Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of David A. Anderson's book, Gracism: The Art of Inclusion, (InterVarsity Press, 2007).
No faithful person wants to be a racist, but simply avoiding racism isn’t enough to bring reconciliation between people. You can do more than just ignoring differences as if they don’t matter. Instead, you can become a gracist – someone who uses the differences between people’s color, economic class or culture as an opportunity to show God’s love to others.
While a racist uses distinctions between people to hurt, a gracist uses them to heal. Here’s how you can become a gracist:
Receive God’s grace into your own life. If you haven’t yet embraced the grace that God offers you by trusting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, do so today. Know that once you receive God’s grace yourself, He’ll use your life as a channel through which His grace can flow to other people as well.
Develop compassion for others. Think about what makes you feel insecure around other people (such as your race, gender, age, weight, a certain physical feature you don’t like, a disability, etc.). Consider how you felt whenever someone you judged you based on that, before they ever got to know you. Decide to look beyond your first impressions of people and build relationships with them. Ask God to give you the ability to view people as He sees them. Invite God to pour out His love for others through your life.
Understand the difference between favor and favoritism. Realize that gracism is about favor (showering grace on a few while having love for all) instead of favoritism (purposely neglecting the needs of the many to accommodate the greeds of a few). Seek to be inclusive instead of exclusive when you reach out with extra kindness to others.
Repent. Ask God to reveal how you’ve sinned in the past by treating people negatively on the basis of their color, class or culture. Repent of those sins and rely on God’s power to help you grow beyond judging people and toward encouraging them with extra grace when they need it.
Educate yourself. Get to know people from other races, economic classes, and cultures. Proactively seek them out in your community and build friendships with them (such as by inviting them to your home for meals). Read about the history of the race, class, or culture to which they belong so you’re informed when talking with them and can better understand their plight.
Look at your lifestyle. Consider whether or not the way you’re currently living your life honestly helps you build relationships of reconciliation with people who are different from you. Are you isolated from people of other colors, classes and cultures, or do you regularly interact with them? Are you perpetuating segregation among Christians by participating in a homogenous congregation (such as all black, all white, all Korean, or all Latino, all young adults, all elderly people, all suburban residents, all urban residents, all wealthy people, all low income people, etc.) and justifying it on the basis of your comfort and personal preferences, or are you part of a multicultural congregation? Are you participating in any volunteer work with a church or other organization that helps marginalized people? What are some specific ways that you’re actively working to build bridges of reconciliation between yourself and people who come from different backgrounds? Remember that heaven will be a multicultural place. Ask God to help you view all believers as your brothers and sisters in Christ and treat them accordingly.
Lift up humble people. Seek out people who aren’t usually noticed and give them positive attention. Remember that people aren’t less important just because they’re less visible. Ask God to help you recognize hidden heroes at your church, like people who volunteer in the nursery, in the parking lot guiding cars, or on the technical team running the sound and light systems. Look for other hidden heroes in your workplace, neighborhood, school, and other places you frequent. Ask these people how you can pray for them, and ask them to pray for you, as well. Check in with them on a regular basis to talk about how God is working in your lives to answer the specific prayers through which you’ve been interceding for each other. Speak up for those whose voices are often unheard when it’s time to make important decisions. For example, even though there are no children on the board of your church, be sure to keep their best interests in mind when making decisions. Use hospitality to reach out to people who usually go unnoticed in your community. For example, invite a family whose race is a minority in your neighborhood over to your house for dinner. Help people who are in the minority when they’re in a crowd (such as women among a group of men or single people among couples) feel more comfortable by giving them extra attention. Be sure to serve others in a way that they truly perceive as honoring rather than making assumptions about what you think will honor them and risk embarrassing them instead. If you’re in doubt about what acts of kindness would be effective, just ask them. Think of people in your life who you’ve neglected to thank for something they’ve done for you (such as your parents or a teacher) and express your gratitude by writing each of them a thank-you note. Ask God to constantly help you identify marginalized people in your church and community, educate yourself about them, and become an ambassador of reconciliation to them.
Protect the most vulnerable from embarrassment. Whenever you have the power to criticize someone with whom you disagree, refrain from lashing out at them and choose instead to speak with grace. Instead of blasting people because of their different theology, methodology, politics, or philosophy of ministry, pray before speaking to them. Ask God to give you compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience as you interact with them. When you encounter people who are less popular or powerful than others in your church or community, do what you can to protect them from mistreatment and humiliation, and advocate for their interests. Take people’s dignity and reputations into account before deciding whether to expose their weaknesses, faults, and vulnerabilities. Help make your church a place where people help each other look and feel their best instead of engaging in backbiting and suspicion, and a place where people encourage each other and help each other succeed rather than exploiting or embarrassing each other when they fail. If people ask awkward questions, use wrong language or hold unpopular views, inspire them to new levels of education and growth instead of just calling them derogatory names and dismissing them. Avoid gossip and slander no matter what the circumstances. Give people the grace they need to grow from their struggles.
Refuse to accept special treatment if it is at the detriment of others who need it. Choose not to express your rights or exercise your freedoms and privileges if doing so will chip away at other people’s dignity or hurt them in other ways. Value community over comfort; be willing to give up privileges that isolate you from others who are excluded from those privileges. Don’t accept any kind of special treatment that will cause pain or loss for someone with whom you have a relationship. Share in the lives of those who are less fortunate than you, being willing to commune with them on their turf instead of on yours. For example, if you live in a large home, accept a dinner invitation from someone who lives in a small apartment rather than expecting to eat together in your home just because it’s larger. Use your networks to help people who have not have the advantage of the opportunities you have had so far in life. For example, give people job leads and help them get good deals when they’re trying to purchase something like a car or a home.
Give greater honor to people society judges. Ask God to help you honor people who don’t seem honorable to you when you judge them (like welfare recipients, illegal immigrants or mentally ill people). Understand that when people’s circumstances cause others to dishonor them, your duty is to reach out and serve them. Remember that, if it weren’t for God’s grace, you could be in their same circumstances. Keep in mind that everything you have – even your next breath – is a gift from God, and let your gratitude motivate you to serve others with grace. Be willing to give food to poor people or spend time with AIDS patients without worrying about whether or not they deserve it. Instead of blaming people for the problems they face, refuse to put them down when they’re already down-and-out. Ask God to help you avoid mean-spirited, degrading, or divisive speech. Don’t tell jokes that injure people. When you hear someone saying something negative about a marginalized person, counteract that by saying something positive yourself about that person. Invest time and money in programs that help honor people who lack honor in society. For example, support a program that helps children of incarcerated parents. Reach out to those who are lonely (like the elderly or the disabled) and spend time sitting and listening to them. Be intentional about reaching out to marginalized people.
Stand with others in unity. Understand that when the majority helps the minority, and the stronger helps the weaker, it prevents division from taking place in the body of Christ. Pray together with other believers. Praise God alongside your spiritual brothers and sisters. Recognize how much you all depend on Him, and let that knowledge humble you and bond you to each other. Remember that heaven will be a diverse place, filled with people of every earthly race, culture, and class. Speak up for people who are mistreated, devalued, ignored, or left out, so they won’t feel the need to fight for themselves and cause division. March for a cause you champion, vote for candidates who promise to help the disenfranchised, write to members of Congress to speak out on a issue that’s close to your heart, and stand up for people who aren’t getting opportunities they should have to serve in your church. Ask God to help you overcome pride and avoid boasting about your background or abilities. Remember that all believers are redeemed by grace, no matter what distinctions exist between you and them.
Consider your neighbors’ needs as important as you do your own. Ask God to give you a heart as big for your neighbors as you do for yourself, so you can be equally concerned about their wellbeing and yours. Consider others’ thoughts and feelings before making unilateral decisions that might adversely affect them. Instead of thinking of your relationships with people who differ from you as “you against them,” think of them as “us together.” Look beyond selfish concerns and your own agenda to reach out to others in need, regardless of how much they differ from you. Pray about what specific ways God might want you to minister to people, and once you identify those ways, take action.
Celebrate with others. Rejoice when marginalized people receive the help and blessings they need. Don’t let jealously stop you from reaching out to people. Ask God to help you celebrate even when your own desires haven’t yet been met (such as when you’re infertile, but someone else has a baby, or when you’re unable to afford a house, but someone else buys a home for the first time). Congratulate people and attend parties in their honor. Encourage people to pursue their dreams, and recognize their successes when they achieve their goals.
Adapted from Gracism: The Art of Inclusion, copyright 2007 by David A. Anderson. Published by IVP Books, a division of InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Ill., www.ivpress.com.
David A. Anderson (D. Phil., Oxford) is the founder and senior pastor at Bridgeway Community Church, one of the nation's leading multicultural churches, located in Columbia, Maryland. He serves as CEO of BridgeLeader Network (a consulting organization) and an instructor of cultural diversity at the University of Phoenix (Columbia Campus). His previous books include Letters Across the Divide (Baker, 2001) and Multicultural Ministry (Zondervan, 2004). Anderson was the first African American to be student body president at Moody Bible Institute, and he is a Fellow in the Oxford Society of Scholars. Anderson is also the nationally syndicated radio talk show host of “Reconciliation Live.”