A Theological Framework for Processing Racism

[Note: see my article discussing these ideas at much greater length here]

To talk about race in America is a difficult thing, but it needs to be done. I’ve given a lot of thought to the matter, but I’m by no means an expert. There’s no doubt that some will find this post lacking in a number of ways, but we’ve got to have the conversation.

Let me say right up front that the first thing I want to do in this conversation is listen. I want to hear what others have to say on this matter. I recognize that others may not share my perspective. My goal is to be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. I welcome your feedback and thoughts on these matters.

When most people hear the word “racism,” they hear racial resentment, animosity, or hatred. The problem is that we can have prejudice and injustice toward other people without a feeling of conscience hatred. This can occur when we do not positively value others, listen to them, and connect with them.

There’s nothing wrong with loving those closest to us or those who are a part of our own groups. This rooted in the God-given connection to our family. We should take special care of those closest to us. As the Apostle Paul said, “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8).

The trouble is that this allegiance exceeds its bounds. Our groups get an allegiance that they don’t deserve, and other groups receive a contempt that they do not deserve. This tendency is captured well by Jesus who said, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” (Matthew 5:46–47). Continue reading “A Theological Framework for Processing Racism”

How to Have Humility When Both Sides Stop Listening

In a previous post, I claimed that humility is a healing balm for political discord. If we can learn to value others with whom disagree, show them respect, and listen, then we can create a better and more peaceful community without sacrificing any of our convictions.

But what happens when both sides stop listening? What happens when we’ve tried everything and someone will not be at peace with us? What happens when all that’s left is coercion or, in the case of nations, war?

Before I give an answer, let me say this. There are very few who have tried to listen in the way they should. I have found that people regularly think there is no way forward, but there is almost always a failure to listen, to think beyond old ways of doing things, or to respect the other side.

Have we really given humility an honest try?

But back to the main question, what happens when we have done so and still find ourselves in entrenched conflict? Don’t just think of politics. Think of a split family where one side does nothing but attack. Think of a family that is like two armed camps. How do we exercise humility in such situations? Continue reading “How to Have Humility When Both Sides Stop Listening”

Should We Trust the Experts?

In our polarized society, it’s easy to line up experts on either side of an issue. Who are we to believe? Should we even listen to the experts?

I think there’s no question that we should listen to experts. What that means is that we should listen to people who know a lot about a subject. For example, if I am going to build something, I am going to ask my friend Mark Smothers who has worked in home construction for decades. If I’m going to apply for the PPP loan, I’m going to ask my friend Bob Chesser, an accountant, who has spent countless hours studying this issue for his clients. This seems clear and obvious.

So, why is it that people balk at listening to experts when expert economists or scientists speak on a subject? One reason is that these people are presented as infallible sources whom we should believe if we are in favor of “science.” Reinhold Niebuhr noted that the rise of science in Western culture “gave modern culture a special animus against ‘dogma.’ But unfortunately it was not prepared to deal with the hidden dogmas in prescriptions of science itself” (The Self and the Dramas of History, 114). Continue reading “Should We Trust the Experts?”

A Christian Response to Two Very Scary Things

Right now, we are dealing two interrelated and very scary things: a deadly disease and an economic depression. Both are extremely scary, and both are real threats.

How do we as Christians respond to these two very scary things? We can think of this on two different levels. How do we respond in a godly way to the scary things? And how do we respond to the scared people?

The answer to the first is courage, and you can read a summary of what courage means in this situation here.

The second question is more difficult. Here’s why. When we are scared, we have laser focus on the thing that scares us. We also want others to focus on what scares us. This helps make us feel safer.

When there are two scary things, it’s hard to focus on both and easy to want to focus on one or the other. Different people feel more scared about one or the other of the scary things and to different degrees. There is a spectrum of fear or concern on one side or the other. When someone doesn’t focus on the scary thing we’re focused on, it’s easy to feel threatened. This can lead to anger, accusations, and polarization.

So, how should we as Christians respond in this very difficult situation? Let me suggest four things: listening, humility, patience, and service.

1. Listening. The Lord commands us to do this, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19) This means that when we see someone who is scared, we should seek first to understand and then to be understood.

But it means more. It means we should listen not only to people. We need to be open to reality and the best sources of information wherever they may lead us. That is what it means to be a good listener in a more profound sense.

Let me give you an example. I am one who has been concerned about COVID-19 and has even said that the lockdowns are helpful. However, various people have brought Sweden to my attention because they are the one country in Europe that is trying to take some precautions but not asking people to shelter in place. Life is going on (with some qualifications). Some predict that the results will be an historic massacre. Maybe they are right. So far, we have not seen it. If Sweden does as good or better than those countries that locked down, then we will have some evidence that the lockdowns were not needed. That will be painful to admit, but we need to be open to it. That’s listening. That’s being open to reality.

2. Humility. We need to have a high value of others, even those who disagree with us. This is especially true of those who are in authority or those who have expertise. That doesn’t mean we should agree with everything they say. We just owe them respect and honor.

In these times, we as Christians are going to have plenty of opportunity to show honor to authorities with whom we disagree. Here’s a couple of examples. Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida decided to open the beaches last week. Many people were outraged and attacked him because they were scared of the virus. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gave quite a few regulations in her state that many people thought were too restrictive or even unconstitutional. People were outraged and attacked her because they feared an excessive lockdown. Now, you may disagree with those governors, or you may really like what they did. You may feel the need to protest, or you may feel the need to cheer. Both are fine, but either way, we have an obligation to disagree respectfully with everyone we disagree with but especially governing authorities.

A classic statement of the faith, The Heidelberg Catechism, captures this well. It asks, “What is God’s will for you in the fifth commandment [“Honor your father and your mother”]?” That I honor, love, and be loyal to my father and mother and all those in authority over me; that I submit myself with proper obedience to all their good teaching and discipline; and also that I be patient with their failings—for through them God chooses to rule us.” We can show by patient and respectful honoring of our leaders that we honor God. We have that opportunity in this time.

3. Patience. “Love is patient.” Says the Apostle Paul in his famous chapter on love (1 Corinthians 13). Patience with other people recognizes that people are at different places. We come to different conclusions based on different experiences at different times and at different rates. That is O.K. Patience is a willingness to allow for this difference and accept others where they are.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:14, the Apostle Paul has a great statement on the different places people are. “And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” Notice that he distinguishes the different ways that people can struggle. He even says you have to warn people sometimes. However, he says that with everyone, “be patient.” That’s what we need right now, too, patience, to allow people to work through these two scary things in different ways and at different paces.

4. Service. One problem with getting too focused on our fears, whatever they are, is that we can miss opportunities to serve those around us. Excessive anxiety can keep us from loving service. When we can overcome our fears and anxieties (not deny them!), then we can move outward in service. It also works the other way. When we move outward, it can help us overcome our anxieties.

The Christians in the early Church in the Roman Empire were well known for this. They went and served those dying of the plague when no one else would. We may not do that without taking some precautions that they did not know to take, but could we be known for that today? They will know you are Christians by your love, Jesus says. If we keep asking, who needs love? Who needs care? Who can I serve? What are my opportunities? It will keep us focused on the right things.

What a powerful thing it is to see Christians in a variety of ways stepping up to serve the people of their church and those around them. We need to lean into this in this time. We have a unique opportunity to show the power of God’s love in the face of fear through serving others.


These are scary times. It’s OK to be scared, but, as Christians, we can’t let it overwhelm us or keep us from loving other people well.

I commend to you listening, humility, patience, and service as four characteristics that can help us navigate a time when there are a lot of scared people. It’s not easy. The fear takes hold, and we want to run away or lash out.

But we’re not alone in trying to do this well. We have the Spirit of the risen Christ with us. We have the Church. We have innumerable examples of believers and Jesus Christ Himself who’ve walked through the toughest times and loved God and others well through them. That is our heritage, power, and opportunity.


Photo by Anastasiia Chepinska on Unsplash

How to Be Completely Humble in a Radically Polarized World

“Be completely humble, gentle, and patient” (Eph. 4:2). That’s the heart of a life that’s worthy of our calling as Christians (Eph. 4:1). But is that even possible in a world like ours?

To begin with, let’s consider: what do we mean by humility, gentleness, and patience?

Humility is not necessarily a low view of ourselves. It is primarily a high view of others. We tend to overplay our own strengths and ideas and do the reverse for others. Humility turns this around: it considers others better than ourselves (Phil. 2:3).

When I think of gentleness, I think of the word “safety.” Being gentle makes it safe for others to speak to us and be themselves. It makes us easy to be reconciled to and ready to connect with others. When we are gentle, people do not fear that we will penalize them for what they say by our emotional reactions.

Patience recognizes that people are different. People think in different ways, grow at different rates, and come to conclusions at different times. Patience is OK with this and allows people to take that time to work through things in their own way.

The trouble is this. It’s all nice and good to say “be completely humble, gentle, and patient,” but what do we do in times of polarization and high anxiety?

Let me give an illustration. What is more polarizing in our time than the presidency of Donald Trump? People have strong emotions and opinions on both sides of the issue. What does it look like to be completely humble, gentle, and patient about our views of President Trump? It certainly does not mean that we should have no opinion about him, so what does it mean?

First, to be humble means that we value other people’s views, opinions, and ideas. So, we can be open to hearing why people oppose or support Donald Trump.

Second, to be gentle means that we make it safe for others to share their opinions. We don’t turn the discussion into an interrogation or cut people off. We allow them to share their ideas in the way they want to share them. We don’t look for one little mistake and then try to smash them. We make it safe for people to share their real feelings and thoughts.

Third, to be patient means that we let people process it. We may want to convince them to hold a different opinion, but we give people space to work through it. We recognize that people don’t have all the facts and ideas they’ve had about the issue at their disposal at just the moment we want to talk about it. We are swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath.

I think if everyone did this, then we could have a society that would be much more capable of thinking through issues. We would also be better at building community rather than tearing it down.

However, there are some times where things are what we might call “radically polarized.” This occurs when there is a hot or cold war over some issue or position.

Now, it’s important to note that we often feel like we are in such a do or die situation when we actually are not. In fact, most people feel like they have less options than they have. In spite of that, there are times, sadly, when all that is left is war.

An example of this on a smaller scale is some child custody battles. In some of these battles, everything is weaponized. You can’t be vulnerable because everything will be used against you to try and get custody of the children.

Some might suggest that this means the Christian just gives up and lets it. Sometimes this is necessary, but there are some things worth fighting for in spite of the high cost. There are some things we have no right to surrender.

So, how can a person be completely humble, gentle, and patient in such situations?

Humility in these situations involves what Reinhold Niebuhr calls “being in the battle and above it.” There is a need to fight, but we always need to be stepping outside of the situation to recognize our own sins in the matter, our own need for grace, and the general tragedy of such radically polarized situations.

Gentleness means that we do what is necessary and go no further. It is a soldier who carries out his duty but does all he can to avoid any additional harm and keeps himself from the passionate desires to destroy, humiliate, abuse, and take revenge. This is not easy, but it is our calling. Gentleness also means that we are ready to reconcile when the opportunity arises to de-escalate the conflict.

Patience here involves the willingness to recognize that reconciliation is a process. You don’t generally enter into a radically polarized situation overnight. You won’t get out of one overnight either. We have to be willing to work through the many small steps toward normalization of relationships.

Being completely humble, gentle, and patient doesn’t mean we’ll make everybody happy (which is impossible and not our responsibility). It means a disposition to think well of others, make things safe for them, and be willing to work through the process relationships require.

In this world, we have to take stands and hold to things where people will disagree with us, sometimes stridently so. Sometimes injustices require war. It’s not easy to be completely humble, gentle, and patient in such situations, but we can and should make moves toward these even in the most radically polarized situation that will clear the way for future reconciliation. In the midst of it all, we recognize that we will fall short and still have to pray, “forgive us our debts . . .”