by Julie Jeffery Manwarren
Many Christians don’t know where to begin as they seek to build bridges and true community in the midst of a time of racial tension. Two Clarks Summit University alumni, Dr. A. Charles Ware (’72, ’75), author and executive director of Grace Relations Ministries in Indianapolis, Indiana, and David Robinson (’04), director of equity and inclusion at Grace Community School in Tyler, Texas, speak to this important topic and offer advice on what Christ-followers can do to build community through race relations.
Before dialogue can begin, establish how to have conversations and what “community norms” will be. Carve out a safe space where everyone is heard and participants agree not be dismissive or hostile and choose not to use generalizations. Commit to be equitable and impartial in judgment.
“What I like is an ‘us’ and ‘us’ conversation. Not ‘us’ versus ‘them,’” Ware said. “At the end of the day,
we need to be united.”
“I think we are in a climate right now where people want to win more than they want to build community,” Robinson said. He encourages believers to lay out a starting point: “This is my brother or sister in Christ. I’m going to choose to think the best of them. I’m going to listen. I’m going to avoid generalities. I’m going to accept the fact that I might not have closure.’”
Define terms like “inclusion,” “equity” and “diversity.” Train or hire people to facilitate discussions on race and diversity. Make sure grace guides conversations and change. Ware
said, “God’s Grace is strong enough to deal with the sins of the past, the alienation of the present and to create a better tomorrow.”
Building true community has to move beyond conversation. Read and learn about racism, equity, diversity and justice. Listen and learn from people who don’t see or experience the world the same way. Hold diversity training.
A diverse community is not just a gathering of different people. A diverse community will be a changed community that accurately reflects the people who are part of it.
“Is the gospel powerful enough? Is it powerful enough to take people out of these divisive groups and bring them together as one? I think that’s the same question we can ask the church today,” said Ware. “You preach the gospel. You want me to believe the gospel is strong enough to deliver a person from sexual addiction, alcoholism, drugs and all this stuff, but you don’t believe it can’t make you have a loving conversation with somebody that looks different than you? ‘By this, they will know that you’re my disciples. That you have love one for another.’ If we can’t love one another, by Jesus’ words alone, society has a reason to say ‘You don’t follow Christ.’”
For there to be lasting change, Robinson said it has to become part of your DNA. “Christian organizations say, ‘We want to be more diverse,’ or ‘everyone is welcome here,’ but in reality they just want proximity. Sometimes diversity has been defined as ‘we are all in the same place,’” said Robinson. “That’s just a starting point. We may sincerely want people of different ethnic backgrounds to come, but we still want to do things the way we have always done them. We don’t want to account for the fact that different people from different backgrounds are bringing different experiences, preferences and cultures.”
Biblical foundation and gospel mission shouldn’t change. “Paul never gave up biblical morality or biblical absolutes for cultural preferences. However, he was willing to lose for the cause of Christ and to reach others,” Ware said. “We need to demonstrate that we can flex and change for the sake of others.”
After addressing what needs to change, a plan of action can be outlined.
Ware suggests these steps:
- Pray to see personal blind spots and the need for change.
- Develop a biblical worldview about racial reconciliation.
- Perform a cultural audit.
- Cultivate cultural awareness.
- Create a plan for change.
- Engage in “us” and “us” conversations; collaborate.
- Assess regularly.
Robinson shared what drove him to implement change at Grace Community School: “I feel passionate about families from different backgrounds whether it’s ethnically diverse, or different socio-economic status, or families whose kids need a little extra help in the classroom. God gave me a passion to discover how we reach those families and give those families access to Christian education,” Robinson said.
“And not only give them access, but create an environment, so that those kids, regardless of whatever their difference is, have the same opportunity for success as another kid so that they have what they need and feel at home.”
Building biblical community starts with loving our neighbor. Build genuine, intentional, organic relationships.
Reach out and build relationships with people who look different, who have a different economic status, culture or background. Learn from them. Do life with them.
“One of the reasons our churches aren’t more diverse is that church members don’t have diverse relationships,” Ware said. “No contact, no impact. People aren’t going to come to your church just because you put a sign out that says ‘All are welcome.’”
It is important for any community to create models. Families, ministries and organizations should model biblical community and genuine love for each other.
“I think as Christians, we are good at cursing the darkness, but we are weak or lacking in creating alternatives to the darkness,” Ware said. “Love will triumph color. By the grace of God, through the power of the Spirit of God, every believer can show the love of God.”
Commit to long-term change in working toward true community.
“There is no quick fix. Understand that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. You are really going to have to roll up your sleeves and get involved in the messy to build true gospel community,” Robinson said.
Interested in hearing more from Robinson and Ware?