I can’t change History

I Can’t Change U.S. History, But I Can…

By: Deepak Reju

I’m convinced that the gospel asks us to reach out across divided lines, different skin colors, and diverse backgrounds and cultures—to educate, ask, listen, and understand.

Let me explain.

Glory, Love, and Real Differences

Christian love demands that I not stay stuck in my little world, collaborating with my typical friends (many of whom look and sound like me), feeling or doing whatever is most comfortable to me.

The greatest gathering of diversity and love will be in glory, when people from every tribe, tongue, and nation will gather with one focus—to worship the Lord God Almighty (Rev. 19:1-10). When there is no longer sin, this is what we’ll look like—white, black, brown, and every skin color conceivable, all enjoying each other and God…together. Beautiful, isn’t it?

Now, rewind the movie reel. How do we get there?

Christian love insists that I build bridges with people who are not like me (John 4:9; Luke 10:25-37). I step out of my comfortable world and move towards those who are different.

In a world overwhelmed with division, Christ walked through ethnic and social barriers to tell sinners and sufferers about Himself. If that is what Christ is like, what about you?

Just think about any gathering—who do you typically talk to? Who do you spend time with? Now, add in: Who in the room do you not know, and who is different than you? If they speak differently, look differently, dress differently, or act differently, how does that make you feel? When is the last time you had a conversation with them? What stops you from reaching out? Fear? Comfort? Busyness? What excuses come to mind? What would Christlikeness in these settings look like for you?

The gospel aims to disturb and disrupt the comfortable. The relationally cold and racially insensitive can’t stay in the shadow of the cross.

One Step on a Long Journey

My heart breaks when I hear my African-American brothers and sisters describe their experience of racism and injustice, particularly because it’s so different than mine.

I’ve never feared a police officer.
I’ve never been called a racial slur.
I’ve never had to warn my children what to say if a police officer cross-examines them or pulls them over.
I’ve never had a family member lynched, beaten, or belittled because of the color of their skin.
I’ve never feared to go on a jog in my neighborhood.
I’ve never been followed down the aisle by a store clerk.

I’m just one person. What difference can my life make? I’ll never be a Martin Luther King Jr. or Abraham Lincoln, whose lives changed the course of United States history.

But that’s not an excuse for me to do nothing. I can protest. (And the right to peaceful protesting in our country is a good thing.) I can write a letter to the newspaper. I can speak out on behalf of the poor and oppressed. I can care for victims. I can donate money and time. Maybe I can’t change the world or the events of United States history, but I can do something. I can affect those in my life and in my neighborhood.

What else can I do? How can I demonstrate love?  Here’s my suggestion: start a conversation with an African-American friend.

Educate. If you are white, the temptation is to go to an African-American friend and treat them like an expert in all matters black. Don’t do that. It puts pressure on them to be a one-stop-shop to explain a complex issue with a long history. First things first—go learn about racism by reading, watching documentaries or movies, and visiting a museum.[1] Educate yourself. Think about racism and the black experience with a host of resources available to the public. And if you do so, you’ll ask better questions to your African-American friend when it comes time to have a conversation.[2]

Ask. After you’ve educated yourself, ask an African-American friend about their experiences. Start with one or two basic questions: What’s it like to be an African-American man or woman in the U.S.? What was your childhood like? What kind of racism have you experienced? For someone different than you to ask you about your struggles is an act of patient love. And because it happens so infrequently, it will (sadly) be surprising to them.

Listen. Take note of what they say. Give them your undivided attention. Put away your cell phone. Don’t argue. Don’t debate their point of view. Just listen. Their story is distinct from yours. So listen carefully. Their story is a reflection of an image-bearer living in a fallen world and fighting to live by faith.

Understand. Your overarching goal is simple—grow in understanding them. What are their greatest delights? What does beauty look like in their world? How do evil and sin chase them down? What burdens do they have that are distinct from yours? What makes them tick? What is the sun their planets revolve around? Who is God to them? Is He good, loving, and merciful, or mean and unjust? Where have they been wronged? What do justice and mercy look like to them? What’s a safe harbor for them?

I can’t alter United States history, but I can change things—one conversation at a time, one relationship at a time. And that’s a good place to start.

Questions for Reflection

  1. How can you grow in your understanding of racism? What can you read or watch, and who can you talk to?
  2. What implications can you assert based on the fact that God, our great Creator, made us all as image-bearers?

[1] The movie Just Mercy is available in June 2020 for free viewing in a number of venues. Reading: The Warmth of Other Suns and Just Mercy (the book). For museums: The National Museum of African American History & Culture (Washington, DC), The National Memorial for Peace & Justice and the Legacy Museum (Montgomery, AL).

[2] Thanks to pastor Isaac Adams for making this point to me.

About the Author

Deepak Reju, serves as the Pastor of Biblical Counseling

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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