the shape of leadership

Leading the Way Toward Racial Reconciliation

Christ’s love can overcome division

Alex Bryant on January 17, 2020

As we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. and remember his legacy, I would like to reflect on wise words he shared. Dr. King once said, “Let no man pull you low enough to hate him.”

Our country would be in a better place if more of us were to take these words to heart.

Let me tell you a real-life story of a friend of mine who epitomizes this. She and I grew up in the same small town in Illinois, and I’ve known her pretty much all of my life. She understands what it’s like to be the only black kid in a class and one of only a handful of black kids in her school.

Like me, she grew up around white people and has a very positive view of race relations in America. She works two jobs as a traveling nurse practitioner. One clinic is in St. Louis, where she primarily sees black patients. However, another job is in a rural clinic in Kentucky that serves mostly white patients. She works weekends and is the primary health care provider on those days.

One day at the clinic in Kentucky, the nurses informed my friend that there was a patient scheduled to see her. But, they added, they would understand if she didn’t want to see him. He was an older white gentleman who frequented the clinic. They knew him to be a proud supporter of the Aryan Nations. He openly displayed his tattoo supporting the neo-Nazi, white supremacist, terrorist organization. Her white co-workers were offended for her because of this man’s blatant racism, so boldly displayed.

My friend politely thanked them for their concern and indicated that she was open to seeing all patients who came in for care. She walked into his exam room and began to give him the same quality of care she was accustomed to giving people who look like her in St. Louis. She had decided in her heart that she wasn’t going to let this man’s racist beliefs change her or affect how she treated him.

She gave him friendly and excellent service and was nice and kind to him, so much so that, at the end of the exam, he made mention of the elephant in the room. He asked her why she was being so nice to him under the circumstances. She told him that she was committed to caring for all people and spreading love to all of her patients, no matter their race, and no matter what they might think of her. By the end of her time serving him, this obviously racist gentleman apologized to my black nurse practitioner friend and kindly thanked her for her service.

We have access to the One who gave His life to reconcile God and mankind.

My friend demonstrates that we have to abandon the mindset that has kept us divided. Instead of showing that man the same attitude of hate and division that he displayed, she was determined to be the light in this dark situation.

Oh, that we would all learn from my friend and not succumb to the divisive narrative that some people believe, which tells us that those who don’t look like us can’t be trusted. This narrative trains us to stay on our side of the race divide and avoid other races altogether. This attitude perpetuates the racial divide that is so prevalent in our country and moves us further away from seeing King’s dream come to fruition.

It’s time for black and white Christians to unite in rejecting this narrative. We must work together to help bring positive change to our communities and to lead our country, and the rest of the world, in striving for racial harmony. We are the body of Christ — the Church — and we need to lead the way in working toward racial reconciliation. It’s time to become who God created us to be.

King both challenged us and gave us hope for the future. He said many brilliant things, including this: “Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice.”

The path is lit because God has given us the grace to carry out the work of bringing about racial reconciliation. God doesn’t promise that it will be fast or easy. In fact, history has shown that it will be hard and long. But God does promise that He will be with us every step along the way. We must be committed to persevering.

King dreamt of a day when all races would unite. Just as King and his contemporaries led our nation in racial reconciliation, we believe the Church should reposition itself to lead in racial reconciliation in this generation. Christians should be the ones facilitating the tone and tenor of the needed dialogue. We have access to the One who gave His life to reconcile God and mankind. We can show the world what reconciliation looks like. Remember, our allegiance is to the Kingdom of God. He wants to bring peace and unity to all people.

Regrettably, it seems there is a group of people who have given up on King’s dream and resigned to the notion that black people and white people will always run in separate, parallel races. To them, I say we must not lose hope.

Holding on to hope will enable us to live like unity has already been achieved. In so doing, we can inspire others. Little by little, we will see the change we desire. So, let us not give up hope that race relations will improve. We must continue to strive to make the world better for future generations.

Let us remember what King said: “I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream.”

Adapted from the forthcoming book Let’s Start Again: A Biracial Couple’s View on Race, Racial Ignorance, and Racial Insensitivity by Alex Bryant and Angela Bryant.

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