Breaking Down Racial Walls

Everywhere you look, on any TV news channel you may watch, there are racial tensions growing to unhealthy levels in America, and all around the world for that matter! It’s an issue we must all take seriously and do our part to bring about racial reconciliation starting in our own backyard.

To that end, I’ve chosen a book I read over twenty years ago by two individuals I had the pleasure of meeting. Breaking Down Walls was written by two Christian men, Raleigh Washington, an African-American, and Glen Kehrein, a Caucasian, who are best of friends and walk their talk when it comes to racial reconciliation.

In the preface of their book Raleigh and Glen write, “The racial situation in our nation today cries out for Christians to ‘pick up our cross,’ step out of our comfort zones, and build relationships across cultural barriers—beginning with at least one person, one family, one church—whether it is African-American, Asian, Hispanic, or white.”

Below I have highlighted the eight principles Raleigh and Glen have used in their own lives, and have taught others, to achieve racial reconciliation among themselves and with others.

A Model for Reconciliation in an Age of Racial Strife

“Principle 1: Commitment to Relationship – Commitment is a combination of attitude and action. Here are three ways to increase your level of commitment to a cross-cultural relationship:

  1. Take risks. You must be willing to reach out to someone who is racially different, even if you risk misunderstanding by that person.
  2. Discover opportunities. Look for people of different backgrounds at your work, in the neighborhood, where you shop.
  3. Move beyond saying hello. When you meet someone, try to initiate a conversation that moves beyond a superficial greeting; take time to know the person. It could be the beginning of a great friendship.

Principle 2: Intentionality – Intentionality is a planned activity; it requires purposeful strategies. Here are some positive activities that can be considered to develop relationships with those of another racial group.

  1. Inviting a church member or neighbor or coworker who is racially different to dinner in your home, adjusting however necessary to make them comfortable.
  2. Developing a continuing friendship with a person of another ethnic group.
  3. Visiting a black church or other ethnic congregation as a family at least four time a year.
  4. Expecting and accepting pain in the early stages of a new cross-cultural relationship.

Principle 3: Sincerity – Whether you are black, white, yellow, or brown, take the initiative to reveal yourself to a friend across the color/ethnic group line. Remember, if you are sincere, you will want to make the first move instead of waiting for the other person to initiate.

  1. Spend time together to develop trust. Remember years of abuse, ignorance, and stereotyping have developed a deep layer of distrust. You will need time to overcome it.
  2. Be willing to open your ‘closets,’ to reveal the hardships and failures in your life. Everyone has failures. Your friend will respect you as a ‘real person’ when you disclose them to him or her.
  3. Be on the alert to recognize your (and others’) involvement in WWB/BBW conversations. Be ready to confront those involved, in love, including yourself. (WWB is short for whites know how to talk to whites about blacks, and BBW is short for blacks know how to talk to blacks about whites.)

Principle 4: Sensitivity – Here are three ways you can increase your sensitivity to other races:

  1. Read literature about and by other racial groups.
  2. Choose to use your growing knowledge to strengthen your preaching, teaching, and outreach cross-culturally.
  3. Do not dismiss unintentional racial insensitivity. Because our comment is unintended, we may think it is unimportant. But it has been heard, and it has an impact. To say it was ‘nothing’ and unintended will be taken as rationalization and justification. Use the opportunity to learn. And if you have offended someone, apologize for the action. Your humility can pull the two of you closer together.

Principle 5: Interdependence – Often you will find new friends of another race by helping in a cross-cultural ministry. Therefore, volunteer some time in an inner-city or cross-cultural ministry. Go with the expectation that you will receive as much as you give.

If you have a cross-cultural relationship (whether a close friendship, an acquaintance, or coworker), specifically identify strengths that the other person brings to your relationship. Then thank that person for that gift to your relationship.

Principle 6: Sacrifice – Sacrifice costs. Yet it is fundamental to building cross-cultural relationships and to achieving racial reconciliation. The principle of sacrifice requires a give and take on both sides.

Principle 7: Empowerment – Empowering someone else to draw closer to you and achieve reconciliation requires repentance (a change of heart and mind) and forgiveness. Depending on our individual experiences, repentance and forgiveness may be difficult. Here are four questions (and suggested responses) to help you prepare for repentance and forgiveness.

  1. Do you find it difficult to enter into expressions of repentance (or forgiveness) for the sin of racism? Identify the thoughts, feelings, and struggles you have.
  2. Have you been wounded in a cross-cultural interaction(s)? If the relationship is still active, what steps can you take toward reconciliation?
  3. If you are black, what changes in your attitude or behavior toward whites would empower them to work side by side with you toward racial reconciliation?
  4. If you are white, what attitudes and behaviors do you need to take responsibility for to help bring down the walls of hostility between the races?

Principle 8: Call – A ‘call’ is God’s way if impressing upon us what He wants from us. Each one of us must open his/her eyes to the brokenness between the races and ethnic groups that make up our own communities and cities, and accept personal responsibility to reach across the racial and cultural barriers to build relationships.”

Raleigh and Glen go into so much more detail on racial reconciliation in their book Breaking Down Walls. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested and concerned about building real relationships with individuals and families of different colors and ethnic backgrounds.

We were all created in God’s image. It would be great if we all took that to heart and started living out Jesus’ second greatest command to His disciples, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

See you next week for more Wisdom Matters!





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