I’m no expert on race relations. Far from it. But I am experienced in messing up when it comes to race.
As a white woman who spent most of her life in Mississippi, I should have been prepared for God to expose some blind spots. After all, for years He’s continually peeled back layer after layer of how I selfishly see the world around me. First, He started by letting me see other people at all. When I was young, He pointed out the girl who did not quite fit in at elementary school. As a shy adult, I felt Him urge me to go up to a church visitor and introduce myself. After I recently moved to another state, He forced me to be the new person, understanding what it feels like to be unsure of social cues, blushing when I stood alone at a church event, or dreading more small talk while hoping it would yield a friend I could share a cup of coffee with.
Lately God is peeling back another layer, showing me how I don’t love my black neighbors well.
Wanting to Help
Weeks ago, I watched the news of George Floyd. I heard the helicopters swirling over nearby protest marches. News like his death had bothered me before, yet those stories seemed to be just that, stories that happened “somewhere else.” The coverage of George Floyd’s death felt different. Instead of my usual reaction of thinking wow, that’s terrible or talking about it with my husband after work, I felt restless and like I should do something. But I didn’t know what.
God gently peeled back to the next layer of sin—my lack of empathy. He convicted me to check in on my black friends. And, I felt ashamed I did not have many black friends to check on. One friend was back in Mississippi. We had served together in church ministry. After I moved to Texas, she checked on me if she heard of fires or storms happening in my new home state. I asked myself now, why was I not checking on her in the wake of all this?
Our friendship had included talking about race in how we did church ministry, but I had not connected the dots of thinking of her in context of the national news. As a mother of a black son. A wife of a black man. The things I would do for any friend— call, text, write, give space to process, make banana bread for— did not occur to me as it would if my same black friend had suffered a miscarriage, gotten a cancer diagnosis, or lost her mother. I did not understand how the knee on George Floyd affected my friends of color. I was a fool for not seeing it. It would be unloving to not reach out.
Then, I went to fear. What to say? What if I made things worse? I had not read enough books about race in the church. I regretted my failure to educate myself, and I felt painfully unprepared to love my black friends.
Thankfully, my mother hammered in us to write sympathy notes even if it felt awkward. That habit kicked in, making it easier to overcome my fear of saying the wrong thing. I knew saying something was better than nothing. So, I typed an email to my black sister, held my breath, and hit send.
How are you doing?
Her reply was honest. She was hurting. My sweet friend who laughs with me, who prays alongside me about our kids, who responds patiently to me, was sad. That’s when the George Floyd news story got personal for me. I saw the events of George Floyd’s murder in a different light.
I saw it through my friend’s eyes.
You may feel helpless or angry or hopeless that the world will ever change. Maybe like me, you see latent racism when you thought you were really trying to love others like God wants you to. Perhaps you are just confused when you see social media posts and the comments that ensue. What’s a white church lady to do?
Thankfully, God gives us His Word.
Those Who’ve Been with Jesus
In the days after I reached out to my friend, I was reading my way through Acts. A passage hit home for me. “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus. And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they could say nothing” (Acts 4:13-15).
That’s it! I am untrained. I need boldness, but I have no confidence. Yet, Peter and John’s boldness was not grounded in education or training. What was different about them? The religious leaders recognized two things: Peter and John “had been with Jesus” and that lame guy was on his feet!
So, my first question for us as church women in our workplaces and carpools, in our social circles and civic clubs, in our homes and bible studies, is this: in how we respond to all the racial tension around us, will people notice we’ve “been with Jesus?” Will others recognize a security in Christ that frees us to be wrong and repentant? Will others see patience as we learn at different rates and choose different modes of action to combat injustice? Will our conversations reflect Jesus’s manner of healthy confrontation or will our words be defensive or harsh?
Being with Jesus makes us gentle, brave, wise, discerning, straightforward. Not defensive, accusatory, impatient. Being with Jesus happens alone in our closets as well as in our pews alongside our church family. After all, Jesus was “with” individuals one-on-one (eating dinner with Mary and Martha) as well “with” people (teaching in the synagogue).
What does “being with Jesus” look like for a white church lady like me?
Maybe it’s sitting in the uncomfortable position of lament as I recognize racism I’ve been blind to. Perhaps it’s grabbing a book or listening to a podcast for the first time about racism and the church’s role in history. Maybe I start a dialogue with a family member. Could it be to show up at a local city council meeting? Even Paul took advantage of Roman laws to spread his gospel message (Acts 25). Does it include asking friends of color, how are you doing?
Being with Jesus also goes beyond what I do as an individual. One thing I learned growing up in the church is that God is a covenant God. Yes, he saves me as an individual, but He also saves a people for Himself. He works in groups whether it is the twelve sons of Jacob (Genesis 49) or the Philippian jailer’s household (Acts 16:31). Therefore, some of our sins go beyond our individual guilt and to the collective, the guilt of our covenant community. So, maybe being “with Jesus” includes a pastoral prayer like Daniel’s (Daniel 9:1-19). When it comes to the topic of race, do we ask ourselves in a women’s Bible study or sermon series if we as a people are forgetting our first love (Rev. 2:4), becoming impotent (Rev. 3:2), or growing lukewarm (Rev 3:15)? Over and over in these passages, our Lord Jesus commands the churches, not just the individuals, to “repent.”
God’s Power is Greater
Secondly, what is the power you trust in to make change? Maybe you feel as I do, that your words and actions will not make much of a difference. You change diapers, or manage a small business, or drive your aging parents to their doctor appointments. What power can an ordinary woman offer to heal the harsh realities of today’s world?
Maybe your church is in a small town with few generations left to call it home and you wonder what kind of power would a shrinking church have? The answer is simple: it is the same power that makes a lame man walk. God’s power is greater than a political power, a government program, or a social fix. He may use those institutions, but the “make the lame walk” kind of healing comes from God, and He loves to use women and churches like us to do it.
Just as He used those uneducated disciples in the lame man’s cure, God’s power changes the unchangeable around us. The darkness we find lodged in our hearts, in our homes, and in our society cannot stand against His resurrection power (Ephesians 1:19). And, as crazy as it sounds, He commands His people to be the front line of this healing power. He uses a forgiven group of sinful men and women to take His justice and love to the “least of these” (Matt. 25:40). The world right now is not a gracious place to learn, change, or grow. Yet, He has given His Bride, the Church, the joy, privilege, and ability to offer the world a place of miraculous healing and ultimate redemption.
One email, one hard conversation, one cup of coffee at a time.
About the Author:
Susan Tyner recently moved to Fort Worth from Oxford, MS, where she worked as the Coordinator of Women’s Ministry at Christ Presbyterian Church and enjoyed her role as Mid-South Regional Advisor. She continues to serve as an Advisor to the RUF Permanent Committee. Although this is a year of transition for Susan, she already enjoys Texas and looks forward to what God has planned for her family there. Her husband Lee and she have five children and an almost empty nest. Between unpacking boxes, you can find Susan cooking, dancing in a gym class, or doing (less) laundry.