“Everyone thinks their opinion is right” said Mark Twain, “if they didn’t, they’d get a new one.”
Have you ever read the comments section below an online news article about the presidential election? Have you ever read those nasty comments and thought to yourself, “Brilliant point, I guess I’ll have to relinquish my opposing point of view and adopt your better ideas”?
Fact is, there’s a reason we humans have a resistance to change. To admit a need for change is to admit that we’re presently doing it wrong. Admitting you’re doing it wrong is never a welcome act.
Have you ever had someone criticize the way you speak about, interact with, or generally think about people of other races?
Suddenly, we’re not talking about having a difference of opinion on politics or pro football teams; we’re talking about being a racist. RACIST. It’s one of the ugliest monickers we can dish out in modern society. Bottom line, for us to think that we can easily have a corrective conversation about race when such a terrible label is at stake is…well, naive.
There are few safe spaces to have these conversations and be challenged in a healthy way. The sad part is that those comments lines are exactly where people are going to sort out some of the most complex conversations culture is having!
People are starving for a healthy space to have these conversations. We need help. We need information. We need guidance. We need a place to vent.
In other words, this means that we, the Church, must find a way to be excellent at having these kinds of conversations. Maybe it’s time we, as Christian leaders, quit trying to win arguments and started architecting environments of change. These are non-anxious spaces where people feel safe enough to let their guard down and yet challenged to stop thinking the same things they always have. These are places where laughter is encouraged, confession is required, stories are shared, and grace abounds as people are given the benefit of the doubt. In a word: Church.
What does all of this have to do with making new disciples? Well, I’m glad you asked. Remember that at its root, a disciple is a “learner,” a follower of Christ dedicated to the never-ending process of growing more like Christ. Oftentimes “new disciples” are made by engaging with the people outside our churches. But sometimes we need to start right at home. We need to look at our own hearts and habits and, yes, our own racist tendencies. For those of us who has been sitting the pews for a few decades and thought we had this discipleship thing pretty well figured out, this can feel very new, and probably pretty uncomfortable. Rather than run away from these feelings, let’s embrace them, because it’s exactly how most of the people who are just beginning their faith journey are feeling. And frankly, in the humbling process of realizing that we haven’t exactly completed our journey of discipleship, we’ll become far more approachable to people who are just beginning the process. In other words, people will want to join us rather than avoid us. The Church could use some of that.
The fact is this: racism is real, and rampant, and sneaky – and everyone already thinks their opinion is right. The Church can be a place to have a better conversation. The Church can be an environment of change.