- Relational Wisdom | Ken Sande | Biblical Emotional Intelligence | Peacemaking | Institute Christian Conciliation | Reconciliation - https://rw360.org -

What You Can Do About Racial Tensions

As I watched the George Floyd memorial service this afternoon, I was grieved more than ever by his tragic death, the loss that his family is feeling, and by the fact that thousands of people continue to feel deep pain and fear because of the ongoing racial, social and cultural tensions in our land. These tensions are vividly summarized in an email I received from a ministry friend.

I’m 35, married, and a person of color. I’m also a Christian. As recently as 1997, my high school held two separate proms. In the 3rd grade, my friend told me that her mom said that we could not play together anymore because I was black. I’ve been followed by store clerks. I’ve been called a black b—- by a white man for driving too slowly.

My grandfather’s uncle was lynched for looking at a white woman. It was common knowledge that a local farmer killed him. No trial, no arrests, no suspects. I was hurt by these people, but God has enabled me to forgive them.

I attend a predominantly Anglo church in the heart of the Bible belt every Sunday.  I can’t help but wonder why a single prayer wasn’t lifted during corporate worship for the Lord to intervene in the hearts of recent demonstrators in the same way that we pray during election season or other tragedies around the globe. I know my pastor is a genuinely loving man. I’m not angry with him … just concerned.  He is a wonderful teacher and friend.

I believe that Jesus died for the sins of the racist, the prideful militant and the one who cannot shake exploding emotions when news of another Black man’s death or any other black/white issue erupts.

At the same time I wonder, does white privilege exist in America?  Is it a structure–a power or principality (Eph. 6:12)? If it does exist, how do Christians respond to it? Certainly we don’t tell others to just “get over it.” How do love and justice work in harmony?

How do I resist the temptation to make an assumption that an issue is racially charged when blacks and whites are in conflict?  How do I disconnect my own racial/ethnic history and experiences from similar contemporary issues that are still on-going?  How am I to think soberly about race in America when so many tensions and issues exist?

I’m not even sure that any of this is making sense, but I’m trying to express some hard things I struggle with. I believe the gospel informs every area of life. I’m just not certain as to how to begin to apply it when there is so much polarization among Christians on tough issues like these.

I am amazed at the humility and graciousness this woman has modeled. I doubt I would respond this well to such treatment. Would you?

I was equally convicted as I watched the video included at the end of this blog in which children describe how they have been taught to cope with their fear of mistreatment by police officers. Here’s what one little girl had learned to say: “I’m Ariel Sky Williams. I’m eight years old. I’m unarmed and I have nothing that will hurt you.”

I had tears in my eyes as I watched this video. I’ve never had a negative experience with a police officer in my life, so I never felt the need to teach my children such words. It breaks my heart that other parents and children have had such painfully different experiences.

Clearly, I still have much to learn about how other people have experienced life. Perhaps you do too. So I offer the following thoughts as a way to follow the example of the people who are striving to model love and grace during these turbulent times.

Prejudice Is a Reality in a Fallen World

I’d like to believe that I am open-minded and unprejudiced … but I’d be deceiving myself.

Prejudice and bias based on race, ethnicity, social or economic status and political views—these sins are woven deeply into the human heart … into my heart. They entered the world at the fall. They are evident throughout the Old Testament (Gen. 4:8-11). And they promptly tainted the first New Testament churches (Acts 6:1; Gal. 2:11-13).

Church-sanctioned racism supported slavery in the U.S., while other churches championed abolition. State-sanctioned doctrines of racial superiority fueled World War II, leading to the deaths of over fifty million people.

Although most western societies now renounce overt racism, various forms of prejudice still taint our daily lives today. Scientific research shows that people naturally notice others and interact with them not only on the basis of race but also of gender, social and economic status and physical appearance.

As Paul DeYoung writes in United by Faith [1], most Christians still prefer to worship with people from their own race. A study conducted at Brigham Young University [2] showed that white NBA referees call more fouls on black players, and black referees call more fouls on white players. Another study [3] showed that recently released white felons have greater job hunting success than young black men with no criminal record.

As Miroslav Volf, a witness to the genocide in Bosnia and Serbia, points out in his landmark book, Exclusion and Embrace, “Our identities, whether it’s race and ethnicity, gender, religion, socio-economics … becomes the basis of excluding others. This is not about identity politics, although that’s a subset. This is about understanding the concept of ‘otherness.'”

Volf traces this problem back to Genesis 4, which records the first murder in the Bible. As he said in a recent podcast [4]:

“For whatever reasons Abel’s offering was deemed more acceptable. The other person (Cain) felt threatened. And the response was not, let’s figure out how do we readjust our identity, how we think about ourselves, how do we embrace one another? The response was, let’s go out in the field. The response was, you cannot exist. If I’m going to preserve my own identity and sense of myself. ”


Throughout millennia, this has been the foundation of conflicts, this rivalry between “Us” and “Them.” The dehumanizing, the belittling and the killing of our ‘brothers,” are manifestations of this malady.

The Gospel Has the Power to Tear Down Walls

The early church was infected with these tendencies. From its earliest days, it had to wrestle with ethnic and religious walls that had grown for centuries. But Jesus came to pull down these walls. As Paul writes in Ephesians 2:14-16, 22:

“For [Jesus] himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility…. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”

These were not empty words. Although the early church frequently struggled with residual prejudices, God gave them grace to overcome these divisions and steadily build a community that was so diverse and yet remarkably united that it captured the attention and favor of the surrounding world (see Acts 6:1-7; Gal. 2:11-14; Acts 2:42-47).

The gospel of Christ highlights many of the principles that are essential to this kind of genuine community:

Practical Steps You and I Can Take Today

These spiritual truths require a concrete response on our part. Although the turmoil in our country is fueled by many factors, including social, cultural and political differences, at this point in time racism is a primary factor in many people’s minds. Here are a few suggestions about what you and I can do to address this particular factor … beginning today.

Note: these suggestions are by no means comprehensive, but if each of us could make some personal progress in a few of these areas, our churches and communities might be in a better position to work together to pursue further progress.

In summary, we all need to exercise a much greater level of relational wisdom [23] as we face these challenging but surmountable issues.

Specifically, we need greater God-awareness so we can understand his design and intentions for our racial diversity and how the gospel reveals a path to healing and reconciliation, both with God and one another.

Each of us also needs a higher level of self-awareness, both to see our own unique giftedness and calling, as well as to face and battle our hidden prejudices.

Finally, we need God’s help to become more other-aware in order to see and celebrate the differences God has built into the human race, to understand the struggles and burdens that those differences sometimes bring to others, and to personally act to alleviate that suffering, fight injustice and love others as Christ has loved us.

I know these steps are only a beginning, yet for many of us they will still be challenging. But if each of us would seriously pursue the changes God has given us the power to make in our own lives, we could find greater unity in spirit and purpose as we work together to make even greater progress on these issues. May God make it so.

– Ken Sande

This is a video of a sermon I delivered this past weekend based on this blog post.

In the light of the enormous relational stress created by the COVID-19 crisis and ongoing racial tensions, we are continuing to offer our online training for free until June 14. We’ve already given away $180,000 worth of training, which has been approved for continuing education in several professions. For details, click here [20].

Reflection: I encourage you to share this post with a few close friends, asking them to make time to read the post and linked articles carefully. Then get together to discuss these matters thoughtfully and honestly, admitting your weaknesses and failures in these areas and committing to ways that each of you will seek to apply some of these principles in the days ahead.

Permission to distribute: Please feel free to download, print, or electronically share this message in its entirety for non-commercial purposes with as many people as you like.

© 2020 Ken Sande

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