The Devil is in the Disunity

Social media and headline news confirm: these are troubling times in our country. "Racial tension" is high and emotions run deep in history, stereotypes and presuppositions. For a while I have been watching it all unfold with an ever increasing concern for our culture and the people who are getting hit again and again so close to home.

If you do not know me personally, let me explain why I say I have been "watching it unfold". For better or worse, I am in a unique position in that I would appear to be an outsider. I have not experienced racism in America the way so many of my black brothers and sisters in Christ have. I also have yet to be accused of racism any time that I have had discussions on the subject. Why is this? Again, for better or worse, I am in a unique position and I believe it is due to the color of my skin. I happen to be half Filipino, half Caucasian. In fact, I am half Filipino, half Irish-American. My mother was born and raised in Manila, and my father's ancestry can be traced back to Ireland within a few generations. Thus, my "look" has remained somewhat of a mystery to those who cannot guess or do not think it appropriate to guess where it comes from. I have never minded this. I actually did not grow up in the States, but overseas in Thailand, and the fact that I looked more Thai than American was a blessing I did not take for granted. Most of my friends were Thai and I was able to learn to speak, read and write the language far easier than many of my missionary kid peers as a result. Now that I am grown and have lived in the States for about a decade, I have observed the growing narrative of racial unrest at somewhat of a loss as to where I fit in. I probably do not stand alone in this feeling. Mixed race marriages, diverse families through adoption, immigrants to the U.S. and their children who exclusively grow up here– these are just a few examples that have begun to tear down the normal stereotypes in interesting and encouraging ways. However, most would agree that racial tension today has become so emotionally charged that it is hard to wade through it wisely. I would like to share just a few things that I have set as guidelines for myself:

Beware of generalization.

I have noticed how quickly people will make assumptions about a huge group of people based on their personal experiences or the things that they read in the news. As an example, when I read a comment such as "all (or in some circles, 'most') police officers are racist" I have to ask myself, "can that really be true?" Consider this: I am not a young black man who has ever been pulled over for seemingly no reason. I have never had to fear that if I get questioned for something simple I might end up in jail for the night. Worse still, I have never found myself at the wrong place at the wrong time and been falsely accused simply because of my skin color. Admittedly, all of these statements in and of themselves are presuppositions against police. However, based on what I have heard from the black community I must lend some thought to it. Then on the other hand, I see the way that police officers put their lives on the line protecting our community (sometimes with fatal results) and I have a hard time applying such a horrible label to them all. Here is a second example: "if people would simply listen to police and comply, there would not be an issue". As simple and straight-forward as this statement sounds, I must ask myself, "but is that really true either?" All of my personal interactions with police have been fairly pleasant. The first time I got a ticket I was a little freaked out that the officer proceeded to follow me for a mile to make sure (I surmised later) that I got the message and never went over 50 in a 35 mile zone in my life ever again. But other than that, every officer I have spoken to has been respectful and helpful. I have also read countless social media testimonials (not very reliable, I know, but this is the world we live in) of people who cannot fathom a bad outcome with police because of all the interactions that they have had that went well. And yet... there are too many stories of violent interactions between police and minorities that such a blanket statement just isn't good enough. Therefore, I have realized how important it is to identify and question any general statement that I hear in order to attempt to see all sides before jumping to conclusions. 

Remember that People are complex creatures that do not fit perfectly into boxes.

I believe it is to our detriment when we immediately assign people to a specific category simply based on race when we attempt to reason with each other. It is short sighted to assume that everyone who looks like you must have your same point of view. And it is not fair to assume that everyone who does not look like you would be incapable of understanding. What results from this are people are attacked for their opinion simply because they do not adhere to their assigned place within the system, and their individuality outside of race is disregarded. And while I am certainly not complaining about my own position (seemingly) from the outside looking in, I have on occasion felt like my point of view is simply irrelevant due to my appearance. So before I even begin I remind myself that each person I speak to has their own rich history beyond their race. That white man who gets accused of being privileged could have been born to a poor, underprivileged family. That black woman who gets accused of denying her race could be married to a white man who treats her with respect. That young black kid who gets accused of being a thug could be a smart and ambitious straight A student. We are all of us born into a broken world, each with our own sin burden to carry until we find freedom in Christ Jesus.

For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.
— 1 Samuel 16:7

Do not be deceived.

Amidst the opinionated and hurtful comments online, the rioting and looting, the tragic and senseless killings and the fear and divisiveness, there is a host of evil that is rejoicing at our pain. The devil LOVES to see hate and disunity in the place of love and the saving Gospel of Jesus. It is so important to be prepared armed with the word of God and the strength and wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.
— Ephesians 6:10-13

Satan is clever. He is able to twist even the most well-meaning people into tearing each other apart by distracting them with arrogance, selfishness, ignorance, and lies. He loves capitalizing on news stories that will assuredly feed the fire and generate additional hate. So while I am hardly disciplined to the point of consistency on this, I see the importance of beginning any emotionally charged discussion firstly on my knees in prayer.

Know that healing is in relationships.

As is customary, I as a human usually only see about 2 inches in front of my face. I am so quick to get discouraged, offended, or just fed up with difficult subjects that I either begin generalizing, separate people out into nice little boxes that make sense to me, or I let Satan control the conversation. And then there are days where I check out completely. I almost didn't write this blog post out of fear that someone would misunderstand, get angry, or worse yet, make me feel guilty for contributing to the problem. But then I read of people of all races and backgrounds coming together after the terrible shooting at the prominent black church in Charleston, South Carolina. I see the community rallying around the family of Deputy Darren H. Goforth. And one of my favorite recent finds on Instagram, Officer Tommy Norman, is a wonderful example of how building relationships with the community that he protects is the best (and possibly the only true) way to create trust. I am convinced that while public discourse and discussion is important and can be thought provoking and insightful, the heart can only truly be changed through relationships with those we do not understand. All the statistics, rallies, protests, hashtags and yes, blog posts, in the world cannot change the heart like relationships can.

Is not the Gospel story such a beautiful example? God, being rich in mercy and love for us while we were dead in our sin– our misconceptions, hatred, racism, murderous and prideful nature enslaving us to an eternity apart from Him, sent Jesus to die and redeem us. Our relationship with Jesus Christ is what redeems us. Not how good we are or how well we reasoned our way in, but our faith and dependence on a living savior who gave us grace when we were not deserving. And the story does not end there.

In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.
— 2 Corinthians 5:19-20

Not only are we given grace, but we are then appointed to be ambassadors for Christ so that others may know and follow Christ through our example. We are entrusted with the message that God longs to reconcile the lost, misguided, even the racist, back to him. I do not know about you but I am completely blown away by this. It means that every relationship that I will ever have has purpose. It means that every conversation I have should be driven by my goal to deliver a message of love and reconciliation. And that is powerful perspective for believers who are working to improve the racial divide. 

In closing...

If you are like me, you often find yourself feeling angry and confused when reading, hearing, or talking about the issues surrounding race. I only really touched on tensions between the black and white community as well as police interactions but I know that there are countless other examples where racism and hatred are pulsing. I pray that you will find peace in the relationships that you cultivate and the knowledge that while evil is real, the armor of God is your very real protection.