I’ve had many confrontations with brothers and sisters in Christ. If we are “one anothering” well and in fellowship, it is inevitable. A wise pastor who I love dearly once said to me, “Keiko, we won’t all be BFFs.” I definitely agree with him, however, christian brotherhood, sisterhood, and regard for all who are made in the image of God, is not optional. Disregard can easily be found in some of the phrases we use without thinking.
“You are strong, so I thought that you could handle ______.”
During confrontations I immediately feel unsafe when this sentence is lobbed at me like a grenade. As a black woman and a manager, I have heard this sentence more times than I can count. More often than not, it is used as an excuse for bad behavior, charading as a free pass to be disrespectful to someone with whom you disagree. It is rarely followed by sincere repentance for any wrongdoing.
This phrase finds its way into my church as well. It’s presence reminding me that I have been misunderstood in the Christian church not just the secular culture. I would be lying if I said it was simply or primarily a white evangelical issue (which seems to be the default these days, whether warranted or not) but I have experienced this insensitivity in black church spaces as well.
“I think you are making this issue about being a black woman, when it is really about _____.”
We all walk through this world from a unique perspective, collectively and individually. It takes vulnerability to share the struggles that come with being a black Christian woman walking through this world. Admittedly, I am not the champion of vulnerability. So when I take that risk, it is disappointing to be cut off, showered with speculation, and peppered with probing questions. I often feel misunderstood in this area because many people, who are not black women, see themselves as experts on my suffering as if they are an authority on what my day to day life entails.
If I share a scenario about how my dignity was specifically maligned, that is your cue to listen in humility, to learn about my unique experiences, and be empathetic. Don’t imply that I am bearing false witness, kicking my integrity down the stairs. I’m your sister in Christ, standing in front of you, hoping you will take my hand and walk alongside me as I share my heart with you.
“Why are you always raising your voice. You always get triggered by disagreements.”
More times than not, tone is imperceptible on social media. I witness exchange after exchange where stereotypes and unfair presuppositions are imposed on black women. Calmly written communication from our perspective is easily perceived as aggressive and contentious based on the likeness that is represented on a profile picture. Sadly, weaving these caricatures about our brothers and sisters together into a stereotype.
Even in face to face or over the phone interactions, I am met with confusing stares when I am passionate about a topic. My passion is mistaken for anger or coarse speech. I am deluged with a waterfall of incorrect assumptions...
“Now calm down...”
“Don’t get angry...”
“Why are you getting mad?”
I am often pushed into the job of explaining the assumptions and misinformation, versus being given the benefit of the doubt, regarding my tone and speech. It is easy to assign false conclusions. It is easier still to expect everyone to be just like you and communicate just like you do.
Leave Behind Lazy Love
Due to the impact of the fall we sin against one another with our biases and misplaced presuppositions based on skin color, ethnicity, and cultural context.
I know that it is easier said than done to love each person well. We must avoid taking shortcuts to discovering who a person is, and actually get to know them intimately. It is difficult work to learn specifics about each individual, each culture and ethnicity, and their communication idiosyncrasies. I am guilty of taking the path of the least “bearing with one another in love,” like the next person.
I have even caught myself being lazy about how I treat image bearers who don’t come from similar ethnic backgrounds. I prejudged a white sister about her knowledge of the struggles happening in black school systems simply because she was white. I assumed that she couldn’t possibly have first hand knowledge. Only after getting to know her did I discover she taught in the very school system where I matriculated, in Gary, IN.
Thank the Lord no formal conflict came from my clear bias. We are still friends to this very day.
Humility towards “one another.”
We cannot “one another” well if we are always the teacher and won’t humble ourselves enough to be the student and peer, when appropriate.
Be of the same mind with one another. (Rom 12:6, 15:5)
Accept one another. (Rom 15:7)
Gently, patiently, tolerate one another. (Gal 5:26)
Bear with, and forgive one another. (Col 3:13)
Seek good for one another, and don’t repay evil for evil. (1Thess 5:15)
Tolerate one another in love (Eph 4:2)
Through love, serve one another (Gal 5:15)
Regard one another as more important than yourselves (Phil 2:3)
Love one another (John 13:34, 15:12, 17; Rom 13:8; 1 Thess 3:12, 4:9; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 3:11, 4:7; 2 John 5)
Also, as we see above, God has shared in His Word specific instructions on how we can love each other well. In our imperfect state we fail more times than any of us are willing to admit. Yet, that should not deter us from praying for new grace every day to love each individual, as Christ would love us.
Cover image by Mattheus Ferrero.