I’ve been thinking about ethnic distinctions (so-called “race” distinctions) and the church. At the end of the day, for the Christian, the name of the game is love. Love is the greatest and second command: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12.30-31).
Love is knowing, acting toward, and delighting in the true good and happiness of the one loved.
It isn’t just knowing and delighting in the true and good happiness of the one loved. It’s also acting toward their true good and happiness. Good intentions are not enough in loving others, especially when one is too lazy to do the hard work of discovering which actions are most effective in working toward one’s true good and happiness. So, how do we “love” those ethnically distinct from us well in the way we act toward their true good and happiness?
Love necessitates listening and understanding the one loved. Love aims to make sure the loved one senses that he is being loved. God says that love is patient, kind, believes all things, and seeks to strengthen, encourage, and console.
This means that we must understand when we’re not understanding. This is difficult because we think from our perspective causing blind spots in our thinking. This is not wrong, it’s a consequence of lacking omniscience.
Have you ever felt your spouse didn’t understand you? Or have you ever thought you understood your spouse but they disagreed? If I feel like I understand my wife and she feels like I don’t understand her then I don’t understand her. I don’t understand why she thinks I don’t understand her. Marriage forces me to grow beyond mere intellectualism and cerebral connections in cultivating meaningful relationships.
Will Smith wrote a song that resonated with many teenagers, “Parents just don’t understand.” Parents think they understand their teens because they’ve been there before. Sure, they know their teens are not in the exact same context they were in what felt like only a few years ago, but they often minimize the differences enough for them to lose touch with the teen’s feeling of being understood.
Have you ever felt like your parents didn’t understand you when they thought they did? How did that make you feel? Parents understand far more than many teens give their parent’s credit, but that doesn’t make the parent omniscient. Didn’t you want your parents to continue to exercise their wisdom from the truths and experience they possessed while at the same time begin to work hard at trying to understand some of the nuances and differences and specifics of your situation? Even if you were wrong in the end and those specifics revealed that, wouldn’t you feel more understood and wouldn’t the correction connect more if they pursued understanding and your feeling understood?
I’ve lost count how many times as a parent and pastor I wanted to microwave my listening time, prescribe a quick solution because I’ve seen many problems like this before, and I have other things that are screaming for my time and attention. This is necessary sometimes, but to my shame I’ve made the necessary few times the excuse for the unnecessary majority of the time.
Patiently pursuing understanding and aiming for the loved one to feel understood are indispensable components of love.
I see opportunities that are missed in the so-called “race” (ethnic distinctions) conversation because we cut short the hard work of understanding the ethnically distinct perspective of others. For example, why don’t many African Americans trust the police? Why are they always asking for empathy? Why don’t they feel as cared for in majority culture churches? Why do they think some things are “racist” when most Europeean American (white) people think it’s not racist? Why do they feel that European American (white) (and often Asian Amaerican) people don’t understand their burden and pain? This impatience happens on all sides, but especially from the majority culture to the minority culture, and from the European-American (white) and Asian-American groups toward the African-American group. We must work hard at listening to understand and listening to have our neighbor/brother feel understood.
This takes time. But this is love because love is patient, not impatient.