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Even though ethnic minorities call for white, evangelical Christians to speak up and be allies for racial justice, their sincere attempts to do so often get the side-eye.

It’s an age-old problem. How do minorities, particularly African Americans, respond when white Christians get involved with racial justice efforts? During the Civil Rights Movement, organizations like the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), had heated debates about whether and to what extent white people should be involved in their work. Some black people said, only self-empowerment would lift their people from the murk and mire of oppression. Others said that black and white must unite.

More recently, Christians who are in the ethnic minority have called white Christians to publicly decry racism in the church and society. Multiples times a year, sometimes with only a week or two in between, racism roars back onto the the national scene. It could be labeling immigrants as terrorists. It could be when a major awards ceremony only nominates white people for the most prestigious honors despite the presence of highly-qualified minorities. It could be college kids hanging bananas from a banner about black history. While blacks tremble with rage, their white brothers and sisters seem infuriatingly silent.

But every once in a while, and with increasing frequency, white Christians do speak up about race. They cry foul when nativist rhetoric spews from the mouths of church elders or even presidential candidates. They remind other white Christians that Jesus was an ethnically Jewish middle-easterner who did not have straight hair and blue eyes. They publicly lament the loss of black life whether in the womb or on the streets. Considering how rarely these comments come from white Christians, it might seem like black people would celebrate every time it happens. But we don’t.

When white Christians publicly decry racism, instead of support from minorities they might get a barrage of criticism. Some black people point out the many errors in a white person’s assessment of the racial situation in United States. They concentrate on what white Christians missed and tell them they should let minorities do the talking. They pick apart every blog post, comment, or presentation and the focus becomes how far the person fell short instead of how far they’ve come.

But such critiques aren’t always fair. While it’s true that a person can be sincere and sincerely wrong, white Christians who take the step to publicly ally themselves with the plight of ethnic minorities should more often receive grace and encouragement instead of verbal sneering.

I’m not saying that white Christians can’t be wrong in their assertions or that erroneous ideas should be applauded. By all means, we should point out whenever anyone of any hue is unintentionally promoting harmful ideas about race. Furthermore, it is frequently the case that when white Christians first start to talk about race they get a lot wrong. A common error is when well-meaning white people convince themselves that “color-blindess” is a virtue. Another recurring mistake is when white people who finally start to “get it” about race they take over the conversation instead of centering minority voices.

Despite all the blunders and ignorance from white Christians who start to talk about race, I still celebrate their efforts. Supporting our white brothers and sisters isn’t just sentimental, it’s biblical. Many passages could be cited but Colossians 3:12-14 states the point succinctly:

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

Paul specifically addresses how Christians should relate to one another as siblings in a spiritual family. He encourages the virtues of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. We can seldom genuinely know a person’s motives, so we should assume the best and treat one another with kindness. Even with the proper motives, though, people new to the war for racial equity make both subtle and glaring errors. But since we are all flawed, long-suffering must define our responses to white Christians who attempt to promote racial justice. Above all, we should clothe ourselves in love which makes the body work harmoniously.

Supporting our white brothers and sisters does not entail remaining silent about weaknesses and blindspots they continue to have about race. Even well-meaning Christians can do harm by attempting to do good. But we should correct and admonish in a spirit of humility and love. Instead of scathing rebuke we can say, “Thank you for the attempt. Here are some ways you can make an even better case.” Or “While we are grateful you have chosen to speak up about racial injustice, be careful to learn from minorities and those who have been in this work for a long time.” In so doing, the world will see ethnic minorities and white Christians sharpening one another and maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3). Our multi-ethnic witness wrapped in love will woo a watching world to Christ and brotherly love.

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