Over the past few weeks, racism has been brought into focus both in the church and the culture at large. Within both Christian and secular counseling organizations, there has been an increasing awareness of the need for racial diversity, sensitivity, and cross-cultural awareness in the ways we counsel and understand the human condition.
How Can We Help Those Stung by the Pain of Racism?
We are called to walk with people who are experiencing pain and disappointment. Often times, we counsel through disappointments like an entrenched addiction, an unraveling marriage, or debilitating anxiety. Our goal is to help those we counsel see how to better understand the root causes of their pain and how to better glorify God by responding rightly to the difficulty they face. Recently, I have been thinking about how God calls me to respond as a pastor and biblical counselor when those I care for experience discrimination, racism, and prejudice.
In recent weeks, there has been a renewed disappointment as minorities often face the pain of living in a society where racism still impacts their lives in a negative and very personal way. How do we address the pain and disappointment of those who are experiencing ongoing racial strife? How do we wisely talk with those who have been stung by the pain of racism? How do we encourage someone to honor God in a context where they feel the sting of racial prejudice and bias? How do we help people who are afraid to interact with other races because they have either been hurt or misinformed by stereotypes? These are all questions that we will increasingly have to answer in our churches and personal friendships.
We must learn to address these issues because we are called to love our neighbor. We must better learn to speak the truth in love about racism, both to the racist and to those stung by the pain of racism. All genuine believers agree that racism is wrong and contrary to the message of the gospel. However, racial tension is increasingly coming into our churches and counseling offices and we need to learn to wisely guide those we care about.
Two Wrong Responses
- Avoiding the Conversation – It can be tempting to avoid this topic altogether. It can be awkward to talk about racism with someone from another race. However, because we have the full counsel of God, we can rely upon the wise insights found in the Scriptures. They will wisely guide our response to the sin of racism and the pain, fear, and anger that often accompany those stung by it.
- Minimizing the Pain – Racism is a wicked and hurtful perversion of God’s design. We can explain away the painful details of our counselee’s particular circumstance by citing progress made in civil rights as a whole. While this may be truthful, it is not helpful or caring. Those who have been hurt by racism need to know that we will walk alongside them and have taken the time to understand them. This is particularly true if you are counseling someone who is racially different from you.
Helpful Biblical Responses to Racism
- Listen to Their Story – Racism is real, the disappointment is painful, and counselors need to listen to their counselee’s story. Learn to listen well and you will be of help to those stung by the pain of racism (Prov. 18:13).
- Distinguish between Bitterness and Disappointment – Disappointment is natural, but bitterness is destructive. Racism does not dictate a bitter response, but instead, we must learn to act against (not just oppose) racism in love, while trusting God to bring justice (Heb. 12:15).
- Invite Other Races into Your Life – Racism is overcome by a loving community. Churches and biblical counselors must model loving, caring relationships with those of other races. Becoming friends with other races will also increase your ability as a counselor and help your church to better reach your whole community (1 Cor. 12:12).
- Serve Cross-Culturally – Racism is overcome as all races stand side-by-side and demonstrate the joy of unity. For instance, teaching a biblical counseling class of predominantly minority students gave me a new appreciation for and awareness of the struggles of children living so close to my home ( I Pet. 4:7-11).
- Remember the Eternal Perspective – Racism is a temporary disappointment. In Revelation, we are reminded that the eternal kingdom will not be separated by race or language, but will be brought together in unity and love. Racism, while painful and foolish, will not be part of our eternal home (Rom. 8:22-23).
Coming Face to Face with Prejudice
I remember standing in the parking lot of my local hardware store as the police began to search my car for drugs. A family friend, who was a young adult African American, was borrowing my car and supposedly made an abrupt lane change. After I got his text, I drove over to observe the police search and to voice my displeasure. I was angry, but my friend shrugged it off and explained that this is unfortunately a common experience of many African Americans in our county. He didn’t want me to address it further, as he was afraid it would lead to additional trouble. That day was a learning experience for me and it opened my eyes. We all have a responsibility to help.
How We Can Make Progress with Racism
Overcoming these difficulties will require relationships and listening, which is sorely needed as the church engages in these ongoing cultural conversations on race. These conversations are a development that pleases God and can help us serve the church well. While you may not feel comfortable engaging these issues yet, take the time to listen to those who have felt the sting of racism. Build a relationship with them and understand their frustration and pain. Jesus modeled for us that the need for these types of relationships and the current context is a great opportunity for all of us to grow more fully into the people He desires for us to be.
Questions for Reflection
Have you taken the time to listen to those around you who have been stung by the pain of racism? Are you ready to give a helpful answer that will bring them help and hope?