Much of our communication is broken, and it has been broken since the serpent’s deception and Adam and Eve’s subsequent denial and blame shifting. Though we’ll never see it perfected on this side of glory, we are called to be good stewards of our words. This is admittedly one of my greater weaknesses and the cause of so many of my interpersonal conflicts. My friend once warned me, “Grace, your words can either build up kingdoms or destroy them.” Years later, the residual sting of her warning stays with me still, and, thankfully, it reorients me back to the truth.
Today, I want to bring attention to the role of our communication in the race discussion within the evangelical church, given its recent tension. I haven’t contributed to the discussion, and, quite honestly, I don’t have much substance to offer. I have, however, been reading and learning from others. In the process, I’ve been disheartened by some of the language and attitudes used, those characterized by anger, pride, and insensitivity. As one who is no better or worse in her sinfulness and righteousness—both of which Christ has answered for you and me—I want to share a few questions that I consider in my ongoing struggle with communication. I hope that these questions will encourage more charity on both sides of the conversation about race as we listen to each other’s hurts.
1. What am I trying to protect?
What part of me is threatened to the extent that I cannot listen well to another? One unfortunate casualty in these racial discussions is the threat of our individualities in the face of generalizations. Perhaps as followers of Christ, we feel unjustly grouped into a broad accusation for which we are not at fault, at least not like certain others of our skin tones. What am I trying to vindicate? If I am angered by someone else’s words, what priority is at stake, and is my priority more important than the priority of a hurting brother or sister? There is wisdom to James’s exhortation, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20). Are there idols to confront, namely my pride, self-righteousness, or opinion?
2. What am I actually hearing?
Am I listening for fallacies to destroy or am I tracking to understand the heart of someone else’s words? Here, I refer to a post I wrote on metaphors:
When two people are involved in a disagreement, how they view that argument will profoundly alter the way they approach it. For most people, the dominant metaphor is ARGUMENT IS WAR, and so it follows that in a disagreement, both parties are opponents with one goal: to destroy the other argument. However, if ARGUMENT IS DANCE, the inference structures change entirely. The two people in disagreement are partners, not enemies thirsty for blood and glory; and as such partners in dance, all strivings will be selfless—neither will set up defenses and launch attacks for self-serving victory. Instead, both will make up for their partner’s lack and both will work to make their partner look as good as possible.
Metaphors are windows into a vast world. The windows we choose will frame our perceptions, and these perceptions will define our life approaches. Essentially, change the metaphor and you’ll change the narrative. Which metaphors will we choose? Which narratives will inform our lives?
Given the potency of metaphors and perceptions, which window can I honestly say I am looking through, war or dance? How can I rather carefully track what my brother or sister is saying despite our broken communication so that I am neither merely hearing, thereby reacting to reactions, nor listening intentionally for fallacies and errors? How can I make up for my brother or sister’s lack (blind spots) or work to make his or her understanding look as good as possible? How can I utilize this tracking tool toward mutual understanding, encouragement, and growth?
3. Who are we both?
Following ARGUMENT IS WAR, in my determination to win the disagreement, have I forgotten that the brother or sister speaking on the opposing side still bears the image of God? Have I then forgotten that we in fact stand on the same side, the side of the body of Christ? Whether I’m unable to respect his or her statement, can I yet respect him or her on account of the image of God? This race discussion may feel more like a race war at times (e.g., claims of either the imposition of white guilt or the mishandling of Scripture for an advantage). Yet to see less than the image of God is to ignore or deny the redemptive work of Christ in that soul. Have I forgotten the real enemy and so devalued my brother or sister in the process, neglecting to care for his or her own hurts?
4. What is my actual investment in this?
Am I in this discussion to simply state my opinion and leave, or am I in it for more? If I’m in it for more, can I say I’m patient? I don’t mean patient with people, though that’s certainly important. Am I patient with the main issue and its ongoing dialogue, hopeless as it might seem to my limited sight? What does it even mean to be patient? It means to wait, but it doesn’t just wait. It endures, but it doesn’t just endure. To be patient means to be in it for the long haul. It’s as much a willing commitment as it is a character. It’s humility, knowing more than my time is required. This race dialogue is happening, though frustratingly most times. Am I willing to sit and listen before casting a dismissive judgment, before being emotionally reductive with my words?
We are all suffering here; we are all here together in the harsh reality of the fall. Yet now is the time to engage this discussion on race and reconciliation, for our brothers and sisters are hurting. The goal is to take the story of racial injustice along with its pains and bring it closer and closer to the story of Christ, the full story of the gospel, and we can do this in part by stewarding our communication well.
 From Lakoff and Turner’s More than Cool Reason: A Field Guide to Poetic Metaphor