Through recent events in our nation, I have developed a new friendship with a fellow pastor in San Antonio. I look forward to learning from Pastor Roberts’ wisdom and perspective.
In a conversation a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned to him if he was a part of a conversation about racial issues, I’d love the opportunity to be a part of it, too. Last week, he invited me to join him and other pastors for a group conversation on a recent Friday afternoon.
As is often the case in a metro area like San Antonio, I got caught in construction traffic on my way across the city for the gathering. My phone map told me I would arrive late. I didn’t want to arrive after the meeting started, especially because I didn’t know anyone else who would be there. As I drove, I continually thought, “I hope I’m not late.”
Thankfully, I arrived before the conversation started and visited with a few other pastors briefly.
A local news crew was there to cover the event, publicizing the idea that pastors care about the racial issues in our nation.
Of the 15 or so pastors and handful of deacons and other church leaders scattered six feet apart throughout the pews, I was the only white person in the room. I’m not suggesting others don’t care and aren’t participating in similar conversations. I just happened to be the only white person at this meeting.
I planned to listen and learn
I planned to listen and learn, mainly offering my support through my presence. As others shared concerns and stories, my heart was broken by the pain of their experiences, and my eyes were opened to the weight my brothers always carry.
Though there was no particular order, eventually everyone else had spoken at least once. Pastor Nelson, our host, was helping pass a microphone around as people spoke, and he stood on the aisle near me as another pastor near me finished. He again opened the floor for comments, and I heard a few murmurs from behind me.
Pastor Nelson looked at me and said, “Pastor Graves, they want to hear from you.”
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Because I had intended simply to listen and learn, I reluctantly stood and took the microphone.
It didn’t seem to me the only white guy in the room should have a lot to say about how to address our racial problems. I began by thanking my friend for the invitation and thanking the others for sharing their experiences with me.
I told them how I was caught in traffic on the way there and how I kept thinking, “I hope I’m not late.”
“I made it, and I am here with you,” I said.
I looked around the room at my brothers and sisters in Christ and admitted those words expressed my views on the racial issues we are facing.
“I hope I’m not late, but I am here with you, now.”
I shared a few additional thoughts, acknowledging I know my experience is different than theirs in many ways. I don’t need to have the conversation with my kids or young men in our church about exactly how to respond if they get pulled over by a police officer. We’re trying to educate our kids, but we’re having conversations with them about how we don’t have to have conversations that others have because of the color of their skin.
My concern on the way to the meeting was whether or not I would get a speeding ticket if I got stopped, not the concerns my brothers and sisters in the room had shared. My experience of “liberty and justice for all” has been different than theirs.
Our conversation ended, and I headed home, thankful for the conversation we shared and hopeful for some of my new friendships to grow. That night, I recorded the news in case the story made it on the air. It turned out the reporter was a deacon at one of the pastors’ churches, and a several-minute-long story aired.
I saw a clip of me speaking, mixed in with the comments from others. Then a second, and then a third. I felt a little embarrassed, not because I minded speaking on this issue, but because I felt inadequate to speak compared to the others in the room.
As I reflected about that over the next day or so, I came to a new perspective. Maybe the reason they used a few clips of me speaking wasn’t because I had a lot to say, but because it is important for white people to speak up on this issue.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”
I’ve realized more deeply over these past few weeks, we must not only personally treat all people equally; we must stand and speak and act so all people are treated equally everywhere.
Yes, there are multiple biblical issues in our society to which we can apply the principle of using our voice to advocate for others: protection of life for the unborn, human trafficking, the foster care crisis and many more. Some of these are issues for which I have stood and spoken and acted.
I also know there aren’t simple solutions to address what has been ingrained for generations, but we can’t turn a blind eye and ignore the issue staring us in the face.
I hope I’m not late, but I am here with you now.
Steve Graves has been the pastor of Shearer Hills Baptist Church in San Antonio since 2014 and is a graduate of Baylor University and Baylor’s Truett Theological Seminary.