Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 

Philippians 2:1-5

What would it look like to live out Paul’s admonition with racial reconciliation? I can imagine it—brothers and sisters of different ethnicities and backgrounds being like-minded in pursuing God’s kingdom agenda of coming together as one under the banner of Christ. We would have the same love for another as we operated according to the Holy Spirit. We would be considering the interest of one another in all we did. We would value one another above our own selves. We would all be operating with the mindset of Christ. Many times, this is not the experience when I have seen people have discussions about race in the Church. The conversation usually gets stuck in reactive cycles as neither side feels heard or emotionally safe to be vulnerable and open with one another. When we do not perceive our relationships with each other as safe, we take more protective approaches, versus vulnerable approaches.

The first protective approach is the demanding approach. The function of this approach is to regulate the distress of not seeing others as safe or reliable. The pain of being rejected can lead to sole reliance on criticism and demand to be heard. They feel the considerable risk of rejection or abandonment if they move more towards vulnerably sharing what they feel or need.

Some people take an avoidant approach to deal with their internal distress in racial conversations. The function of this approach tries to regulate the pain by distancing oneself from the emotional experience of self and others. Their hearts become blocked, and they see the conversation as a threat rather than an opportunity for growth. They feel the serious risk of annihilation or failing if they move more towards vulnerability.

The problem with both of these protective approaches is that neither one of them is the best option for facilitating oneness—they are more about personal survival. Each one exacerbates the fears of the other, and the conversation gets stuck in an endless loop of frustration and pain. Neither side can move towards each other’s pain and fear. They cannot have healing conversations, so the strains of the past and the present continue to reverberate throughout our churches and society. Thankfully these are not the only two options. There is a third option of moving towards one another with vulnerability and the desire to value one another.

Some feel the emotional distress around race and can take a secure approach. Those who take a secure approach can verbalize feelings and longings. At the same time, they are also curious about the emotional experience and longings of others. They can hold emotional space for multiple experiences, and they can engage in healing conversations. They can respond to their pain and the pain of others in the face of possible abandonment, rejection, and criticism. Still, they remain resolved to the type of compassionate humility that considers others and moves towards unity.

If we cannot connect with each other’s experiences, then we cannot be a part of each other’s healing. Reconciliation will require all parties to experience some sense of discomfort as we listen and connect with each other’s stories. We can work through our fears and pain to experience each other on more personal and intimate levels because of the unity of the Spirit and work of Christ overcomes our fears.