To say I’m surprised by the recent response to the #GoingThere conversation would be an understatement. I am grateful to you all.
It seems as if the #GoingThere conversation is here to stay for a while, and so I’m going to accept that for what it is and continue to make this a safe place for conversations about race, culture, and ethnicity, specifically as it relates to diversity (or, the lack thereof) in the North American church.
Many people have begun asking, “What can we do? How can we help? Where do we begin?” All fair questions. I am not an expert, but I thought I’d share a few suggestions to help move us forward a few paces in the conversation, and maybe help get us closer to being a more accurate representation of the Body of Christ.
One thing I want to share before we get started is this piece of advice I’ve always gotten from H, and it has proven true in my life: “If you don’t have a clear sense from God about the next step to take, just keep doing what you’re doing in the place where you are, and wait for God to reveal his plan for you.” You may not have a strong sense that the diversity conversation is where you need to be investing your time. If that’s the case, that’s fine. Sit tight and keep doing what you’re doing. God will nudge you if and when the time is right. However, if God is talking to you about this issue, you already know it. You don’t need me or anyone else to point it out to you. You may be afraid to move forward, or apprehensive about where to begin, but once God’s got the seed planted in your heart, it’s going to start expanding and growing and I encourage you to let the Holy Spirit do what the Holy Spirit does.
The #GoingThere conversation is not a bandwagon or a trend. People may try to make it one or both, but, from what I can tell, this conversation is a movement of the Holy Spirit. I am not in control of it. Obviously. Some days, I am just as terrified as you. Some days, I am frustrated and disappointed and sad. Some days, I simply don’t want to be bothered. Please don’t join the conversation out of a sense of duty or obligation or guilt. Join the conversation as an act of obedience to God, and as a response to the work the Holy Spirit is already doing in your life.
OK, then. Here are my suggestions for next steps we can take in this #GoingThere story:
1. Pray. Prayer changes things, and the things prayer changes first is what’s going on inside the person praying. If you’re afraid, confused, or angry, or feeling helpless or inadequate or uninformed or misinformed, take your concerns to God before you get on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, and before you write a blog post. Pray before you act or speak. Prayer, for the Body of Christ is always the first course of action.
2. Listen. My mother-in-law always said we were given two ears and one mouth for a reason. Listen to people who have a perspective that is different from yours. Listen without trying to figure out how to convince the other person to see things your way. Listen to hear their story and identify points where their story connects with yours. Listen to the silence when it happens, and don’t rush to fill the silence with your words. While you’re listening, pray. Pray that God will help you hear Truth, and that the Holy Spirit will fill you with wisdom.
3. Integrate. If you look around you, and the majority of the people you see look and sound and eat and dress and think and smell like you, get up from where you’re sitting and get yourself to an environment where you are in the minority. Integration is something you do. It is not something that happens to you. Sitting where you are, hoping and praying people will come over and integrate with you is not integration. Integration is not easy, and it won’t necessarily be comfortable. If the people in your social media feed and your Christian conferences and your blogging trips and your church look like you and see the world the same way you see it, you’re missing out on the rich diversity God created and intends for us to celebrate. Pray, and ask God where you can go to be in the minority (it’s probably not as far as you think) and, once you get there, don’t try to convince the people there to see things your way. Once you get there, listen.
4. Educate yourself. Ignorance may be bliss, but it is not necessarily helpful. A lot of people contacted me to say they hadn’t heard about the events in Ferguson. “I don’t watch the news,” they said, “and no one in my Facebook or Twitter feed was talking about it.” My FB and Twitter feeds were both blowing up with the news about Ferguson, and so I turned to the news to fill me in. It’s true. We can’t count on the media to give us an unbiased report of current events, but we have got to start somewhere. A theologian once admonished preachers to prepare with the bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. As Christians, we are called to be in the world and not of the world, but we can’t be in it, if we’re not in it.
Watch the news. Read the newspaper. Discuss current events at the dinner table—with people who look like you, and with people who don’t. When you consume news about current events, pray and ask God to reveal Truth to you. When you engage with others about current events around your dinner table, in your church, and in your community, listen to their point of view. And have conversations about current events with people who don’t look or sound or eat or dress or think or smell like you. Please integrate your FB and Twitter feeds so you’re getting a fuller picture of current events in our world.
5. Test yourself.You can’t get very far these days without someone bringing up the Myers-Briggs, Strength Finders, or the Enneagram. Our friends on Facebook post results to random quizzes, telling us what decade they should have been born in, which author they’re most like, which denomination they should belong to, and more. We like to know things about ourselves and about each other. If you’re serious about moving forward in understanding how you and/or your organization rank with regard to cultural competency, I encourage you to take the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI).
When our church began to take diversity seriously, we contacted Helen Fagan (now, Dr. Helen Fagan) to help us. An expert in cultural competency and diversity training, Dr. Fagan walked a group of us through the IDI and then explained our results to us—as individuals and as a group. Taking the inventory helped us identify our strengths, weaknesses, and blind spots and, as a group, we worked together to develop a plan for growth and development.
6. Keep talking. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” It’s true. Let me share something with you:
I’m writing this while at a family reunion. It’s the first-ever Riggs family reunion, and our first gathering since we lost Nano last year. This morning, I woke up to these words my nephew posted on Facebook:
“Hello FB peeps…..my familia and I just got through talking with my son / kids for more than the four and a half hours. A very heart felt conversation. It appears that while visiting la familia and friends. My kids and their cousines asked to go to the neighborhood store. Walking back from the store, a white male pulled up along side my kids and their cousines, and called them all niggers. The children range from 19 to 8 years old…We pretty much talked to the teenagers and attempted to explain to them racism, it’s definition, origin and future. The teens pretty much new about racism. And had experienced it in some form or fashion. Unfortunately. But my eight year old, I have to try and explain it to her tomorrow morning.”
Those words were painful to read, it’s true. And, unfortunately, they are not uncommon for people of color living in America. I’ve been called a nigger in the past but I have to say, the experience of being called a name is nowhere near as painful as being part of a Christian church culture that continues to keep silent and to divide herself along racial, cultural, and ethnic lines. If you’re feeling a Holy Spirit nudge to “go there,” please don’t be silent. Keep talking. If the Church leads the way, I believe there will be fewer people in this world who feel it’s okay to point to an eight year old and call her a nigger.
Some of you have asked me the question I offered the other day: “I see what’s happening in Ferguson. I don’t understand it, but I want to. Can someone help me understand it?” You wonder why the people of Ferguson have reacted the way they have, and what is it about this particular incident that caused such explosive backlash? I’m going to give you my answer to those questions in the next few days. In the meantime, let me know if you’ve got something to add to these suggestions.