Dear First Pres,

On Tuesday afternoon I had the privilege of gathering with about ten other pastors to talk about racism in our country. We were a racially mixed group, so we used the time primarily for listening to one another so that we might increase our understanding of how racism is at play in our own city and churches. We started, however, by meditating on Romans 12:9-21.  

These powerful verses, building upon the foundation of the Gospel as communicated in Romans 1-11, talk about God’s call on the people of God. Paul, the author, exhorts his readers to live according to the Gospel of Jesus. I hope you’ll take a moment to read it. But just in case you can’t, here are a few of Paul’s words: “Let love be genuine … Outdo one another in showing honor … Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer … Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight … If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all … do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” 

I was so grateful to start with these words because the Lord used them to prick my heart about verse 15: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” So often, we enter conversations like these in a defensive posture. I don’t know about you, but whenever I’m in a defensive posture I’m usually more concerned with vindicating my own righteousness than actually hearing anything the other person is saying. In fact, when I’m feeling defensive, I usually don’t think much about the other person. He or she becomes an enemy or an attack or an idea that I need to fend off or defeat. In other words, I dehumanize others as we are all so wont to do in conflictual situations.

So on this day, and in this conversation, I asked the Lord to help me truly listen to my brothers around the table, even if what they had to say was hard for me to hear. I asked the Lord to give me empathy … not just sympathy. I asked the Lord to help me truly rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. And the Lord answered my prayer. It wasn’t stuff I hadn’t ever heard, but it was from people I hadn’t taken the time to hear. I’m so grateful to have heard their stories, their frustration, their pain, and their fear. I’m so grateful that they were willing to hear me. The only way that we’re (the Church of Fresno/Clovis) going to show our city the Kingdom way of community is if we learn to outdo one another in showing honor by listening with empathy to one another no matter the color of our skin, the way we vote in November, the income number on our tax returns, the theological particulars of our churches, or anything else that might divide us.

I know there’s plenty more to reconciling the racial divide (or any divide) in our city, but this is an important start. Through faith in Christ, we are a new creation, called to be ambassadors of reconciliation for His glory. May we start today by rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep.