Hang Out With People of Different Races, Political Views, and Religious Beliefs
There is much written in Scripture and life about being with people who share our values. This is definitely true, but is not the complete picture.
When we spend all of our time with people of the same race and ethnicity, the same political views, and our Christian tribe, it can distort what others that are different from us actually believe. However, when we spend the time with those different from us and ask questions about their beliefs and understand them first hand, it goes a long way to build bridges and get a more accurate picture.
A case in point is back in 2017, Oprah Winfrey was asked by 60 minutes to interview voters in Michigan after the presidential election. Six of the voters cast ballots for Trump, and six cast ballots for Clinton.
Oprah did a terrific job of making sure both sides heard each other. So for example if a Trump voter said a statement, and then the Clinton voter interpreted that statement incorrectly, Oprah would stop and say “did you really hear him?”
Bottom line was people didn’t change their minds about their candidate, but after a while you could see the stereotypes breaking down and everyone was genuinely interested in what the opposite side was saying.
What was even more interesting, about six months later 60 minutes had heard that this diverse group of twelve people was meeting on a regular basis, even doing fun activities like bowling. So 60 minutes sent Oprah back again to interview these twelve individuals to ask what was happening.
The most important question she asked was had anyone changed their political views? All of them said no! What happened was since they spent time together, many of their biases left and they found how much they had in common.
When we read the Scriptures we find many biases that the Jewish Christians had against the Gentiles (defined as anyone who is not a Jew). For example in Acts, chapters 10 and 11 are the story of Peter visiting Simon the Tanner and doing ministry in Joppa. Around noon he goes up on the roof top to pray. During the prayer time he has a vision about unclean animals.
In the vision God tells Peter to eat, in which Peter replies he has never eaten unclean animals. God then says what he has made clean, is clean.
Peter is perplexed about what the vision means. Then some men show up at the door sent by a Gentile soldier who had a vision about having a man called Peter come and speak to him and his family.
Peter goes with the men, enters the soldier’s home and preaches salvation through Christ to the assembled multitude. In the midst of Peter’s talk he realizes that it is fine with God for him to enter a Gentile’s home, which was forbidden in Judaism.
Later in Acts 17:16-34 we see Paul the Apostle in Athens Greece, learning about their belief system and upon discovering they had an altar to an unknown god, he then preached about Jesus being the revelation of God on planet earth.
Paul didn’t judge them, but learned about their religious beliefs and used that as a bridge to share the gospel. The best part was the Athenians wanted to listen to him and some believed.
Years ago I read about a pastor who required that people of different political parties spend time together every week for a few months in a small group. Again the pastor was trying to break down barriers and stereotypes and show these people how their belief in Christ was more important than politics.
It is so easy to vilify people who are different from us, instead of doing research and spending time interviewing those people about what they think and feel.
For example, if you are a white, male American Christian, do you understand your brothers and sisters of color? Do you ask women how they feel about issues both inside the church and in the society as large? Do you ever choose to have lunch with someone who you believe hold different political and social views to understand their positions? Do you find out about people in other countries and research what they think about God or life in general? Or do you smugly say, “O I know what these people think. I read one brief article on the internet and so I know everything about them.”
People of faith need to be more empathetic. Empathy researchers define empathy as “the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling.” In other words putting yourself in their place! According to Hebrews 4:15, Jesus was able to do that, and if we ever want to be like Jesus, this is definitely the place to start. Otherwise, we will be like the Pharisee who thanked God he was not like the publican, someone he judged because he didn’t want to get to know him. We all know what God thought about that!