Randall Stephenson, the CEO of AT&T, did not give the usual leadership talk to his employees last year, but chose to speak to the racial tensions and divisiveness in our country. “Tolerance is for cowards,” he said. “Being tolerant requires nothing from you but to be quiet and not make waves, holding tightly to your views and judgments without being challenged.” He raised the bar at AT&T in saying, “Move into uncomfortable territory and understand each other.” After sharing personally how his friendship with an African-American neighbor opened his eyes to racism he declared, “It is a difficult, tough issue. It’s not pleasant to discuss. It takes work, it takes time, it takes emotion,” he continued, “but we have to start communicating and if this is a dialogue that is going to begin at AT&T, I felt like it probably ought to start with me.”
Stephenson is correct in saying that “it takes work, it takes time…” The Apostle Paul rebukes false pretense, “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good.” Romans 12:9 So how do we make a dent in the divisiveness in our communities and in our country? I Peter 2:17 says, “Respect everyone…”
One of the greatest gifts we can give another person, and in the end ourselves, is to listen to one another. What is it like to walk in his shoes? What struggles has she had in her past which now shapes her present? Dietrich Bonhoeffer gives us sobering words in Life Together, “Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God too.”
Here are some practical suggestions for raising the level of respect in our community, in your place of employment, our schools and homes. John Wesley had “Three Simple Rules”: 1) Do no harm: a) Practice zero toleration for disrespect. B) call one another out when disrespect occurs—but do it in love. 2) Do Good: a) Seek out conversations with those who are different than you, b) listen, don’t rush to talk, to the other person with the intent to learn and value their story, 3) Attend upon the ordinances of God: a) read scripture and pray daily to refuel and inform your mind and spirit, b) ask the Holy Spirit to fill you with agape or unconditional love for we can’t love our neighbor within our carnal flesh, we need a supernatural love which only comes from God to value each person around us. C) do not think more highly of yourself than you ought to think. (Romans 12:3)
In January of 2018 the leaders of Christ Church will take a bus ride with the leaders of an African-American congregation in our community to Atlanta, GA and Selma, AL. What may change us will not be the destinations but the conversations we will have. Stephenson is right, “...I felt like it probably ought to start with me.” Let it be so.