The Color of Conflict: The Call to Listen (and the Rowe I want you to read instead)
Today is June 19, known by many as “Juneteenth” since it celebrates the liberation of those who had been held as slaves in the United States. I have never before written about racial injustice. Why? Because it didn’t directly affect me and many of the people I love.
But it’s hurting someone. Lots of someones. People created in God’s image.
Last week, I shared an incident related by Steve Wiens, an author and pastor-friend in the Minneapolis area. He and his wife had carefully swept their kitchen after a large glass bowl shattered, but they missed a jagged piece partially hidden under their refrigerator. They were horrified when their fifteen-month-old son, Isaac, toddled over to them with that piece under his tongue.
“Maybe that particular piece of jagged glass hasn’t hurt you,” Steve writes in his book, Whole. “But it is hurting someone.”
The demonic – let’s call it what it was, and is – practice of enslaving human beings in this country shattered the lives of generations of African-Americans.
Maybe it didn’t hurt you personally, or me. Maybe some even had ancestors who prospered from slavery. But we cannot ignore the pain of our brothers and sisters of color simply because the brokenness of slavery hasn’t affected us directly. Like the pandemic, we’re in this life together.
“We have, as a society, been placing our knees on the necks of some of our most vulnerable citizens. It is now time—that moment of holy desperation—where we gather the courage to bend our knees, not in hatred, but in prayer.
" We need to bend our knees before the living God and cry out to change our hearts. Of course, we need to change police protocols. But that is mere window-dressing if we do not get to the core problem, which is our hearts. We need a great awakening in this country. We need a spiritual rebirth. We need to be changed from within. If the truth is told, George Floyd spoke for the whole human race when he said, ‘I can’t breathe.’ There is no life in any of us unless and until we receive the breath of the Lord Jesus, giving us new hope for new birth and a new heart.” – Dr. Timothy Tennent
In a June 11 national radio interview, I had the opportunity to talk with host Chris Fabry about This Life We Share and, more importantly, the life we all share as we dwell on this side of eternity.
In our conversation about recent events in our country, Chris and I discussed the fact that the limitations of social media make respectful, interactive dialogue on social issues nearly impossible.
When we post or tweet, we can’t communicate tone of voice or the pain in a voice trying to get us to understand that please God, please, our lives matter just like yours. Because we can’t hear inflection, we’re tempted to respond defensively. But perhaps what we are called to do initially is simply to listen instead.
“The passage of Scripture that has meant the most to me lately,” I said on-air, “is the instruction that James, half-brother of Jesus , gave to the church in a time of great unrest: "Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry." (James 1:19 NLT)
How our world would change if we heeded James’ words. How we would change!
In my interview, I told Chris about the most helpful conversation I witnessed in recent weeks.
I am a member of a private Facebook group for clergy wives numbering several thousand. As racial protests swelled in numbers across the country, the two women who administer the group – both white – reached out to the ministers’ wives of color in our group and asked them to share their perspectives about living as minorities in a country roiling from the effects of generations of racism.
What were their hopes and fears for their dark-skinned husbands and sons? How were they coping with the highly publicized deaths of other African-Americans who died at the hands of those sworn to defend and protect? What of those who have law enforcement officers in their families? How are they being perceived by their communities?
Unlike the vitriolic words hurled across the chasms of social media, this dialogue among clergy wives was respectful, loving, and nuanced. No one argued, debated points, or defended themselves or others. No one condoned violence.
I learned so much from listening to my sister clergy wives.
One way we can all listen respectfully is by reading authors of color whose words have been so carefully considered they are now bound between the pages of books.
One title recommended by many faith leaders I highly respect is the NYT and ECPA (Evangelical Christian Publishers Association) 2019 bestseller Be the Bridge: Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation by Latasha Morrison. My son and daughter-in-law’s church near Boston is beginning an online forum this month to discuss Tasha’s work as a leading social justice advocate.
And I personally recommend Healing Racial Trauma: The Road to Resilience by Sheila Wise Rowe. I’ve gotten to know Sheila through Redbud, a faith-based writers’ guild to which we both belong. Though we share the same last name and an appreciation for ministry in New England, where Sheila and her husband, Dr. Nicolas Rowe, currently live, we’re not related as far as we know. But I sure am thankful Sheila is my sister in Christ.
One of the pastors at my church here in North Carolina wrote the following in our church newsletter today:
“The need for reform in our justice system has finally come to a point where change can no longer be postponed or ignored. Injustice and unfair treatment of those who are of a different color than white, those who speak a different language, or come from a different culture can no longer be tolerated. Police and court systems must be reformed to reflect justice for all people with no exceptions.
While peaceful protests have brought much attention to the need for serious reform, the rioting, burning of businesses, and assaults on police have done more harm than good to the cause for change…The root of the problem of injustice, whatever form it takes, lies in the heart of humanity. So, it is there the change must be made, and only by a heart transplant from the Holy Spirit who will erase prejudice, replacing it with divine love.”
Friends, let’s heed the words of the brother of our Lord. Let’s be quick to listen, slow to speak and oh-so-slow to become angry.
Let's be the bridge.
Copyright 2020 Maggie Wallem Rowe
Maggie's first book, This Life We Share, has just released from NavPress.