It's Time to Talk
Guest blogger: George Yancey, PhD
At the Ratio Christi banquet last year, I talked about the need for Christians in a post-Christian world to create intentional communities to not only survive but thrive in this new reality. Time did not permit me to go into all of the characteristics these communities must possess. But one of those qualities is that they must be multiracial. We need a community where Christians of all different races work together to deal with Christianophobia and the other problems in our society. Such unity of purpose across the races will speak volumes in a racially divided society and go a long way to providing a vital witness even in a post-Christian society.
In addition to Christianophobia, I have written extensively about the racial alienation in our society. I have come to the conclusion that because of human depravity, we are constrained to find racial solutions that meet the needs of multiple groups. We are simply too tempted to look after only the needs of our own group or race. Unless we can get beyond our depravity to communicate with those in other racial groups or differing political ideologies, we will be stuck in the same racial ruts we keep experiencing.
It is not enough to just talk to each other. We have been “talking” for years and not gotten anywhere as it concerns interracial communication. We have to communicate to those in different races in ways to make real progress and find solutions we all can live with. To this end, I want to suggest that Christians from different racial groups begin to make efforts to communicate with each other in productive ways. We need to do so to find common solutions to our racial problems that we can all get behind as well as to learn about what is behind the hopes and fears of those in different races. So allow me to suggest some principles I discussed in depth in a previous book.
Define the Issue
The first step in this conversation is for us to define the issue we want to talk about. We have to clarify what we want to discuss and keep our conversation in the context of that particular issue. We all have had discussions where we start on one subject and then jump to other subjects before we really finish discussing the subject at hand. Our conversation on race will require the discipline necessary to stick to a given subject (although at times we may need to bring in other issues for context). Given the recent controversies over police shootings perhaps a good starting point is what is meant by Black Lives Matters, or even All Lives Matters. Perhaps there is a local racial issue that members of each group need to discuss. Or perhaps merely start with a topic of why people of color do not tend to see society as fair as whites do. The key is to have a topic to focus upon.
Identify Areas of Agreement
Second, there is no sense glossing over differences between those from different racial groups, but we also have important values in common with each other. Identifying what we agree on is an important way to start a meaningful conversation. Let us not assume the worst of those who disagree with us. They likely agree on certain values that we have and knowing this can help humanize those we want to have a conversation with. As Christians, we should at least acknowledge that we share our faith in common. We need to start with at least that.
Be Honest About Why We Differ
Third, if we agreed on everything then we do not need a conversation. We have to be honest about why we differ from each other and why. It is important to not only articulate how we disagree with others, but also why we have our concerns. Clearly pointing out why we have developed the concerns we have is important so that all parties have a chance to understand our points of contention. We should do so as sensitively as possible and learn how to speak in the language of the listener.
Listen Carefully and Actively to the Concerns of Others
But we must not only point out our contentions. We must also listen carefully to the concerns of others. Active listening is a skill that I have learned as a researcher. I know that I have heard the person I am talking to when I can reiterate their concerns in my own words. We need to listen not just so that we have an argument ready, but also so that we fully understand where the other person is coming from. If we have been listening to the concerns of others then we will be in a position to articulate ways we can have our own concerns addressed and that also address the concerns of those with whom we are talking.
Develop Solutions Addressing All Concerned
Finally, if both whites and non-whites understand each other’s perspectives then it becomes possible to develop solutions that address the concerns of groups other than our own. It will still be tough sledding. But as we get to know those in different racial groups I expect that we will develop a new respect and understanding. We will not want them to be hurt by our human weakness and will work hard to find answers to all of our concerns. If the topic is not a problem to be solved but merely understanding the perspective of others, then this conversation will still be valuable because when we have the next racial incident we will have the tools to talk to each other.
- Define the Issue
- Identify Areas of Agreement
- Be Honest About Why We Differ
- Listen Carefully and Actively
- Develop Solutions
This may not seem like much of a solution for all of the major racial problems plaguing our society. But I think we will find that once we start talking we will want to continue to do so and to gain further understanding about each other. Done often enough, it may be the start of crossing the racial divides enough to begin establishing that multiracial Christian community. What a wonderful day that will be.
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