On Thursday night, November 20, 2014, President Barack Obama announced a decision to take executive action affecting millions of undocumented immigrants currently residing in the United States. Then just four days later, on Monday night, November 24, 2014, a Grand Jury in Ferguson, MO, released its decision exonerating Officer Darren Wilson of any culpability in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown.
Not surprisingly, in both instances, social media erupted in a firestorm of polarized opinion, pain and outrage. And into these waters jumped Christians, everywhere: pastors, professors, and parishioners, bloggers, authors, journalists, community organizers and activists, alike. As the pastor of a multi-ethnic and economically diverse congregation of faith I, too, felt compelled to speak; and with my words, to help mitigate extremes, and promote peaceful dialogue.
In one sense pastors of multi-ethnic churches are no different than pastors of homogeneous churches. We experience the same joys and sorrows, the same highs and lows, the same challenges of ministry. On the other hand pastors of multi-ethnic churches must navigate an entirely different, additional, set of obstacles concerning race and class; those that will present themselves in the most troubling of ways, at the most critical of moments, in diverse people attempting to otherwise walk, work, and worship God together as one.
In these days, then, multi-ethnic church pastors are experiencing things similar to me: in acknowledging pain, in providing perspective, in promoting peace from the pulpit or via social media, etc., we are finding ourselves misinterpreted, misrepresented, and misunderstood by some within our churches, by some of our closest friends, even by members of our own families. And unlike bloggers and professors, we are not afforded the luxury of speaking out apart from accountability. Rather, our words are judged up close and personal by the men and women we serve from day to day, the people in our pews.
So, How should multi-ethnic church pastors respond to such issues and situations as they arise?
1. Offer a fair and balanced perspective, reminding people to “not merely look out for (their) own personal interests, but also the interests of others,” (Philippians 2:4). That said do not feel as if you must speak to every issue or situation that arises.
2. Take considerable time to measure your words before posting so as to avoid misunderstanding. In other words, do not assume your heart and motives will be perceived by readers. In cases where there is a greater risk or potential for misstep, first run your thoughts by a spouse or trusted colleague before making them public.
3. Avoid endorsing politicians, political parties or platforms. Similarly avoid endorsing the extreme opinions or positions of others, one way or another. More often than not extreme positions are driven by personality, personal preferences, past pain or experiences that can keep people from a more balanced, productive, discussion.
4. Lead others to pray for “kings and all those in authority” (as expected of Timothy by Paul; I Timothy 2:2, emphasis mine).
5. Be a peacemaker (Matthew 5:9). Interestingly this is only beatitude in which the reward is identification with the Son of God; and the only one followed by three verses expecting persecution (Matthew 5:10-12). Stated another way, do all you can to avoid fanning the flames of division.
6. As in politics, remember that all crisis is local. Keep in mind that while it’s easy to opine form a distance, ultimately the people you lead and others close to you will want to know, What does this mean for me, for us, and for our church?
7. Ultimately, let your work in building a healthy multi-ethnic and economically diverse church be your primary response and answer to the problem of race in America.
As multi-ethnic church pastors and leaders, let us strive wherever there is injury, to extend pardon; wherever despair, hope; wherever darkness, light; wherever hatred, love ... as did Francis of Assisi; as did Teresa of Calcutta; as do our churches, themselves; as does our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.