Commentary: On Matters of Race and Justice, Listening Isn’t a One-Way Street

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Why we shouldn’t divide the church into those who “get it” and those who don’t.

In early June, with protests erupting around the country and George Floyd’s dying words still hauntingly fresh, The Washington Post published a column with a pointed headline that surely spoke for many who were fed up with seeing racism denied or minimized: “The best white statement to make right now may be to shut up and listen.”

Glaring episodes of racial injustice often inspire renewed appeals for white people to humble themselves, tamp down the defensiveness, and be open to what their black neighbors are saying. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a more reasonable, unobjectionable request. Listening well is the barest requirement of basic human kindness, especially when those around you are hurting. When black people volunteer their personal experiences of prejudice, their perspectives on structural racism, or their raw fear of a loved one being gunned down by police, they deserve far more than stony indifference or mulish combativeness.

For Christians, the call to listen carries added force, not least when it comes from brothers and sisters in Christ. After all, biblical people are nothing if not listening people. As James instructs us, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (1:19). Proverbs abounds with warnings against running one’s mouth while closing one’s mind and ears. “Fools find no pleasure in understanding,” according to Proverbs 18:2, “but delight in airing their own opinions.” By contrast, Scripture commends those who embrace a righteous rebuke: “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid” (Prov. 12:1).

Seen this way, cries of “It’s time to listen” …

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