Have you ever listened to a message or sermon and felt as if the speaker had your number? Like, he or she was saying things that directly connected to your soul? Whether it was conviction or inspiration, it was just what your heart needed.
Albert Tate is the founding pastor of Fellowship Church in Los Angeles County, CA, and a sought after speaker. I have heard him live on four occasions: twice at the Global Leadership Summit, once at a Wesleyan pastor’s conference, and once at Exponential. At the pastor’s conference and Exponential, his messages were like a balm for my soul. His words brought healing and hope to wounded places in my heart. He pastored my pastor’s heart.
So, when I learned Albert Tate had published his first book, I made sure to buy it. I just started it yesterday.
The title of Tate’s book is How We Love Matters: A Call to Practice Relentless Racial Reconciliation. You see, Albert Tate is a Black man and he is passionate about calling God’s people to love as Jesus loves.
Now, this is where some people check out. The words “racial reconciliation” are trigger words for a lot of people. For some, any talk about racial justice evokes a knee-jerk reaction of defensive taunts—“you’re going woke,” “you’re brainwashed by CRT!,” “you’re a liberal!,” “Marxist!”
Sometimes, people’s reaction actually confirms the condition of their heart. Their reaction demonstrates that there exist in their hearts racial biases and prejudices. Their reactions are sometimes shaped more by pride and fear than by love and compassion.
There’s a narrative being propagated that the calls for racial justice are part of some sort of liberal agenda to erase our history, shame white people, and turn our country into a socialist state. Therefore, any conversation that even mentions race or reconciliation must be dismissed and rejected—sometimes vehemently.
Now, to be sure, there are some who hold to varying levels of extremism (this goes for people on both sides of the ideological and political spectrum). But, what I have encountered among many Jesus followers who are calling for racial justice is that they just want to be heard.
There are Black Christians who just want to feel like their stories and their grief and their pain can be shared with their white brothers and sisters, and received with Christ-like love, empathy, and grace. There are Black Christians who want their white brothers and sisters to believe them when they say they have experienced racial injustice. They want their white brothers and sisters to understand why some experiences, symbols, political agendas, rhetoric, and authority structures hit a nerve of past trauma.
Some Christians who are trying to come to the table of racial reconciliation want to have dialogue about how we can bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2) more faithfully. In short, many want to have a conversation about what it means to be the Church.
Too Many Stories
I am only a couple of chapters into Albert’s book and I am again confronted with the stories of racial injustice. Albert pastors a multiethnic church in California. He shared a story about two women in his church who were part of the same small group. One woman was a Black woman and the other a conservative leaning white woman. When the George Floyd stuff went down in the summer of 2020, the Black woman expressed hurt, grief, and even fear. The white woman did not agree with the other woman and was somewhat frustrated by her perspective, but she remained in the small group.
“…Jackie (the Black woman) and Lisa (the white woman) had an experience together. One day while Jackie was dropping her sons off at school, a police officer pulled her over. Now, Jackie just so happened to be on the phone with Lisa and was talking to her on speakerphone. So, when the police officer pulled Jackie over, Lisa was able to overhear their entire interaction. For the next fifteen minutes, Lisa listened to what she would later testify was one of the most devastating lessons that she has ever had to learn. She listened to the fear in Jackie’s voice as she navigated her conversation with the officer. He was rude. He had a blatant tone: sarcastic, smart-alecky, disrespectful, and condescending. Lisa stayed on the phone listening to something she had never in her life experienced, and she couldn’t believe her ears.” (How We Love Matters, p. 22)
Lisa (not the real name of the woman) had a new perspective and a more humble, empathetic posture. Albert shares some stories from his own experience as well. He shares of one an encounter with a police officer—who said blatantly racist things—that could have went very badly if Albert hadn’t of just walked away like a degraded dog with his tail between his legs. Albert is probably in his mid-forties. Meaning, he was a child of the 80s and this incident didn’t happen that long ago.
I’ve read too many stories and I have heard to many stories in person, face-to-face with people I know. Racism in America has deep roots. Things like implicit bias and systemic injustice are real issues. Albert Tate poses the question, “What if we saw one another’s needs, listened to one another’s stories of abuse and believed them?” (How We Love Matters, p. 28)
Now, Albert Tate’s book is really calling people of every tribe, nation and tongue to follow Jesus and reflect His self-giving love. The tone is not hateful or condemning towards white people. He’s just shared a few stories to illustrate his heart for the Church of Jesus to start loving one another more fully in the area of racial reconciliation.
Why Was A Samaritan the Hero?
There’s a scene in Luke’s gospel where a teacher of the Law comes to Jesus and asks him what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus turns the question on this man and asks him, “What does the Law of Moses teach?”
“Love the LORD your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, with all of your strength, and with all of your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus replies, “You answered correctly.”
But, the man wants to justify himself and asks a clarifying question, “Who is my neighbor.”
In Matthew’s gospel there is a similar scene in which someone asks Jesus what the greatest commandment is. Jesus essentially says that the greatest commandment is to love God with all of your heart, soul, and mind, and then, the second is like it in importance, love your neighbor as yourself.
In Luke’s gospel, to answer this man’s question about who qualifies as a neighbor, Jesus tells a parable. We have come to know the parable as the “Parable of the Good Samaritan.” For the purpose of illustrating what it looks like to love one’s neighbor—which Jesus also said was right up there in importance with the greatest commandment—he tells a parable with inherent racial implications.
Isn’t that interesting?
Samaritans were hated by the Jews. They were “half-breeds” and they worshipped differently. They were the Jew's racial and religious enemies. So, Jesus tells a story in which a Jewish man is mugged and left for dead. A priest and a Levite pass by him, but do nothing to help. A Samaritan passes by and has compassion on him. The Samaritan uses his own garments, oil, and wine to bandage his wounds. Then he places him on his own donkey to take him to a nearby inn where he uses his own money to pay for his lodging and care.
Jesus says that this is what it looks like to love our neighbors.
This story raises so many questions.
Why did Jesus tell the story in this way? Why did he include a racial element?
How was it that the Samaritan’s heart was “moved with compassion” for his enemy?
Is the emphasis on him caring for the man at cost to himself an indication of what love should look like?
How much was the oil, the wine, and the price of lodging? Should it matter?
How did Jesus’ original, Jewish audience respond? Were they offended that a Samaritan was the “hero” in the story?
If Jesus told that parable today, who would he put in the role of the Samaritan? Would we be offended at Jesus’ telling of the story?
I Want to Listen
Back in 2014, I sat in a seminary class with other pastors and church leaders. Some of my classmates were Black. There were some recent events that brought up the issue of race. My Black classmates expressed frustration, grief, and even seemed to think that police officers were part of the problem. I knew otherwise. A young Black man was shot by a police officer, but reports seemed to indicate that he had robbed a store and was not compliant with the officer’s commands. Basically, I was dismissive and arrogant about my perspective.
It occurred to me that I can either arrogantly assume that my perspective is not only right, but also superior to my classmates, or I could listen with humility. I finally decided that I wanted to listen. I have been on the journey of listening with empathy ever since. Listening doesn’t always mean agreement. Listening means sitting with people in relationship and bestowing dignity on their story.
- Luke 10:25-37
- Matthew 22:36-40