I woke up sad and hurt for our fair city this morning, and want to offer thoughts to friends.
Many Charlotteans are asking 'what am I called to do in the face of these tensions in my city?'
The fact that some people are responding with violence and crime under the cover of legitimate protest, and the fact that some are responding with name calling and blame on social media, in no way diminishes the need for every Christian to find at least one way to respond in faith, and in a Christ-honoring way.
Some are called to protest, some are called to protect, some are called to advocate. Most are bewildered today. What is your specific calling in the face of racial tension in our town?
My primary calling is to build relationships. To build cross-racial friendships that point to the healing and uniting power of Jesus, leading to the growth of me and my friends to "love mercy, act justly, and walk humbly with God" more fully (Micah 6:8). I'm called to this personally and as a leader of our tribe in Lake Norman.
I pray for my actions, and those of our church, to point to Christ "who is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility" - Ephesians 2:14.
When the downtown protests began last evening, I was barely a mile north in the fellowship hall of a predominantly African-American church in the Druid Hills neighborhood. Two of our pastors (me and Flake) and two of our elders (Jack and Allen) were talking, praying and breaking bread for hours with the leadership of our big-hearted sister church 'Faith Liberation Church EPC.' This was our second meeting specifically to plan greater partnership between our predominantly white and predominantly black congregations. Because we believe we can assist each other in ministry, because we think true friendship between our folks will be redemptive in our city, and because we just like each other.
And how timely was it that this past Sunday, my closest African-American friend and pastor shared a sermon with me on 'Breaking Down the Wall of Hostility' at Lake Forest Church - Huntersville (link below). And we've already had a follow-up phone call to plan more specific, relational partnership between our church members.
75% of Americans do not have a significant friend of another race. I don't mean 'going out to lunch from the office' friend, I mean 'having over to dinner in my home' friend. I mean a friend with whom enough trust has been built that you can sit down, discuss race, the scriptures, and solutions with even strong disagreements, still remaining friends. A true friendship that isn't for a mercenary or token reason, but where two people really like each other.
What this means is at least 75% of white Americans don't have a black friend who is close enough to be open, honest, and personal with them about how their families experience the ongoing, legacy effects of past and present racism in our society. So the problems remain impersonal, affecting others, and (speaking for myself now) therefore us white folks struggle to own how serious they are and to be motivated to act for greater mercy and justice regarding racial disparities.
This also means that most African-Americans don't have a close enough white friend to have a trusted back-and-forth discussion with about such things either. Although because they live in a majority white culture, its more likely for them to have such a friend.
Building stronger cross-racial friendships is do-able for everyone of us. If your calling is not to advocate, protect or protest - then perhaps this is your calling in this moment (however, it may lead for you, as it has for me, to future callings to advocate or protest for change in specific ways).
I'm not saying that other people need my friendship. I'm saying that I need their friendship.
If you are looking for direction at the moment - how to be part of something, anything God may want to do in our city as a response to this racial tension, I'm suggesting you could start with relationship. And for most, God has already put us around 'lunch time' level friends whom we like. We just need to be intentional about taking it to the next level, as appropriate with that person. One move I suggest is to add someone into your texting circle. Think about it - the people you text with, especially during non-working hours, are next-level friends. Who might God be calling you to make that next-level move with?
I actually think Jesus would say this kind of friendship is imperative at the moment and not optional. Why would I say that?
When Jesus said that one of the greatest commandments is to 'Love your neighbor as yourself,' he was asked a followup question, 'Who is my neighbor?' that you're telling me to love 'as myself' Jesus? His answer is recorded in Luke chapter 10. Jesus' answer connects the imperative of 'loving your neighbor' with his definitive definition that 'that neighbor is a person of another ethnicity who is in distress.'
If you don't remember that as Jesus' answer, go back and check it out. He answered with the well-known Parable of the Good Samaritan. If a person of another ethnicity is in distress (in the case of the parable a highly mistrusted other ethnicity), Jesus says the highest form of loving my neighbor is to enter into their distress and love them according to what is needed.
To my white friends: our black brothers and sisters in Christ are telling us they are in distress, individually and as a group. We dare not be those ones in Jesus' teaching who walk on by, saying its not my problem or its not such a big deal. May we be those whom Jesus describes as stopping to take seriously the distress of another, even when their distress doesn't seem to affect me personally.
If your calling to love our city today does not include protest, protection, or advocacy, I suggest you accept the calling of relationship.
And to my Lake Forest friends, perhaps a few of you will feel called to worship at one of our predominantly African-American partner churches this Sunday (Liberation Ministries on Beatties Ford Rd or Faith Liberation Church on Moretz Ave, both in Charlotte). If so (and I don't mean everyone!), just say 'I'm here because our churches are friends and partners, simply to worship in unity with you today.'
Here is a link to video and audio of last Sunday's 10:30am sermon "Breaking Down the Wall of Hostility" (or Fear of the Other) Breaking Down the Wall of Hostility