficial affirmation or just downright hateful (not exclusively but pervasively). There was ready agreement and retweeting if a panel member said something the gallery agreed with and there was immediate hostility if a panel member challenged an observer’s ideas or experience. The panel, as much as it modeled open dialogue and gracious disagreement, that spirit was lost in transmission.
This is why it is hard to talk about race issues: because while several people want to speak, few people are willing to listen.
We will readily “amen” and “RT” those who echo what we have already decided is true. And we consistently, predictably, systematically dismiss, distort, and demonize those who say something we don’t like or agree with. If progress is to be made, this childish, immature, hateful, distrusting, unChristian practice has to stop.
Before I speak, I want to know that you want to understand me and that you will trust that I really do want to understand you.
Before I speak, I want to know that you’re as willing to rethink your preconceptions as you expect me to be. I need to know that my experience and perspective have something to offer you, because I am ready to crawl into your experience and I recognize that I need what your perspective and experience have to offer me.
Before I speak I need to feel safe, that those I love as brothers and sisters are not going to misrepresent my opinion,n or dismiss my position, or misunderstand my questions.
I want to see profitable conversations and fruitful initiatives in this area of race, especially race in the church. But this going to continue to be difficult when the TwitterFeed is filled with accusation and ad hominem. When even those who care enough to watch an event which has been organized to pursue progress and understanding respond in ungracious, superficial ways, there is only minimal hope. If we cannot be just as ready to receive and understand a differing perspective as we are to affirm and echo the perspectives we agree with, we cannot move forward.
Before I speak, I want to know that I’ll be heard.