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Have Mercy! Listen to the Stories
February 08, 2016
This sponsored post was prepared by David Apple on behalf of CLC Publications.
Relationships are the basis of merciful conversations
In 1968, The Kerner Commission published a report on racial conditions in this country. One of its conclusions was that there were two unequal Americas: one white, one black. Most people who grew up in the 50’s and 60’s remember images of racial injustice, intolerance, and inhumanity: Rosa Parks’ courageous refusal to give up her seat on a bus, police aiming fire hoses, governors barricading schools. And then there are the images of the deaths of Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Today’s images are Ferguson and Baltimore, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Freddie Grey, and Tamir Rice. The battles of whether Black lives matter are not only against racism, social and political injustice but against principalities and powers of evil.
Recent speakers at Urbana 2015, a major Christian student missions conference, addressed the Black Lives Matter movement. InterVarsity, the conference sponsor, chose to participate in this conversation, declaring, “We believe that Christians have something distinctive to contribute in order to advance the gospel.” Prior to viewing the online videos of the conference, I listened to Tom Skinner’s talk at Urbana 1970. There he presented a history of American racism and said, then, that Black lives matter, as does the above 1787 anti-slavery symbol. Many were angry at Skinner, but he spoke the truth.
Some might disagree with the 2015 conference content. Those who do might be angry at the pro-life comment, “We are too busy holding mercy from the living and giving it to the unborn” or “Racism is an age-old idol. Tear it down. Justice is not to try, convict, and execute on the street.” But what about the prayer: “God—wreck our hearts to haunt us. Challenge us.” Can anyone be angry about this prayer? This prayer challenges us to see the injustice that continues to divide us into two (or more) Americas. It challenges us to come together, hear each other’s stories and do something to address the parts of the body that hurt. It challenges us to say, “Whatever life is like in your shoes, I want to know about it. You don’t think your life is important? Tell me more.”
We can’t address what we don’t talk about.
What To Do?
I believe we must bridge the cross-cultural and racial divide and listen to stories together at the foot of the cross. Suspend judgment. Listen to everyone’s stories. Engage in dialogue. Learn. Empathize. Offer hope. Establish relationships.
Years ago, I facilitated our church’s Reconcilers Fellowship. The hope was to create a diverse community and safe place to dialogue. In the group was someone who had witnessed a lynching, another whose only contact with people of color was “the help,” one whose family had “passed” the brown paper bag test, two who were involved in protests while growing up, and one who wakes daily to the fear of racism he will face. In seeking reconciliation, they all knew the risks of vulnerability, rejection, and pain. They knew, like Evangelist Tom Skinner:
Racial reconciliation is surgery, and surgery is never painless. Fear of this pain prompts many Christians to ignore their racial blinders. It requires exposing our vital organs to the truth that we speak to each other. It’s risky. If trust hasn’t been built, the operation is destined to fail. But, when we build trust and stay on the table to the end of the surgery there is hope for healing in the most delicate and vital places. (Spencer Perkins and Chris Rice, More Than Equals, 190).
Every church needs to begin this dialogue now. Now is always the time for reconciliation—to sit down together, learn to trust one another, pray together, and move forward together.
*Illustration: “Am I Not a Man and a Brother?” originally adopted as the seal of the Society for the Abolition of Slavery in England in the 1780s.
Dr. David Apple has been Director of Mercy Ministries at Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia for twenty-eight years. In the mid-1960’s, he became involved in human rights activities when his rabbi participated in the “Freedom Rides” and then marched and spoke at rallies to encourage support of our Black brothers and sisters in their struggle. In 1966, he became a Christian through the ministry of a Black friend and the preaching of the Rev. Tom Skinner. He is the author of Not Just a Soup Kitchen (CLC Publications).