Having conversations with people who are not "Right, like ME"

I kicked this series off by saying that I want to be a part of a conversation.  In order to have a conversation, you have to ask questions and listen to people's answers.  Hopefully the right questions, asked from a humble spirit, lead to humble and helpful dialog. Hopefully humble and hopeful dialog brings about progress and change. a what this series is about. 

One of the questions that I hear often why "the church is not speaking saying more about this". 

I have not been to every church in this country, let alone in South America, Africa, Europe, etc.  The more of a "Global Worldview of Christianity" that I grow in, the more that I realize that I cannot claim to speak for "the church".  I am stunned at how many people are so deeply informed on all things global and historical that they feel that they can make such sweeping-generic statements about "the church" and be so confident that they are doing so with precision and accuracy.  

I dunno, seems kind of arrogant to me. 

It's funny, the longer that I am in ministry and the longer I deal with the complexities of trying to be faithful to the couple of churches that we are planting, the less I feel equipped to speak up for "the church" as a whole, when I am not always sure what "my church" feels about an issue, I do not feel like I can speak with much authority on "the church". 

So, instead of speaking for "the church" or trying to be the spokesman for all of evangelical white-ness speaking authoritatively on all matters of race, nation and world wide, I want to just look at my heart and what I see as the biggest insecurities and fears that cause me to be silent or not know what to say or to simply feel too embarrassed to open my mouth. 

So, my issue and I suspect that I am not alone, has to do with "Question Shaming". 

What is question shaming you ask? 

Well, it takes (at least) three forms: 

1. How could you even ask such a thing? 

2. I'm glad that you asked!  Now let me dominate your time with telling you why I "get it" more than you do (and more than everyone else does)"

3. You could never really understand.

How and when I began to see question shaming as a problem that pumps the breaks on authentic progress 

I understood some of the toxic elements in this conversation on race, justice and the church NOT from any conversations on race but by being attacked by a bunch of rabid feminists. Let me break it down and tell a story...

Back when I still had social media (I don't say that with any smugness and I am aware of the irony that this will be posted on social media. Ha), I was talking to a friend online who said that she went out solo to a concert or see one of her favorite bands.  She shared a story about being hit on by men who would not take no for an answer, "men" who had their fragile little egos hurt by being told no and responded by saying hurtful things and other disgustingly unacceptable behavior. 

I felt for her.  She should not have to endure this. It made me sad that a woman could not just go enjoy some music without having to be super aware of her surroundings.  It made me contemplative about how this is just not a problem that I have to think through being a pretty large male.  It made me angry that no one else observed what was happening and said something. 

So I said something.  In fact, I said pretty much exactly what I wrote above but I added that if I was there I would have gladly said something and told these perverts to back off. 

And, that's when it all went downhill. 

I had people say things like: 

  • I was told that I was "white knighting" (I was not even familiar with the term and had to look it up) 
  • I was told that I was part of the problem for not thinking that women can stick up for themselves (which is not something I believe, but obviously she felt threatened or whould not have been talking about it still after the unfortunate incident) 
  • I was told that we should live in a world where women do not have to think through their safety before going out to just enjoy some music or culture (AMEN!) 
  • I learned that men feeling the need to stick up for women like this is just reinforcing "partiarchy" and "old fashioned stereotypes" and all sorts of other nonsensincal statements. 

Full disclosure: I guess I am old fashioned and I think that if someone is harassing a woman after she clearly told him no and to stop that it is my responsibility as a gentleman to step in and tell the person to knock it off and to defend the sister's saftey and honor.  Fuller disclosure: I think that any man who disagrees with this is someone who I would have a hard time respecting as a man. 

So, instead of picking a fight (because internet fights are hilariously lame) I just asked a question: "Should I have done ANYTHING and if so what would the proper response have been?"

It's funny, only minutes earlier, there were so many people offering so many critiques on how wrong I was "doing it" but there was so little offered by way of how to do it right.  And by "so little" I mean- not one single answer.  The only thing I got was a few private emails from a few sisters who thanked me for not allowing group-think to gender-wash any sense of being a gentleman out of me.  

I'm not surprised by their reaction.  You never meet a joyful feminist. And none of this is the point anyway. 

So, what does this have to do with race and injustice? 

I think that the analogy is helpful for a few reasons: 

1. There are people who want to help but they don't know where to start.  Like in the analogy above, I wanted to be a part of the solution, and maybe I was off base on how to approach it, but I wanted to be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem. 

2. Some people want to be a part of the solution but don't know where to start.  Don't make them feel stupid. Educate them if you have answers. 

3. STOP ATTACKING PEOPLE WHO ARE TRYING!  There are many reasons why systemic racism and injustice has had a petri dish to grow in in our country.  One of the main reasons is because there are some people who are just racist and unjust.  They don't want to try.  They WANT TO perpetuate their racism and injustice.  Another reason that it has been fostered as long as it has is because there are people who are against racism and injustice but they've never done anything about it.  As Edmund Burke famously said

"The Only Thing Necessary for the Triumph of Evil is that Good Men Do Nothing"

So, why attack the people who are trying to help?  I have to be honest, that has been the thing that has turned me off the most in this discussion- making fun of people who are trying.  Sure, they may be clumsy at first.  Sure their helping may not be helpful.  I am not trying to say that we just hand them a participation trophy for trying.  I am saying that we are called to "equip the saints for the work of the ministry" (Ephesians 4:12-16).  Take the people who want to help create change and teach them. 

4. If you make the people who want to be part of the solution feel like they are a part of the problem, sooner or later they will just give up.  That makes me so sad.  You can't start a counter cultural movement by benching your willing participants.  I have actually sat with pastors who have said (in sentiment), "I don't know where to start and when I've tried it hasn't gone anywhere, so why bother".  That brother needs to be encouraged not made to feel like they don't get it. 

5. Let's rethink the "you could never understand" line of thinking.  If you take someone who wants to understand and tell them that they can't understand, it is counterproductive.  I get it that some things can only be understood experientially.  I don't know what its like to be hated for my skin color.  Apart from some very mild experiences, I don't know what its like to be dismissed by a group of people because of the color of my skin.  I don't know what its like to be treated like a criminal for simply being "the wrong color, at the wrong place, at the wrong time".  I hate that anyone has to know what that feels like.  I suspect that other people are like me in terms of not understanding but hating that this is the reality for people that we love.  But we want to understand. 

6. If people ask how they can help, then those who have experience and knowledge in these areas should be able to give them an answer.  America did not develop systemic racism and injustice overnight.  It will not get out of the hole we have dug overnight either.  But when someone wants to pitch in and ask how, we should have answers for these people. 

I am going to say something that I am sure would offend some of my friends who I have heard speak on conference panels on race and injustice: If someone asks you how they can help and you don't have an answer, it means that you don't know and you probably shouldn't be up on a panel.  

7. Help put an end to question shaming.  Are there people who ask questions for stupid reasons?  Sure. Pick any crowd and any topic and there will be people with less than pure motives amongst them.  But when folks are asking questions from humble hearts out of a humble desire to learn, don't question shame.  And if you see it, politely ask people to knock it off.  It impedes progress. 


Just one other thought as I bring this to a close.  With any topic that is as polarizing as this topic is you will have a few different groups of people.  You will have those reading this because they want to learn and those reading this because they already think that they are an expert on the topic and are really just looking for either a giant echo chamber to reinforce how smart they already think they are or are reading it to see what they disagree with...

Tangent alert: Reformed circles tend attract those types who read things just so they can tell you what they disagree with.  Those people are the literally THE MOST pretentious people in the world.  That's pretty hard to do.  There is a lot of pretense out there.  But those folks where the Crown of Pretense like no other.  They are just insufferable to be around.  Tangent over...

But, to finish my point- any time I meet an expert on a topic, THEY are usually THE LAST person who would proclaim themselves to be an expert.  They are typically humbled by their engaging a subject and any true expert will tell you more about how much they still have left to learn rather than try to impress you with all that they've already mastered. 

So, what's the point?

A little humility goes a long way.  If you are more informed, you didn't start out that way. Give people the latitude to ask questions.  Even ones that seem simplistic to you.  And when they ask help come along side of them.  

If we can't even get the people who want to make a difference in the areas of race and injustice to stop fighting against each other, how are we ever supposed to make a dent in those who want to maintain a system of racial injustice and oppression? 

Just my .02, 

Pastor Eric 

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