Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Do we really know what others feel?

Much has been said in recent days regarding all the shooting incidents. Unfortunately, much of it has generated more heat than light. The one thing nearly everyone agrees on is that each shooting is a tragedy that should not have happened. The disagreements come from how to prevent such incidents from happening again.

Politicians on one spectrum insist that banning guns or at least making them more difficult to obtain is the answer. While exact numbers are impossible to know, it is estimated there are between 270-300 million guns in the possession of American citizens. Approximately, 41 percent of Americans households own at least one gun. The vast, vast majority of those who own guns are responsible individuals who own guns for hunting, for personal protection, or for collecting purposes. We are consistently told that all Muslims should not be judged based on the actions of a few radicals. The same principle should be applied to those who own guns.

The real solution is two-fold. The first is dealing with sin. That may sound off-putting to this postmodern generation, but sin is at the heart of all hatred, racism, and acts of violence. The answer to sin is to commit one's life to Jesus Christ and allow Him to change our hearts. More than one person filled with rage and hatred has seen his or her heart changed through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. As society has become more and more secular we have seen a steady increase in evil and a general devaluing of life. America desperately needs a spiritual revival, and such a revival must begin in the church.

The second solution is that we need to know one another, and that begins by talking to one another.

I was raised in a small, rural community. I attended rural grade schools and was never in a school with an African-American until I started high school. Even there, we had few black students. I never knew any of the problems they faced in our community until years later I read a book written by a number of African-Americans from our town. It wasn't until then that I learned that my black classmates had not been allowed to try on their clothes in many of the stores in our community, and if they didn't fit after they got home, they were not allowed to return them. I didn't know that for many years blacks in our community were required to sit in the balcony in our movie theater nor did I know that they were required to enter a local drug store through the side door. They could order lunch there, but they were not allowed to remain to eat it. They had to take their meals outside to eat them. Needless to say, the book was an eye-opener and showed me a side of the community I never knew existed.

About the same time I was reading this book I was working one Saturday by myself in a family-owned business when an older African-American gentleman came in. We had never met, but we were soon engaged in a conversation that showed me there was still much about my community I had never considered. He asked why there were no black doctors or dentists in our area. He wondered why our school system had no African-American teacher working in our schools. Many years previously a black school had closed and, to my knowledge, only one teacher was retained. I had her for one class in high school, and she was a great teacher. But, I had never realized that there were no other African-American teachers in any of our schools. We had a very good, long discussion,and when he left I realized that his experience in our community had been much different than mine.

These are the kinds of discussions we need to have with one another. Until we understand the experiences of others we need to be very careful about offering advice.

The church should be a place where such discussions should take place, but this will require some intentionality to make it happen. We should also be aware that such discussions will likely make some people very uncomfortable. But, how do we get to know one another unless we can talk with one another? If we cannot talk about our differences and how we view our world, we will never understand one another, and we will never come together.

It is also time the church becomes more intentional about pursuing diversity. A pastor friend of mine was confronted a few years ago by an African-American pastor who told my friend, "You're always inviting us to be a part of what you are doing. When are you going to become a part of what we are doing?" Soon after, my pastor friend's church became a part of this black Baptist association, and they have became very involved in the work of this association. Both the church and the association have benefited from the relationship.

The racial problems in America are not going to go away in the near future, but until the church and individuals begin to intentionally work towards understanding one another and developing relationships with one another, these problems will only grow worse. Simplistic answers won't solve our problems, but prayer and building relationships with one another will go a long way to resolving them.

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