Albert Tate (Lead Pastor of Fellowship Church) joins Carey Nieuwhof and David Kinnaman on a recent ChurchPulse Weekly episode to discuss the importance of extending empathy towards people with different perspectives and how to engage in healthy conversations about racial justice and reconciliation within the Church.
On the Importance of Having Empathy
Recent Barna data show that one in five practicing Christians (19%) says that race is “not at all” a current problem in the U.S.
“We are highly incentivized to disregard this issue,” Tate notes, reflecting on the data. “I think [pundits are] discipling Christians more than pastors and the Bible are. And people listen to these pundits [that] make it seem like [race] is not a big deal, so people walk away feeling better about loving others less. People are highly incentivized, in my mind, to not care—which is, when you really step back and think about it, the most unbiblical thing… Jesus calls us not only to neighborly love, but he calls us to love our enemies. Even if you don’t agree with someone, there’s still a call to love them in a way that’s honoring.”
Tate continues, “We’re experiencing this radicalization and we’ve lost the vision of what it is to really love one another… We’ve got to have a conversation about love… Love is not ambiguous. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is not self-seeking. Love does not hold long accounts. Love is empathy… And in empathy, fixing is not required. Agreement isn’t even required to show empathy to someone.
“What I have found is that Christians have really big convictions and really anemic compassion,” Tate explains. “If convictions aren’t shared, then compassion is withheld—but Jesus never does that to us. … In order for us to move forward, we’ve got to be willing to show compassion and not allow our convictions to give us a freedom to withhold our compassion in the name of Jesus.”
On Engaging in Racial Reconciliation Despite Discomfort
Tate shares ways in which Christian leaders can engage in conversations about racial reconciliation well, saying, “I think when we start the conversation is a really big deal. I think we started racial reconciliation as an application, but we haven’t set in love as a revelation. So if we jump to application without a revelation of love, I think it’s just going to be really hard, because first we’ve got to till the soil of the soul to remind us what love is.”
Tate explains how leaders should frame these difficult conversations by sharing an example from ordinary life, stating, “When people experience soreness after working out, they don’t quit. They go to workout again, because on the other side of the soreness is strength. But many of us in our Christian culture don’t know how to be sore and not quit.
“Usually soreness exposes underdeveloped muscles,” he continues. “People are probably most sore in the areas where they’re most underdeveloped… But when we get sore as Christians, we leave our church and go to another church that’s going to make us less sore… because we have an idolatry for comfort and not a calling for kingdom.
“[Leaders] should start the conversation [about racial reconciliation] there,” Tate encourages, “Say up front, ‘We’re all going to get sore in doing this work. Soreness is not a sign to quit. Soreness is an opportunity to develop an area that’s probably underdeveloped and could use some attention. And on the other side of this soreness, I think the body of Christ will be stronger.’”
On Approaching Conversations About Race with an Open Heart
Tate shares ways that pastors can preach well about race and reconciliation, stating, “The best preaching comes from being saturated in whatever it is [you’re preaching about], so that when you preach, you are being authentic. I would ask [leaders]—especially my white brothers and sisters—do you have any minority mentors? Have you been at a conference in the last year or two where you were a minority? What would it mean for you to put yourself in a position to be the student rather than the teacher? Bring your assumptions, but have you had someone speaking into those assumptions? How many books have you read [on this topic]?”
Tate offers additional insights, noting, “Everyone’s scared of being called a racist. [But] the worst thing that could happen to you is not being accused of being racist. The worst thing that could happen is you actually are being racist, but you don’t know it, so you can’t do anything about it.” Tate continues, “[In] every other area [of life], we say, ‘Yes, I am sinful in this area, but for the grace of God.’ But when it comes to racism, we say, ‘No, not me, never.’
“We need to spend less energy trying to defend the fact that we’re not racist and have a more open heart,” Tate concludes. “We need to say, ‘You know what? I could be racist, but for the grace of God, let me learn and let me invite the Holy Spirit to work in my life.’ … We as Christians reflect that posture on every other issue, but when it comes to race, we don’t have that posture… I think the Spirit would move in a powerful way [if leaders adopted this posture].”
About the Research
Beyond Diversity data: This study of 2,889 U.S. adults was conducted online between July 19 and August 5, 2019, via a national consumer panel. The survey over-sampled practicing Christians and Black, Asian and Hispanic adults. Statistical weighting has been applied in order to maximize representation by age, gender, ethnicity, education and region. The margin of error is plus or minus 1.9 points at a 95 percent confidence interval.
In 2020, Barna (in partnership with Dynata) repeated some questions in a survey of 1,525 U.S. adults conducted online between June 18 and July 6, 2020, via a national consumer panel. The survey over-sampled Black, Asian and Hispanic adults. Statistical weighting has been applied in order to maximize representation by age, gender, ethnicity, education and region. The margin of error is plus or minus 1.8 points at a 95 percent confidence interval.
Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.
© Barna Group, 2022
Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.
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