Learning to Listen: On Prejudice, Blind-spots, Humility and Repentance

Friday, August 12, 2016

This past week the conservative evangelical website The Gospel Coalition (TGC) published an article entitled "When God Sends Your White Daughter a Black Husband" which resulted in a virtual firestorm of responses, both in comments on TGC and on Twitter from people saying that they found the article deeply hurtful and offensive.

At the request of the author the article has been taken down from the TGC website and replaced by a discussion of the article in which three African American leaders—including one TGC editor—reflect on the article, the ensuing backlash, and lessons to be learned. Definitely worth a listen (the link is above).

What I wanted to draw attention to is the response of the author of the article, Gaye Clark. Gaye had written the article with the intent of celebrating God’s work in her and her family’s life surrounding issues of race and prejudice. She had shown the article to her daughter and son-in-law prior to its publication and they had told her they thought it was beautiful. She was consequently surprised and heartbroken over the negative response and indeed the hurt that it caused,
When asked what she was planning to do now, how she would show fruits of repentance, she responded,

Listening. That is so important. The internet has taught us all how to comment, often anonymously, but learning to listen is much more rare, and deeply needed. It is also rare to see someone respond publicly with humility, openness, and sincere repentance like Gaye has. It's so easy, when we feel attacked, to respond defensively. It takes maturity and empathy to be able to see past that, and instead respond with care for the hurt we have caused. 

To me this is not about pointing a finger at this author or even at The Gospel Coalition. I actually think they are both handling this admirably. What I hope to do instead is use the example of this woman's response as an opportunity to look into my own heart. I hope I can show that kind of maturity and empathy. I hope I can be self-reflected enough to see where I may have hidden prejudices in my heart. I hope I can listen to those of other races, genders, orientations, faiths, etc. -- in short those with different perspective and experiences than my own -- to hear and learn how they see things, to understand their struggles.

Doing that takes conversation and honesty. I feel bad that Gaye has had to have that happen for her in such a public way. She is not a hero or a villain, she is just a regular human like you and me. So what I hope this story can help us to do is look to ourselves and our own hearts. I hope we can take it as a positive example of how we can learn to listen with empathy and humility.

The reason I have moved from being a conservative to a progressive evangelical is not because I have been hurt by the conservative evangelical church. As a straight white male, I fit in pretty well. The shift came for me as a began to listen to others who were being hurt, and realized that the theology I had been advocating for and seeing as "normal" was in part responsible for the structures and belief system that was hurting them. This led me to see how much the theology I had inherited was influenced by those white male blinders. My bookshelves contained reams of books by white male theologians with very few written by women or people of color.

Seminary helped me with this. My professors encouraged us to read those with different perspectives than our own. We read feminist, liberationist, and black theology. I also learned a lot from Sojourners and their focus on issues of social justice and human rights. The white male theology I had inherited from conservative evangelicalism had been primarily focused on personal conversion, as social justice issues are not really front and center concern for a suburban white church member. So the "seeker sensitive" sermons never touched on those issues. 

To see them I had to look beyond my horizon to see the struggles of others from different communities and different perspectives. For example, I had always had a positive view of the police, seeing them as someone who I could call on for protection and help. I was shocked to learn that for many people of color, dads and moms need to fear for the safety of their children, and that they may be killed by the police. As a dad I find that devastating. I read a story this week of how police and security officers assigned to public schools are tasering (mostly black) students, and I am shocked and grieved at how quickly we resort to violence as our first and only response we know, and how our children are suffering as a result. This is not something I had ever heard of happening to my white kids. If it did, I would pull them out of that school in a heartbeat, but that only underscores my point of having privilege (having a car and a flexible work schedule for instance so I would be able to deal with that process). My point here is that we don't have "justice for all," and that is not just an abstract concept, but affecting the safety and lives of people's kids. And that matters to me. Black lives matter, gay lives matter, just as much as my life matters.

I want to care about how people of color experience injustice and violence like it was happening to my own child. I want to care about how gays experience injustice and violence like it was happening to my own child. I want to care about how Muslims experience injustice and violence like it was happening to my own child. I believe Jesus and the gospel calls me to do this. That begins by accepting God's love in my heart, but then that love must grow to expressing itself in showing that same love to others. The character of that love is most revealed in how I treat those I regard as "least" and "enemy." I am my brother's (and sister's) keeper. I pray that I can learn to listen.

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At 3:10 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks Derek
We desperately need to see & feel what God sees & feels. Jesus (& our own true-self as we become alive to it) show us that.
The more we see it we can't help but but be transformed in how we see and treat others.
Seeing through the victim's eyes is so key to this process.
Find whenever someone is oppressed & do what we can to stand with them. This is what God wants not defense of an entrenched view of the Bible.
If we are searching for the Truth of Love we will head towards God.

At 4:53 PM, Blogger J. A. Kinlaw said...

Thanks for your work. I'd love to connect wrt atonement. Could you give me your email? Or tell me how to contact you directly? All best--


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