Last year I adopted a personal motto regarding apologetics: “Let’s talk about it.” Too many young people are abandoning Christianity because they think the church isn’t listening to them. No one answers the questions they have and the church doesn’t discuss things relevant to them. My answer was for the church to become a safe space where people can doubt out loud. Whatever our young people are struggling with, we need to talk about it.
But it’s more than just apologetics.
Our cities are literally on fire, which is a perfect symbol for what people are feeling. Our society is burning with anger over a multitude of things, the latest being the killing of George Floyd.
We need to talk.
The problem, however, is that we aren’t talking; we’re screaming. We’re breaking. We’re burning. Furthermore, countless people are yelling at me on the news and social media, telling me that I am the real problem. I’m complicit. It’s my privilege, my silence, my fear. And if I don’t like it, I’m fragile. Do people honestly think this helps their cause?
Of course I care about injustice. Of course I think what happened to George Floyd was reprehensible. But rioting, burning down your city, and using me as your personal punching bag isn’t going to get me to listen to you. Let me tell you what will.
I was a typical hyperactive boy. I was constantly scolded, yelled at, called names, and so on. I learned to tune it all out because, to me, it was all just noise. But someone did get through to me, a pastor friend whom I still love and respect greatly to this day. There was one particular Sunday School class where I was acting a fool. My teacher kept me after class, and I expected to receive the standard lecture on how Pastor’s kid should know better. But this time was different. He didn’t yell. He didn’t even raise his voice. He calmly told me he was disappointed in me. That cut. That got through. I don’t remember any of the many tongue-lashings I’ve received throughout my life, but I do remember that moment.
How does this relate to our current situation? Proverbs 15:1: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” I’m so saddened by Christians advocating violence, saying that destruction is justified so long as things change. Church, even if the world doesn’t know better, we should. The Bible says, “Be angry and do not sin” (Eph. 4:26). It affirms our anger. But it also tells us how not to act. While it is not a sin to be angry, it is a sin to harm your neighbor. Jesus tells us to love our neighbors and our enemies, even to pray for those who persecute us (Matt. 22:39, 5:44). Is it truly loving to burn down your neighbor’s business or to throw a brick through their window? That type of behavior will only reinforce negative biases people already have, making things even worse.
It also frustrates me when Christians trot out the example of Jesus cleansing the temple to justify any kind of misbehavior, whether physical or verbal. Jesus was protecting his Father’s house from corruption; he didn’t burn it to the ground. Let’s also remember when Jesus persuaded a group of angry men to put down their stones of judgment and anger (John 8:3-11).
How do we discuss injustice, then? As I mentioned earlier, if you want me to listen, yelling isn’t going to work. I’m stubborn. I get defensive. I will tune you out. It’s not that I don’t care or that I’m unwilling to listen. I do care. I’ll listen to anyone who is reasonable and civil. I agree that we all need to have honest conversations about race and justice. But how do we initiate healthy discussions so people will listen and act righteously? Again, let me provide a personal example.
Numbers and statistics are cold. General statements about institutional or systemic racism are impersonal. Honestly, neither have impressed me much. But when a friend told me his story, that got through. Someone I knew provided examples of how he, his family, and his friends faced discrimination, prejudice, and injustice. That cut. I heard him. Not news headlines. Not statistics. The experiences of a friend, someone with whom I had a relationship. That’s the key—relationship.
If you wish to be heard, step away from your keyboard. Put down the bricks and stones. Instead, share your story. The experiences of your friends and family, of your community. The first story may not get through. Maybe not the second or the third. But eventually, one story will. It all centers on making a personal connection with another human being.
My advice to the church is to become a safe space, a place where people can doubt out loud and scream in pain. Be a shelter from the storm and a hospital for the soul. We need to listen and to respond in love, or simply to be a crying shoulder. Whatever you do, do it with love and grace. Just know that neither violence nor silence will make things any better.
We need to talk.