It was nearly six weeks ago that George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer over the course of nearly nine horrifying minutes. The video of Floyd’s death led to weeks of peaceful protest and periodic violent looting that gripped the headlines and tore at our hearts. It also led our nation into a profound moment of reckoning and self-reflection. How are we as followers of Jesus to react, especially as headlines shift our attention elsewhere and the turmoil of June subsides? I have asked myself this question many times over the last few weeks, and I wanted to begin sharing with you some of my thoughts and hopes for our community.
In talking with friends and fellow church leaders about these events I have consistently heard the phrase, “this time feels different.” I believe they’re right. We have seen videos and heard stories about black men being killed in police custody. There have been protests. But this time feels different. I can think of myriad social and cultural reasons why this might be the case, but none of them is as important as the one I keep coming back to. I believe God is inviting his Church into a new season of reflection and action on matters of race.
This makes most of us nervous. Could there be a more difficult and highly charged topic in society today? We are nervous about saying the wrong thing. Heck, we are nervous about saying the right thing! Even the words we use to discuss race and racism have been ground-down into razor-sharp weapons by the political machinery of our culture so that it seems impossible to have a conversation without drawing blood. This doesn’t excuse us from the conversation, however. Nor should this intimidate us. On the contrary, it should embolden us. God has given us his word in Scripture, and his Spirit dwells within us. We have the resources and we have the responsibility to lead by example. But how?
John Stott had a favorite phrase that shaped his ministry of preaching and teaching. The phrase was “double listening.” John believed that the only way for the Church to live faithfully was to listen to God’s word while at the same time listening to God’s world – hence “double listening.” By listening to God’s word in the Bible we grow in our understanding of who God is, what God loves, and who he is calling us to be. By listening to the world around us we come to understand the hopes, needs, fears, idolatries, and joys of our neighbors. By listening to God’s word and God’s world in concert together we are able to grasp our unique calling as ambassadors for Christ in the particular time and place in which we live. This is what I would like for us to do together.
In the months ahead I plan to do a lot of double listening and to share what I’m hearing with you in a series of pastoral letters. These won’t come out according to any schedule, but only as I listen, learn and reflect. I promise to dig deeply into God’s word, listening carefully and with utmost humility to his revelation in scripture. I promise also to listen to the cries of the world around me with humility and generosity of spirit. I will make a point of listening to people who don’t look like me or think like me because these are the voices with which I am least familiar.
I don’t know exactly where this will take us, but I promise at the very least it will lead us deeper into God’s word and deeper into love for the world he created. All I ask is that you listen with me humbly and fearlessly. The conversation going on within the culture around us on matters of race, justice and equality is acrimonious and often unhelpful. The Church needs to offer a different way of talking, one that begins with listening. I hope you’ll join me.
For those who want to start listening right away, I would encourage you to watch this interview with Pastor Bryan Lorritts. I found it challenging, thought provoking and deeply encouraging.