On July 18, 2016, I had the opportunity to speak with Melissa Pellew on the Bellator Christi Podcast.1 We addressed the racial divide that has plagued our nation. During our conversation, I was reminded of the lesson I shared with the kids at a local church. The children were diverse in their ethnicities ranging from white, black, to Latino. I shared with them the story found in John chapter 4 where Jesus met the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well.
In that encounter, Jesus broke several barriers. One, Jesus broke a racial barrier that existed between Samaritans and Jews. Two, Jesus broke a gender barrier as Jewish rabbis normally did not speak to women. Three, Jesus broke the barriers of tradition. Fourth and most importantly, Jesus broke the sin barrier as He forgave the woman of her sins. But as we look at the issues of our time, we also see that Jesus’ encounter offers a cure to the divisions that ail us. Jesus’ approach serves as an excellent model to provide healing and reconciliation.
Listen to the concerns of the person.
Jesus practiced good listening skills. While He was God and knew fully the situation at hand, Jesus still allowed the woman to speak. He heard her concerns and did not dismiss her. Jesus asked the woman for a drink. He listened as she timidly asked, “How is it that you a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria” (John 4:9).2 Jesus also listened to the woman as she exclaimed “Our fathers worship on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship” (John 4:20). Listening is an activity that has greatly been lost. To provide healing, we must first listen to the problems that are on the table. Those issues may be sensitive. Those issues may make us uncomfortable. Nevertheless, when we listen to another person, even if we vehemently disagree with that person, we demonstrate respect to that person.
Create a relationship with the person.
Christianity is relationship-based. Melissa and I discussed on the podcast that people often segregate and divide because of the lack of knowledge of those who may differ from them. Melissa noted that a person should not simply befriend someone to proudly say, “I have a black friend” or “I have a white friend.” Rather, a person should desire to befriend others for the sake of the person, not for selfish pride. Jesus demonstrated such behavior with the Samaritan woman. The woman was shocked that Jesus spoke to her (John 4:9). The disciples were equally surprised that Jesus was speaking with a Samaritan (John 4:27). Jesus did not think to Himself, “This person is a Samaritan. I will befriend her so that I can tell the folks back home that I have a Samaritan friend.” No! Rather, Jesus saw her for who she really was. She was a person who needed salvation, a person who had been excluded from her community. She was a woman who had a horrid past and a displeasurable present condition.
Forgive the failures of the past and present.
The Samaritan woman had a past. She was a woman who had been married five times and was currently living with a man (John 4:16-19). Coming to the well when she did demonstrates that she was an outcast as “women were more likely to come in groups to fetch water.”3 Jesus could have easily condemned her, saying, “You have a past, so I don’t want you in my kingdom.” Rather, Jesus forgave her past and transformed her present.
As a Caucasian Christian, I do not know the struggles that black Christians have faced. When I drove a school bus, I remember the friendship I had with a black Christian man. We spoke about different issues. I remember him telling me about his return from war in Vietnam only to be disallowed entrance to a restaurant in the South because of his skin color. From what he and other black Christians have told me, the struggle is real. It also must be noted that racism comes in all forms and fashions. Thus, discrimination against all whites because of what a few white people have done is just as racist as discrimination against a black person, Latino, or otherwise for what a few in the particular group has done. The same logic applies to police officers. A few bad cops do not mean that all cops are bad. By the way, such accusations are not only morally wrong, they also represent a logical fallacy–the fallacy of composition/division, i.e., judging the whole by the part.
While I have never been in the situations that my black Christian friends have faced, I do know what it is like to be hurt. I know what it is like to feel demeaned and unwanted. I know what it is like to feel like an outcast. From those experiences, I know firsthand the choice all of us face: forgiveness or bitterness. Forgiveness is extremely difficult, but for the Christian it is commanded. Jesus said, “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses” (Mark 11:25). In the end, a person can find healing in Christ’s forgiveness or can continue down the path of hate-driven bitterness. This is true for a person regardless of the amount of pigment one’s skin carries.
Acknowledge the present problems.
Jesus did not cower and did not waver. Jesus acknowledged the problems that the woman faced and the differences in the traditions that Samaritans and Jews held. For many, it is easier to pretend that the current problems are not real. While I did not agree with the caller on our latest show on all points that he made, I would concede that we cannot pretend that there are no current race-related problems. Like Jesus, we must not cower and waver. We must stand firm, choosing to love our neighbors as ourselves (a pretty important commandment in Matthew 22:39). As Melissa stated on our podcast, “It is time for the church to take the lead on racial matters and provide reconciliation.”4
Provide biblical answers.
Lastly, Jesus did not avoid the problems. Instead, Jesus confronted the issues that the Samaritan woman presented and provided biblical answers to those problems. As Christians we have the answers to the problems our nation faces. We know that God is sovereign and will provide justice in due time. God created all of us in His image, thus illustrating that the life of every human being matters regardless of race. The biblical worldview also incorporates the understanding that heaven will consist of all nationalities and ethnicities. John writes, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb'” (Revelation 7:9-10)!
For the Christian, there is no reason for us to commit to violence. Christianity’s sole message is about love and peace. We must remember that “God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33). Satan is the one who seeks to “steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). Therefore, the primary message of this article is found in Paul’s great word of encouragement: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). Let us pray for peace, love, and understanding.
© July 18, 2016. Brian Chilton.
1 Melissa Pellew, interviewed by Brian Chilton, “Healing the Racial Divide (with Melissa Pellew),” The Bellator Christi Podcast (July 18, 2016), http://www.blogtalkradio.com/pastorbrianchilton/2016/07/18/healing-the-racial-divide-with-melissa-pellew.
2 Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).
3 D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), 217.
4 Pellew, “Healing the Racial Divide (with Melissa Pellew), Bellator Christi Podcast.