27 – An Open Letter to Black Men from a White Man
A Black/White Friendship
Frankly, I never would have been interested in reconciliation at all if it wasn’t for Tom Skinner. We whites have a problem. It’s called apathy. You see, I could have lived my whole life never knowing a black man personally and it would not have affected my life one iota. So my response to racial problems was always indifference. I only say this because I feel we need to be honest with each other.
I could never understand why black men were so angry. It was through Tom and, later, other black friends that I learned about the active and passive racism all black men feel daily. I’m truly sorry, but I simply didn’t know. I had no reason to consider how black men might feel.
It was only through personal relationships that I came to see that a black man can’t live three days without understanding how white people think because of the employer-employee relationship, the landlord-tenant relationship, and the vendor-vendee relationship. Also, I learned that because blacks feel they can’t break through a “glass ceiling” in the worlds of commerce and politics, the frustration often leads to deeply felt anger. Even after eighteen years of friendship, Tom and I were still learning these kinds of things about each other.
Tom and I never really planned on becoming best friends it just sort of happened. I’ve learned that reconciliation is not a group experience. Rather, it is a one-on-one personal kind of thing. It’s one white man and one man of color sitting down over lunch or a cup of coffee and getting to know each other. As Tom always said, the problem is simple we do not know each other. In any event, I did get to know Tom.
The Black/White Fellowship
Then in 1980 we had a racial disturbance in my hometown of Orlando. It wasn’t all that big, but some rocks were thrown, I seem to remember some fire, and it did make the evening news.
Anyway, the next day I came home for lunch and the black woman who helped clean our home, Merthie, was there. This was particularly awkward because Merthie lived on Parramore Street, the sight of the disturbance.
I said to her, “Merthie, how long do you think it’s going to take before we can all learn to live together?” She shifted uncomfortably and said, “Oh, I don’t know.”
Then I asked, “Well, Merthie, what keeps you going?” She shrugged and said, “Oh, I don’t know.”
Finally, I asked, “Well, Merthie, where do you get your hope for the future?” Bent over by the years, she shrugged again and said, “Oh, I don’t know.” And then she walked into the next room.
I closed the door behind her and wept bitterly for the next half hour. I prayed, “God, this isn’t right. What can I do to help?”
In the moments that followed an idea came to invite twenty black men and twenty white men to attend a meeting. The idea was not to try to change Orlando, but to try to change ourselves. Then, as Tom would say, as we became to each other what we wanted our city to become, that would create a model so attractive that others would want to be part of it.
We would meet one Saturday morning each month from 8:30 AM to noon, though we rarely ended on time. One month we would have a smooth meeting and I would think, “He loves me.” But the next month things would get cantankerous and I would think, “He loves me not.” But here’s the point. We all kept coming back to the table. We were committed to change.
Then, in 1991, I took early retirement from business to give myself to ministry. After approaching some friends in Jackson, Mississippi about doing a city-wide crusade, it became clear that a white middle-aged businessman wouldn’t connect with black pastors. Since half the city is black, I asked Tom Skinner if he would “joint venture” with me. So, Tom and I gave vision and leadership to help begin Mission Mississippi, a ministry of racial reconciliation headquartered in Jackson, Mississippi which continues to this day.
Now, why have I told all this? Because I didn’t want you to think what I have to say to you is “off the cuff” or that I have no idea about what I’m talking about. I didn’t want you to dismiss what I want to say as the half-baked thinking of a johnny-come-lately do gooder. I have paid some dues. Now, here’s how I’d like your help.
A Word For Whites
For several years I took a strong stand among whites that they must apologize to blacks for their sins of racism (active or passive) and the sins of their fathers.
Oh, I’ve heard the arguments:
• “But, I’m not a racist. Why should I have to apologize?”
• “I’m not responsible for what my father and father’s fathers did.”
• “Why can’t we just get on with the positive program?”
But I have the Scriptures to back me up: Nehemiah 1:6, 9:2; Leviticus 26:40; and even the words of Jesus in Matthew 23:29-32, “Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!”
A Word For Blacks
Nevertheless, the white brothers were beating me up badly. They felt my message was one-sided. Finally, I prayed, “Lord, I’m getting killed here. I need some help. Can you give me a word for black people?”
One day the thought came to mind, “Tell black people that it’s time to move from 1st Corinthians to 2nd Corinthians.”
You may recall that Paul wrote 1st Corinthians because a man was involved in sinful behavior. Paul told them to put the brother out of fellowship. But, when he wrote 2nd Corinthians he said,
The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him” (2nd Corinthians 2:6-8).
You see, I have talked with literally hundreds of white men who have tried to reach out to African American men. Not a mere casual effort, some of these men have tried earnestly and repeatedly to break through. But because of years of distrust most black men have been unwilling to reach back.
Here’s the real problem. Because of the intense focus on racial reconciliation in the 1990s, a whole generation of white Christians are willing to break with the past and learn how to be reconciled with their Christian brothers of color.
But because of constant rebuffs, I fear that many if not most of these white Christians are on the brink of giving up. That would be catastrophic.
You can see the vicious cycle. Blacks say, “They’ll never change. There must be another agenda. You can’t trust white people.” Then, rejected, whites turn around and say, “Oh well, I tried. I guess they just aren’t interested.”
And so, my black brother, here is what I would ask you to do. Forgive me, and forgive us. You hold a powerful tool the power to forgive. Yet, if you don’t forgive you bring trouble upon yourself because it is sin to withhold forgiveness (see Luke 17:3-4 and Matthew 6:14-15).
Let’s both take a step. When a white Christian reaches out with a repentant heart, reach back. Forgive. Comfort. Reaffirm your love. Isn’t it time to move from 1st Corinthians to 2nd Corinthians?
1. Whites: Do you have any friends of color? If not, might God want you to build a bridge to a man of color? What should you do if you are rejected?
2. Blacks: Has there been a white who has made an overture toward you that you rejected? Should you forgive that person and reach back?
3. Blacks and Whites: Take the Three-Week Reconciliation Challenge
If you are serious about racial reconciliation, invite one person of another color to meet with you once a week for three weeks with no other agenda except to get to know one another. You can do this over lunch, breakfast or coffee. Begin by asking each other to share how you each became followers of Jesus Christ and what God is doing in your life today. Discuss this article. Exchange information about each other’s families, work and other interests. If you are making progress, continue meeting with your new friend. If we all take this personal step, we will help bring about the kind of reconciliation that is in the heart of God.
Business leader, author, and speaker, Patrick Morley has helped men and leaders think more deeply about their lives, to be reconciled with Christ, and to be equipped to have a larger impact on the world.
© 1997. Patrick M. Morley. All rights reserved.