by Lloyd Biddle, Executive Pastor of Development
Tuesday evening, when I left the church for the day, despite my desperate attempts to jump the battery, my car would not start. I called our facilities manager, Tom Brogan, on Wednesday morning when I knew he would be on his way to work. He has a powerful jump starter battery pack that he uses to help people like me when their car batteries die on church grounds. If you didn’t know already, Tom is a very helpful guy.
I arrived at the church and saw Craig Fonzen and his men’s small group meeting as they do faithfully every Wednesday morning. They were in the middle of a discussion on Nic’s May 24th sermon based on Acts 6:1-7 in which he preached that “gospel ordinary isn’t typical humanity” when it comes to dealing with issues of ethnicity, race and culture.
Craig was using the small group sermon-based study guide to lead their discussion.
When Craig saw me, he came out of his meeting room to ask if I would stop in to join their discussion. He believed the perspective of a person of color would be helpful. After Tom jumped my battery, I went into the meeting to join the conversation. I had the strange feeling that God’s providence was behind my battery problem and my being at the church at the right time to join the men’s group meeting.
Craig asked me the first question from the sermon-based study guide: “What do you think of the first point of Nic’s sermon that ethnicity, race and culture are the most typical and durable division?” I said I agreed 100% with the statement and gave an illustration to support my view. This past week, my wife sent me a link to a recent article published by the Huffington Post. The article pointed to some research conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute based in Washington, DC. This group compiled survey results from slightly more than 1,000 Americans to measure perceptions about race, policing and the criminal justice system.
One of the questions they asked was, “Respond to this statement: Police officers generally treat Blacks and other minorities the same as Whites.” A graph presented in the article placed the responses in three categories: Agree, Disagree, Don’t know/Refused. Here is how people responded by race and religious affiliation:
41% of all Americans agree
62% of White evangelical Protestants agree
47% of White mainline Protestants agree
40% of Catholics agree
29% of religiously unaffiliated agree
20% of Minority Protestants agree
The survey demonstrates that people’s perceptions about this high profile issue vary significantly both by race and by religious affiliation. When you consider the difference between the perceptions of White evangelical Protestants and Minority Protestants, it is evident that there is opportunity for Christians to learn from each other and to try to understand one another better. Within the church, we have different perspectives, and they may be part of the durable division based on ethnicity, race and culture. So here are a few of my suggestions for how we all can be a part of breaking down these divisions:
- Create a safe place in your small groups or other discussion forums for sharing what you think about these issues. Our small groups are designed to be a place where you can share ideas and thoughts about the sermon and about life with people who love you and seek to understand you. Many people won’t share their heart if they believe they are going to be judged harshly because they differ with you on some point of the discussion. Keep people’s opinions confidential within your small group, unless you have some other pre-discussed agreement.
- Use the biblical text to frame your discussion as much as possible. When we are attempting to learn what needs to be done to address sensitive issues across ethnicity, race and culture, we need to understand what the Bible has to say on the subject and to seriously investigate how to apply what God’s Word says.
- Listen to understand. Nic preached on May 24th about the importance of increasing our cultural intelligence. One of the best ways to do this is to ask good questions and listen attentively, not only for the words that are spoken, but the intention of the heart behind the words. People really appreciate their cultures, and when we listen carefully, we begin to learn what is really precious about their backgrounds and where the sensitive areas are.
- Find out what is going on in the community. In the men’s small group discussion, one of the men brought in a recent article that covered the Justified Anger Coalition plan for addressing the Black/White disparities in education, income, incarceration, etc. I didn’t get a copy of that article, but here is a link to The Cap Times article about the “Our Madison Plan” that will be presented in a community celebration on Friday, May 29th at the Alliant Energy Center. The coalition has been working to address gaps in the following five areas: education, economic development, incarceration, family and community wellness, and leadership and capacity development. Consider attending meetings like these, which have been occurring more frequently of late, in order to increase your cultural intelligence and to decide if there are any programs or initiatives going on that you think merit your support. When I go to these events, I take the posture of a learner, because even though I am Black, I readily admit that I am no expert on all the issues that groups like the Justified Anger Coalition are addressing.
- Build more relationships cross culturally. Probably the best person to learn from and to share your knowledge with is a friend who is from another ethnicity, race or culture. We tend to learn best from people we trust. It can sometimes take longer to build really good friendships cross-culturally, but we profit much from the effort while demonstrating that the love of Christ destroys the cultural divide.
- Pray. Corporately ask God for unity despite the ethnic, racial and cultural differences among us. Individually ask God to change you where you need change. Ask the Lord to transform our hearts and continue to establish High Point as a church that communicates and exemplifies the gospel to Madison in the most powerful, Spirit-filled way.
- Be prepared to ask and grant forgiveness as you discuss these issues. I know from personal experience that dialoguing on matters of ethnicity, race and culture can be one of the easiest places to offend people and be offended. Be prepared to sincerely apologize when you say things you should not say and to sincerely forgive when others says things they should not say that offend you. This will go a long way to building strong relationships and breaking down barriers.
At the conclusion of the men’s ministry small group discussion, I offered to come back after the next sermon in which matters of ethnicity, race and culture are at the heart of the message. We will have more opportunities as Nic continues his series in the book of Acts. Because the men wanted to know what I thought on some of these issues, I was speaking more than listening this past Wednesday morning. I promised them that, when I come back, I would be the one doing more of the listening and learning. I really do believe that we are going to have to learn more about what the gospel has to say about cross cultural and racial unity, and better understand the perspective of people not like us in order to break down these durable divisions.