As a person of color living, serving, and leading inside and outside the body of Christ, I am deeply wounded by the responses I’ve received—particularly from fellow gospel workers—to my grief over the gross injustices perpetrated against ethnic minorities. I’ve heard that “we’re already doing so much” or, even more offensive, that “this isn’t central to the gospel.” God deeply loves and values all people, but this truth is not being communicated, and it’s this disconnect that grieves my soul.
Black people are in pain. We are sad. We are weary from the constant threat of ostracism and unwarranted violence in communities of color. But because mass media perpetuates polarization and fosters fear, and because our pastors and leaders follow comfort, power, and money instead of the crucified and risen King, conversations about our pain, sadness, and weariness turn instead to logistics, priorities, and the allocation of resources.
It is excruciating to have my pain turned into an undone task on a to-do list, slide off an agenda, and be left out of a strategic plan. Somehow, modeling reconciliation for students, faculty, congregants, and non-believers is seen as superfluous compared to the more integral parts of following Jesus like prayer, studying the Bible, and evangelism. But reconciliation and biblical justice must be central to our Christian witness because the gospel of which we are called to bear witness is the only cure for racism and injustice.
When systemic racial issues arise, how quickly I am turned from an individual into an issue and my pain and needs put to a vote as part of a proposal which meets the three criteria for effective evangelism. I am not a ministry goal and my people are not a project. I desire to be seen and heard, and my pain felt. Instead, my pain and I have been explained away to maintain comfort, order, and the status quo for those in power.
But if you want to hinder the spread of the gospel by minimizing the significance of my ethnic identity, here’s how it works:
- The next time (God forbid) another unarmed Black man is killed by police (or a Black church is burned, or an ignorant statement is made by a peer or leader, or…), don’t let your first response be that of empathy or compassion.
- Respond instead with apathy or animosity, which will undoubtedly make me feel invisible and hurt. My pain will be minimized and my perspective dismissed.
- Naturally, I will then feel unsafe sharing my whole self with you. I’ll begin to change my posture toward you. I’ll stop sharing honestly and openly.
- It’s important to keep acting this way. Repenting, confessing, asking for forgiveness, and the like will only serve to reverse the trend. Instead, allow the insensitivity to continue unchecked; I will close off more and more.
- To protect myself and others from the same pain and frustration, I will share my experience with my community and let them know they won’t be heard by you.
- As this narrative runs its course, the love to which we are made to bear witness will be drowned out by division and discord.
Fortunately, when Eric Garner was killed in New York City, the above narrative did not have the opportunity to run its course. Three senior leaders in InterVarsity modeled what it looks like to be sensitive to the four Black male staff in my area. Space was made for us to share and be heard—not fixed, redirected, or given tissues as we cried. We were listened to by our multiethnic staff team. One of the leaders checked in with me daily. I had the sacred space to feel pain and then propose changes that were integrated into our ministry in the winter and spring. For the first time in my life, I was seen for all of the gifts I have and the burdens I carry. I was seen and heard by those who worked alongside me.
For the first time in my life, I was seen for all of the gifts I have and the burdens I carry. I was seen and heard by those who worked alongside me.
I believe it is the chief work of ministers of the gospel of Christ to do evangelism daily, reflect shalom, and in word and deed invite others to confess sin and follow Jesus by modeling a surrendered life daily. I am on staff with InterVarsity and long to see students of every ethnicity, race, and culture grow in love for God, God’s Word, and all people. I am deeply committed to the ministry of reconciliation entrusted to us by Jesus, and I am deeply grateful that I serve on a team that wants the same thing.