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How can I not be unintentionally racist?

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I was challenged in a devotional today, but really don’t have an idea how to resolve the problem on my own.

One of my mentors suggested that I complete a three-day reading plan on YouVersion titled Tony Evans Explores Racial Reconciliation. Today’s message really hit home.

It isn’t enough to repent of the sin of racism, he wrote, we must develop authentic friendships with different races and cultures in order to serve communities.

Over the years, I have tried to shed racial stereotypes and understand that every person everywhere, regardless of race, has a story to tell, is on a unique journey, and is constantly under attack by Satan. Still, I sometimes catch myself making stupid blanket statements, especially on illegal immigration.

After all, if I was born in another country and I desired a better life for my family and systematic corruption made it nearly impossible to play by the rules, I imagine that I would eventually get fed up and take matters in my own hand.

But, Tony’s comment on developing authentic friendships has been gnawing at my conscience.

No authentic friendships

I have few authentic friendships to begin with, which is pretty terrible considering I am eight weeks from my 60th birthday. I have lost more friends over the past 10 years than I have made. It’s pretty shameful.

Of the few genuine friendships I do have, absolutely zero involve people from other races or cultures.

So, how can I possibly think that I can even begin to understand where people are coming from in their journeys, if I never have an opportunity to hear their stories first-hand?

Granted, I screwed everything up by abandoning a life in Wisconsin for a life in Arizona, and I left behind a number of friendships in 2009. Then I abandoned my life in Arizona for a nomadic lifestyle after I bought a motorhome in 2014 and traveled the country for three years.

After I sold the RV, I split my time between Wisconsin and Texas for several years, but never stayed long enough in one place to put down roots or forge authentic friendships. Today, I technically live in Arizona once again, but venture out for weeks at a time to visit my daughters in Texas, Illinois and Wisconsin.

I am the epitome of a loner, and loners can’t help but be racists because they are never exposed to people of other races and cultures. Their entire worldviews are formed by what they see of television, and then apply those stereotypes to entire groups of people.

Where’s the church?

The Christian church could do much more to help bridge these gaps and encourage people to form genuine relationships with people from different cultures.

I could do more myself. But, like I said at the outset, I don’t have a clue how to start doing it on my own. I’m sure it is as simple as extending a hand and saying “hello” — at least it used to work that way.

Don’t get me started on the annual church “missions” trip to some foreign country to help build a wall or lead a summer camp when the missionaries don’t even speak the native language.

Nor are community outreaches to collect Christmas gifts for poor children enough to bridge the divide plaguing America today. Nor is spending a Saturday wrapping gifts with a variety of people, or even a weekend retreat bringing men and women of different races together.

Like Tony Evans noted, “Churches only gather with other races when we have to. Church reconciliation is nothing more than watered down sociology, sprinkled with talk of Jesus to call it biblical.”

We have more in common than we realize

Why is it so hard for pastors to get together to identify critical needs within their shared communities, then invite their congregations to join together to address those problems?

In communities like Phoenix and Dallas, people wouldn’t have to travel more than 50 blocks to encounter people of other cultures. Even in the most remote areas of Wisconsin, people wouldn’t likely have to travel more than 30 miles to interact with others who are vastly different from themselves.

In bigger cities, every predominantly white church should be able to forge a relationship with a sister church in another part of town predominantly attended by people of different cultures. After all, we’re all brothers and sisters in Christ, created in the image of God Almighty.

Together, they could do community service projects in each other’s neighborhoods. What’s it take to paint classrooms, pick up trash, do handiwork for seasoned citizens, etc?

At the very least, people could worship together, enjoy a faith-based message or listen to some testimonies, after which they could enjoy some fellowship. Care would need to be taken to ensure it wasn’t allowed to turn into a typical family reunion where members of one nuclear family sit and communicate only with people they already know.

When people are encouraged to share their backgrounds and struggles, I suspect the gap between cultures would close pretty quickly. We’d find out we had more in common than we have differences.

I grew up in a single-parent home, fell into addictions as a teen, lost my father before I turned 21, wandered aimlessly for years, raised three daughters, was divorced and still struggle with my faith sometimes. I wonder if any of my black, brown, red or yellow siblings in Christ have experienced the same situations?

When I return to Arizona later this summer, I plan to intentionally seek opportunities to do more cross-cultural activities. Who knows, I might even forge a few new friendships in the process.

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Greg Gerber

A native of Wisconsin who moved to Arizona in 2009, Greg Gerber is a DODO -- Dad of Daughters Only -- to three grown daughters. He worked as a journalist for many years before pursuing a career as a faith-based writer, author, coach and speaker. Greg is the author of Pornocide: How Lust is Killing Your Faith, Stealing Your Joy and Destroying Your Life.

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