As a black woman whose work focuses on diversity and inclusion, I spend a lot of time thinking about race. As a Christian who is always striving to do better in so many areas, I spend a lot of time thinking about grace. These topics sometimes seem like they have no relation, but I think that couldn’t be further from the truth. We are living in times of unrest, distress and pain. It often seems as if we are more divided than we are unified, and that includes the Church. There are national conversations happening surrounding race in the United States - what does that mean for Christians? How can we have these conversations in ways that honor God and seek to work for His glory?
I keep coming back to grace. Having honest and open conversations about sensitive topics is hard but necessary. It requires us to be able to give and receive grace. My thoughts when I think about how the church can begin to live out that grace surrounding complex and tough issues are focused around four things we each can do:
• Decide that you will use your strengths. We are each gifted uniquely and oftentimes, we find that we want to contribute to hard conversations but don’t know how. I am an outgoing person who loves to talk. So what this looks like for me is that I try to use my gift of talking combined with my knowledge of diversity and inclusion to help facilitate difficult conversations. I have had open and honest dialogues about race, about inclusion and about how the church should be talking about these issues more times than I can count. I know that talking alone won’t solve things but I also know that it is a start.
• Be open and vulnerable. If you are going to have real talk about race and about the church, you have to go deep and be open to that. What does it mean that many churches are more segregated than our schools? Should the church be expected to speak out about some of the chaos that is happening in our world? What is the right response? Can we truly worship together across all our differences? These are hard questions - and there are not necessarily “right” answers. I have had to be open to sharing my experiences as a black woman. I have had to acknowledge and share that for me (and for many, but certainly not all, black women I know) my race always trumps my gender. I know from these conversations that many of my friends who are white women don’t feel that way.
• Guard your heart. I know, I know. I just told you to be open and vulnerable. But that does not mean you do not guard your heart. “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23). What I mean by guard your heart, is to make sure that while doing the work, you are caring for yourself. One thing that many people of color often deal with is the feeling that they constantly have to be the “teacher” to others on issues regarding race. I have also dealt with this and while I typically love and appreciate honest, real conversations surrounding race, there are times where I just am not in the mood to be a teacher. There are days that are hard and discouraging and I know that during those days, I have to guard my heart and set boundaries. I can not be everything to everyone on all days and so sometimes I respectfully tap out in order to maintain my sanity.
• Assume positive intent. This last one is one of the most important. When choosing to engage on tricky issues, you have to assume that the people you are engaging with (people who also love Jesus and who probably love you) have positive intent. If you start the conversation with that assumption, it can be a game changer.
Grace is such a gift. When choosing to build God’s kingdom, it is so important to not just deal with the easy things. When we are dealing with challenging conversations, the only way we can honor Him is by employing grace.
Courtney Carter is a former lawyer who leads diversity and inclusion initiatives at a large law firm. Courtney loves running marathons, traveling and food. She blogs about her love of running and food at eatprayrundc.com and can be found on Instagram and Twitter @eatprayrundc.