by Wayne Stapleton
NAB VP of Racial Righteousness
About nine years ago, our church restart established a countywide chapter of faith communities who support and promote foster care. During one of the meetings, a passionate advocate for foster care was mentioned. She was one of my high school classmates. I discovered that her passion for foster care was the result of being a foster child herself. I invited her to one of our meetings, and she shared stories of terrible abuse and spiritual victory, all while we were high school classmates. I never knew. I had never taken the time to talk to her and really listen to her experiences.
As she shared her story at that meeting, I listened to her fully for the first time. I was blown away by her courage and perseverance. I heard her share her experiences without judgment and without skepticism, praising God for His redemptive power. I am so glad I heard her story.
Looking back, that practice of listening to her feels significant. Being willing to hear her story, opening myself up to the horrors and triumphs of her life, deeply impacted me. Listening was a way to honor her, even to show her the love of God, because love commands listening.
To love my wife is to actually listen to her. She can tell you that when she feels not listened to, she feels unloved.
To love my sons is to listen to them. Unfortunately, I have had those moments when they express grievances with me because they do not feel listened to.
The church of Jesus Christ can be a very strong witness to the love of God and the power of the gospel in many ways, but one way is through the pursuit of unity across ethnicity and culture, standing with the oppressed and marginalized. And we can do this by listening in relationship. Too often, conversations about racial righteousness consist of more debate than true dialogue, more theory than practice, more competition than compassion. Though we may testify to biblical fidelity, a scriptural command is to outdo one another in showing honor. If we are to grow together in unity and love, we need to listen better.
Listening is powerful, but listening comes with a cost. Listening requires our willingness to submit to the perspective of the other. Listening requires our willingness to suspend our judgments over their stories, to allow their stories to belong to them. Listening calls for our humility.
Jesus was once asked what the greatest commandment was, and He responded that it is to love God with all our heart and soul and mind. Obedience is a work entailed by this all-encompassing love. The second command is neighbor-love. “And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39 ESV).
Faithful Christianity loves our neighbor, and listening to our neighbor is one manifestation of that love. To love is to honor the dignity of the person before you. To love is to engage in dialogue by which the “other” in our midst can share his or her story.
With all the challenge, controversy, and fear that runs through church circles over race and cross-ethnic relationships, we need not look outside of Scripture for ways to love. But we must move beyond mere assertion of what Scripture says by actually doing works of love that Scripture commands. Listening is a work that results from love. James challenges the church to reveal its faith by its works. Nominal statements of faith mean a lot less than actions that cost us.
“But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18).
Faithful Christianity is practiced Christianity, not merely asserted Christianity. When it comes to racial righteousness, works of love are called for. There can be so much debate over how to think about race that actual works of love don’t end up happening. To commit to a high view of Scripture entails obedience to the actions it commands. Let all of us who believe in the Word of God allow His Word to hold us accountable to works that reflect His love.
Racial Reconciliation Sunday –
Last week, we let you know about Racial Reconciliation Sunday, which is taking place on February 14. There’s hardly a better way to participate in this day than by taking time to listen to others with different backgrounds.