When the editors of The Kingdom Life Now approached me about writing an article about racism and the Kingdom, I readily accepted.
Now I’m second-guessing myself.
As we’ve seen in recent weeks and months, just the very mention of the word “race” evokes strong emotion. I’ve seen long-time friends dissociate themselves from one another over it. I’ve seen normally rational and thoughtful people become angry and vitriolic. I’ve seen tears and grief, hatred and anger.
It breaks my heart.
And so I seek understanding. I want to understand what creates a society in which our young people of color don’t feel safe. I want to discover the root of the fear so many seem to be experiencing, no matter their position. I read history. I talk to people of many backgrounds. I seek to understand the experiences of others.
It would be easy for me to “call out” those I disagree with, to point fingers and claim a knowledge of “right” and “wrong” (or Good and Evil), and attempt to correct those in the wrong. And you know what? There are wrong things in this world. There are injustices and inequalities and oppression. There are wounded people, and there are wounding people. There is an enemy, who only seeks to steal, kill and destroy, and it would be easy for me to claim that I know which events and motives and groups are acting on his behalf.
But the Kingdom is “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17, NASB). The Kingdom, and the King of that Kingdom, are full of love. In fact, the King Himself is love (1 John 4:16). According to 1 Corinthians 13, love is patient and kind, not boastful or arrogant, or rude (ahem). It is not irritable or resentful. It rejoices in the truth—which is the person of Jesus (John 14:6).
Before you think this is just one more “can’t we all just get along” piece, love is not always easy. Jesus wasn’t crucified for being a “nice guy;” He was killed for being counter-cultural and subversive. Love is subversive. Love is counter-cultural. If we are to be conduits of the Kingdom on the planet, which we are, then that means we are to be conduits of love on the planet. We are to be counter-cultural, subversive radicals, ready to seek understanding, patience, and empathy. We are to be citizens of a higher Kingdom.
Let’s talk about empathy just for a minute. Brené Brown says that true empathy is connection, the “best reminder” that we’re not alone. It’s the ability to sort of climb inside another’s experience, connecting who we are to who they are and validating what we find. Researchers have recently pointed to a distinct decline of empathy in our culture, a rather dangerous proposition. As a society, we are un-learning how to love one another.
Several years ago, I took a teaching position. My school was in a part of town that was a bit further down on the socioeconomic scale than I had seen before. I had kiddos without running water. I had kiddos who didn’t eat, except for the meals we offered at school (that’s a whole other can of worms). I had interactions with parents who didn’t speak much English, if any at all.
And I watched. And I listened. And I began to realize that I had walked in those doors with little to no empathy for the very people I was there to serve. I began to confront stereotypes I had been handed; that those of other cultures don’t really want to grow, they just want a handout. That parents don’t want the same things I want for my children—a better life than the one I have. That all immigrants are drug dealers and moochers (keep reading, please).
Instead, I saw mothers working two and three jobs to put food on the table. I saw fathers teary-eyed over their children’s academic success (one of my favorite moments ever, hands down). Day in and day out, I worked with kids and their families, most of whom really, just like me, were doing their best to raise their families, do their jobs, and live a decent life. They were different than me, and yet we shared so much. (A couple of my students would bring me warm tamales and homemade egg rolls. It’s amazing what sharing a warm tamale with a child can do …)
First Corinthians, chapter 12 shows how God designed unity: through diversity. We are uniquely made, individual representations of God’s image on the planet. In that diversity, in the wide range of colors, races, nationalities, etc., we are meant to live in unity. And He doesn’t leave us without instructions: Chapter 12 is followed by 1 Corinthians 13—the love chapter.
One of the primary vehicles of spiritual warfare at our disposal is to operate in the opposite spirit. So if the spirit at work in our society is one of strife, division and anger, then it is direct warfare to operate in love, peace, and unity. It is striking at the very heart of the enemy’s plan. It is not about “getting along” or a need to agree; it is about loving in the face of hatred, in the face of oppression, in the face of injustice, in the face of disagreement. It’s the willingness to value you, different as you are from me, and to seek to honor you as a walking, breathing carrier of the image of God.
In our battle for justice, we must operate in love. If we do not, according to Paul, we are nothing more than noise. The world is noisy enough; we as believers are called to be the peace amongst the noise—and we do that by loving. We do that by practicing empathy with those we don’t understand. We do that by extending to others the same mercy and grace that have so freely been extended to us.
Even as I write this, I am aware of deep wounding in individuals and cultures alike that a few kind words probably won’t fix. I am aware that the issues are complex, and they are many. But I know that you and I can start where we are, right now, and a few kind words are a good place to begin. And I know that if we don’t, nothing will ever change. Reaching out to others, widening your own experiences, seeking true empathy—these are the weapons of warfare.
I soberly ask you to carefully and prayerfully consider how you respond to the issues facing our society. I implore you to respond to things you don’t understand with empathy. As a citizen of a higher Kingdom, I call you up to a greater reality: one of righteousness, peace, joy, and love.