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How To Talk About Racism With Friends

How To Talk About Racism With Friends

One of the surest ways to turn some friends into enemies is to tell them the truth about racism and social justice. 

When I created this blog five years ago to help many of my friends think more biblically about racism and social justice, I didn’t think it would cost me their friendship. I never imagined many of the people I love would hate me over racial issues.

But today, people I once considered friends agree with strangers who say I am a coon, an uncle Tom, or a sellout. 

And many of you have sent me emails sharing similar experiences and asking for advice about how to talk about racism with friends—especially black friends—who embrace an unbiblical understanding of racism and social justice. 

I can’t help you maintain all your friends—I can’t even maintain all of mine. But I can attempt to help you maintain some of your friends even as you maintain all biblical theology over racism and social justice. 

My experience as a pro-life advocate at the Canadian Centre For Bio-Ethical Reform and my many conversations about racism and justice has helped me develop an effective apologetical approach that might help you maintain strong friendships and a strong commitment to biblical truth.

If we begin conversations with our friends by asking questions, we’ll inevitably end the conversations by answering their questions. Wise people are quick to listen and slow to speak. They are quick to ask questions and slow to give answers.

That doesn’t mean we should hesitate to give answers or hesitate to speak the truth. We shouldn’t be afraid of the truth. We shouldn’t be ashamed of the gospel. But there’s a time to listen and a time to speak. That patience is good for us. If we listen well, we’ll speak well. Wise guys speak last.

The Bible says, “the one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” (Proverbs 18:17).

If we ask questions first and give answers second, we gain an opportunity to develop a better understanding of our friends’ reasoning and we therefore become more able to examine their words and address their inconsistencies. 

We’re our own worst enemies. Our own words are usually the most powerful arguments against our worldview. People who disagree with us are naturally more willing to agree with their own words—even if the words contradict their worldview—than they are to agree with our words. And since social justice ideology is inherently inconsistent, starting conversations about racism with our friends by asking questions and allowing them to speak for themselves is the most effective way to make their contradictions problematic for them. 

I’ve used this method for many different types of conversations, especially pro-life advocacy. When I’m speaking with pro-abortion people, I begin the conversation by asking them if they believe in human rights. Then after a series of follow-up questions, many of them become pro-life when they discover that their pro-abortion positions are inconsistent with their support for human rights.

Starting difficult conversations about racism with questions makes it easier to maintain a level of sympathy that can shape strong common ground, great analogies, and friendly conversations that make our words more persuasive to our friends.  

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For instance, one of my friends is a womanist—a black feminist—and one day, she angrily said I’m always blaming black people to protect white people. She said I betray black people to gain approval from white people.

I was deeply hurt and angry with her words. But I managed to maintain self-control, and I asked her a series of questions. I asked her, “Who do you think has hurt me the most in my life?” She answered, your father. Then I asked her, “who has hurt you the most in your life?”, she said, “my father.” Then I appealed to her womanist thinking by asking her, “who hurts black women the most?” She said, “black men.”

I hadn’t yet addressed the concept of systemic racism or social justice ideology, but by asking her the right questions that established common ground and empathy, she eventually apologized and developed a better understanding of why I disagree with her. 

So here is a list of 10 questions that might be helpful in conversations about racism and social justice:

1. The Biblical definition of racism is partiality. Do you agree with that? 
2. The Bible says we shouldn’t show partiality or favouritism to anyone—including black people or white people, black people or police officers. Do you agree with that? 
3. Do you think it’s sinful for white people to assume the worst of black people? 
4. Do you think it’s sinful for black people to assume the worst of white people?
5. Since racism is partiality—systemic racism is systemic partiality—so what laws or policies in our nations’ system today show partiality against black people?
6. Do you agree disparities are not independently evidence of systemic oppression?
7. If racial disparities are evidence for systemic racism—and since racial disparities exist in every nation—do you believe every nation is systemically racist?
8. If racial disparities are evidence of racism, then would you agree that any nation or system that doesn’t seek to eliminate racial disparities is systemically racist?
9. If any system that doesn’t seek to eliminate racial disparities is systemically racist, wouldn’t that make the Mosaic law—God’s law—systemically racist?
10. If racial parity or equality of outcome is evidence of a racially just system, what policies or laws need to be implemented to establish that?

This method is a simple and gentle approach to conversations about race. They are a helpful means to ask questions first and speak second. They help me speak candidly and kindly—they help me speak the truth in love. 

Nevertheless, speaking the truth in love won’t always spare us from angry reactions. Jesus is the truth—Jesus is love—no one can display truth and love better than Jesus Christ, and yet, he was abandoned and betrayed by his friends before he was crucified on a cross.

So be quick to listen and slow to speak—quick to ask questions and slow to answer. But do that, primarily, to maintain your faithfulness to Christ, not your friends’ faithfulness to you. 

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