In one of my favorite parables, Jesus contrasts the humility of a corrupt tax collector who pleaded for mercy before God, with that of a self-righteousness religious leader who was so obsessed with his own virtue that he failed to recognize his own need for repentance. (Luke 18:9-14) I have never had trouble seeing the hypocrisy of the self-righteous man in that parable, and yet I have often failed to recognize my own insensitivity to some very real trials faced by others born into or whom life’s circumstances have cast into a social and cultural maze.
The leadership of my local church often high-fives the breadth of the racial, ethnic, generational, sociological and cultural diversity displayed within our congregation. However, I’m convinced that the numbers are few, for those of us who could be fairly described as adequately prepared for, and understanding and accepting of the vast rainbow of traits and backgrounds and attitudes implicit in such a gathering of unique personalities.
God woke me to this reality during a recent men’s group meeting in which the conversation diverted from the spiritual to the social and political. In the past I’ve noted that whenever we keep the conversation to Biblical principles, we’re almost uniformly in agreement and peace reigns. But when we stray into social and political discussions, the air gets thick and the tension grows. On this particular occasion several men began to exuberantly share their personal and varied opinions and feelings – emotions and opinions and attitudes that clearly evolved from their widely diverse upbringing and skin color and associated negative experiences. As the temperature rose, a friend tried his best to defuse the situation with the phrase, “Everyone has their problems and trials;” instead it came close to triggering an explosion.
That was the moment the Lord chose to speak to my personal insensitivity. I knew I needed to repent and to ask forgiveness of my brothers. The atmosphere changed; and though the discussion continued, a calm settled over our group.
Some might insist that social and political discussions are distractions from the intent of a “prayer group.” I disagree. God is concerned and wants to be involved in every aspect of our lives. The subjects that tend to drive wedges between the races, between ethnicities, between the generations, and the social levels and the various cultural communities, all need to be addressed in a respectful way. We’ll never be able to walk in the other’s shoes; but we must try to be sensitive to the stories and histories that define our brothers’ and sisters’ uniqueness. And when we fail in this area we need to be “man-enough” to ask their forgiveness.