A few weeks ago, NFL player and author Ben Watson came to The Crossing for a candid conversation about race. The packed auditorium alone spoke to the need our church, community, and nation has for this type of dialogue. As Watson himself pointed out, however, large events and books are great places to start the work of racial reconciliation, but there is no substitute for the learning and transformation that happens in the context of real, committed relationships.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with a group of eight ladies from a variety of ages, races, stages of life, and backgrounds who have taken this charge to heart. Each Tuesday night, they meet together in a group member’s home to share life and specifically do the hard, messy work of racial reconciliation within the context of community. Over the next several weeks, I plan to share parts of our conversation. I found their statements both encouraging and challenging and hope you will too.
How is your group different than a traditional small group?
Guimel: When some people hear that our group is called, “Bridge to Racial Unity” they might misconstrue it to mean that the only thing we talk about is race, what’s going on, who is right, and who is wrong. The real goal is to be in relationship with each other and to learn from each other and to realize that Jesus is the one thing we have in common. Relationships are the key to racial reconciliation. Without relationship, race and issues just become these abstract things and you’re more prone to categorize and stereotype. Relationship helps us to see events through the perspective of other people we care about and as a result, creates deeper understanding because it breaks down those barriers.
Brittany: Race is not a cute issue. It’s hard and it’s messy. Part of what makes it hard is that no one group of people is monolithic. Each person’s narrative is unique and important. Because we’re talking about race and very inherit differences, we’re having to look very deeply about what it means to be made in the image of God in a way that happens in a traditional small group, but probably not as intensely or quickly.
Ashley: It takes a lot of humility and vulnerability. This issue requires the humility to say I don’t really understand your background, and the vulnerability to say, “Here’s a little bit about me so that you understand why I might react to something later.” Any disagreement we’ve had along the way is more easily solved because we have a context for where the other person is coming from. It helps humanize the issue. I feel like in the world today we dehumanize issues around race and just make it political, but it’s people. We’re doing life and community with people.
AnDrea: I believe what makes us different is that we truly do life together and not just the all together life where you come every week and share niceties. We really do reveal the messiness of our lives–the things that are hard. We share our burdens and carry each other without shame and without fear of rejection. Our conversations are not always light and polite. Often we dig into the complexities of what it means to be racially united. We dig into the history of why as a country we aren’t quite there yet and we look into scripture to help understand where those things line up with the word of God and how He sees it. Our group is held together by more than just the label “Bible Study.” Our group is held together by the strings of each individual heart– threaded and intertwined. We are sisters in Christ and ultimately it is His threads of love and forgiveness and joy and patience that binds us.
Rachel J: It’s not about studying the Bible and figuring out how to apply it. It’s like we’re in this cultural thing and we’re all trying to figure it out together and the Gospel shines into that. So for me, it has been a completely different group experience because I’ve only ever done things as a Bible Study or a class. This just felt like something I don’t know, something that my heart aches over, something I’m embarrassed to ask about, something that I don’t know where to go with it. We formed a group out of a shared hurt and confused place. Then we began to see God’s love and grace shine into this and helps us navigate it. It came from a deeply felt need.
Ashley: In some Bible Studies, it’s easy to go in and say the right answer, but we’re studying something that I feel like doesn’t necessarily have one nice and neat right answer. We’re not going to be able to flip to the back of the book that gives the answer and verse and makes everything all better. It requires a lot of trust both in the Lord and in each other.
What caused you to be interested in a group like this?
Guimel: It can be a lonely experience to be a black member of The Crossing. You don’t always have an outlet to talk about some of these things.
Julie: Well, in all honesty when things escalated on Mizzou’s campus with Concerned Students 1950, I felt irritated. My thoughts were – slavery is over, you have rights and opportunities just like everyone else. Why are you complaining? How can you expect to police racial slurs from every drunk or ignorant person? I heard words like white privilege, which was new to me and I found offensive. I looked it up on the internet to see what it even meant. It felt like the aftermath of the chaos of Ferguson was now being brought to our campus. But then on Facebook, I saw posts from people of color that I knew and respected, like Brittney, who were behind the movement. Yet, I couldn’t rally behind them because I just simply didn’t get it. So, I decided to be vulnerable and post on Britt’s page, “I don’t get it, but I want to.” I truly did want to understand.
Brittany: Julie always teaches and reminds me how important everyone’s process is. How important it is to walk with people and be patient and humble in that process.
Guimel: To not give up on people or rule people out, but to engage in relationship, be patient, and know that just because someone doesn’t know doesn’t mean they don’t want to learn.
Blake: There was no one moment for me. I think I’ve had this deep sense that there is a great injustice against black people in our culture for a while. Knowing that makes me want to do something to help.
Brittany: I’m here because I trust Rachel J. I was going to protests and then going to Rachel’s house and feeling like, man all of my non-Christian friends are really in this and having these conversations, but how does this happen in the church. Where can I find this among my Christians friends?
Ashley: I’ve always sought diversity in my friendships growing up. I had a black brother and that was always something I treasured and wanted to understand his experience. When I came to Mizzou, I only had friends who looked like me, so when I met Brittany and many of her friends it provided some of that.
I’ve only gone to church where 99.99% white. I’ve never been able to understand why there wasn’t more diversity in the church. When we had the racial unity service last year, it really caused me to want to seek out people who didn’t look like me. I’ve always known how it fits into my professional life of social work but always really wondered where it was at church.
Rachel J: I had connections with almost everyone and was hearing these things and having these conversations and I just felt really burdened that we need to talk about this. It didn’t seem like a one night get-together either. I’m here because the Church is the hope for this. The Church needs to be the people of compassion, the ones who shine the light on these issues, and build bridges between people. We are the Church. I love people and I want all people to feel known and loved at church and when I hear that people feel alone or misunderstood when they walk into The Crossing, I hate that. I want people to walk in our church and feel like they are a part of something and belong. I want them to know that until we die or Christ returns, I’m here and these are my people because we have Jesus.
Next week I’ll share how the members of this group have grown/changed as a result of the time they’ve spent together. I’ll also share what they said about why Christians should care about racial reconciliation and their advice to someone interested in being a part of this type of group/conversation.