Students listened intently Wednesday morning as Melanie Taylor, Director of Discipleship, and Ally Currie, University Ministries Assistant, discussed racial reconciliation in chapel.
Taylor and Currie began by chronicling their experiences with racial relations and how they became friends.
Taylor, born and raised in the Chicago area, attended predominantly white Christian schools her entire life. She said that most of her friends were white up until middle school, which sometimes made her feel lonely and like she didn’t belong. Things started to change in sixth grade when her family joined a black church and she changed schools twice before high school. Her new church and schools, she said, diversified her friend group.
However, about a week and a half into her freshman year at Union, she began to have similar feelings of loneliness and isolation as she had in grade school and considered transferring. A week later, she was invited to a MOSAIC Bible study, which became “a home away from home” for her at Union. She also began attending City Fellowship Church in Jackson. Through MOSAIC and City Fellowship, she learned several key lessons.
“Culture and my identity that comes out of that isn’t a problem to be eradicated, but rather a gift from God that is being redeemed and that will endure through to the end of all things,” Taylor said. “Through my story, the Lord has opened my eyes to see that the way we come to understand ourselves as members of a particular culture or ethnic group is a part of our discipleship. I believe that I am called, for at least this season, to help other people to joyfully embrace that, not as this hard taboo topic that we can’t discuss but as part of their discipleship and something that the Lord is redeeming for His purpose.”
Currie, who is from Knoxville, grew up in a single-parent household with her mom and sister. Insecurities as a result of their broken family caused her mom to focus on building a stable home and outside environment. Currie attended a private Christian school from third grade to her freshman year of high school and went to a traditional Southern Baptist church, but most of her interactions with different races occurred when she was on the mission field.
She transferred to public school in tenth grade and, as an honors student as well as president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, noticed the separation between honors students and athletes and wondered why they were so different.
Currie says she had a realization when she married her husband, Charles, who is African-American.
“I recognized when he and I were having a lot of these conversations that just as much as [the Lord] created him a black man for a purpose… He made me a white woman on purpose,” Currie said. “We don’t have to feel guilt, we don’t have to feel shame, we don’t have to feel fear for who we are and who the Lord made us to be because that was on purpose.”
Several weeks into her freshman year at Union, Taylor felt called to become involved in a ministry called Young Life. She says that she came to realize that college can become one of the most selfish seasons of our lives.
“I see that call as saving me from myself by calling to me to love kids that I didn’t understand in a city that I didn’t belong to,” Taylor said.
Currie inadvertently became a Young Life leader her junior year at Union, and she began to learn about race relations in Jackson. Through Young Life, Taylor and Currie met and developed a strong friendship.
In the talk, Taylor and Currie gave four practical points for building relationships. Currie says that the first point is to recognize our neighbor as a son or daughter of the Most High God.
“When we were little kids, our parents taught us a lot about separating blocks based on their size, their color, and their shape, and while that’s a very good thing to learn how to do, we also don’t need to let the separation somehow transfer into our mind as something that’s dangerous or threatening to us,” Currie said. “Our differences are what make us valuable to each other.”
Currie said that, in serving others on the mission field, we need to be careful not to think that we have something to offer them.
“When we talk about racial reconciliation, the number one thing that we should know is that it’s never something you do for someone else,” Currie said. “It’s something you do because Christ has called for reconciliation between us and Him, and therefore that means between us and our brother or sister.”
Currie said that we need to be mindful that those around us are image-bearers of God and our surrounding brothers and sisters are co-heirs in Christ with us.
Taylor said that we also need to become self-aware so that we can become self-forgetful.
“When we want to try to build relationships cross-culturally, especially crossing into a culture we’re vastly unfamiliar with, we often begin in the wrong place,” Taylor said. “We think, ‘if I’m going to try to build a relationship on purpose with this person who’s different, then I need to start with learning more about them and what makes them so different than me.’”
Taylor said this places us as the standard and makes us measure people’s differences by our own standards. She related this to a passage in Isaiah 6 and reminded the audience that “self-awareness is a transformative discipline.”
“Self-awareness involves recognizing these patterns of thought and how patterns of thought work their way out into our actions,” Taylor said. “You can’t confess or repent sin if you don’t know what it is. You can’t praise God for His work in your life if you don’t know what it is.”
Taylor said that we can have the best intentions but can actually do damage or harm, relating this to the metaphor of a bull in a china shop.
“When we’re cultivating an awareness of God and an awareness of ourselves, then we can be aware of others in a way that is healthy and in a way that’s helpful,” Taylor said.
Taylor also said that we need to be people that are quick to listen and quick to repent.
“Our American culture places a really high value on efficiency and outcomes,” Taylor said. “Sometimes, especially when it comes to race, we bring Big Mac solutions in when we need like a momma’s home-cooking solution. You have to put in energy and intentionality… The reason your mom’s home-cooking is good because she made it for you and she knows what you like and she knows what you need.”
Taylor said that active listening involves asking good questions of ourselves and others and being ready to hear the answers. We must be realistic and realize that these issues will take a long time and a lot of learning.
“Racial tension isn’t necessarily a problem to be eradicated, but a journey to be walked,” Taylor said.
Currie said that the last point is to cultivate humility for the long journey. She noted that we often think of humility as a passive experience.
“Hopefully in this journey with the Holy Spirit, we’ll spend less time thinking about trying to be humble and we’ll actually just become humble,” Currie said.
Currie shared that she and her husband Charles experienced much opposition in their early relationship, which reminded her of Joshua and the battle of Jericho. They felt like they were going in circles, but God reminded them that He has promised us good.
“Just like He promised the Israelites that they would win the city of Jericho, that they just had to keep walking in circles over and over and over again, that obedience looked like keeping going. It looked like remaining faithful and listening to the Spirit, and that means knowing when to stop and knowing when to move forward,” Currie said.
Currie closed the message by reminding students that God has already promised us that there will be reconciliation. She read from Revelation 7, a passage describing how “every nation and tribe and languages” will worship God together.
“This is going to happen,” she said. “The Lord has already told us that this is true. We get to walk in confidence together because when it says every tribe and every nation and every tongue, it’s not just talking about the people that you encounter when you’re overseas. It’s talking about your brother next to you that looks different than you.”