Foreign Exchange

Foreign Exchange

As I write this, the governor of Virginia has declared a state of emergency in Charlottesville, Virginia, just an hour and 15 minutes up the road from Lynchburg, because of clashes between thousands of white nationalists, assembling to protest the proposed removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, and groups opposed to their presence and message. Not long after the governor's declaration, a car plowed into a crowd of peaceful protestors, and thus far one person is dead and several injured. The driver was chased down and arrested, but there is no other information on his motives or affiliation at this time.

Prior to this horrific act of cowardice, there were other outbreaks of violence, lawsuits and court injunctions and an eerie nighttime torchlight rally last night reminiscent of some of the darkest times in our world's history. It is episodes like this one that spur me on to the task God has placed on my heart, and while words are my only weapon, I pray that the Lord can take my offering and use it in a supernatural way to advance love and justice and repel evil.

Southern (Baptist) Discomfort

Southern (Baptist) Discomfort

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, recently held its annual meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, and among the items of business addressed were various resolutions establishing the sense of the assembled participants on current issues. Unlike many denominations, the SBC believes in and stresses the autonomy of the local church, so these resolutions, although they may speak to the general sense of the denomination as a whole, are not necessarily reflective of a particular local congregation.

I experienced this first hand when we lived in Valrico, Florida, just outside of Tampa. My family and I were searching for a local church after moving to the area from a company assignment in Germany, and the first church we attended was very traditional in its presentation and style of worship. The church we eventually called home was dramatically different, with a large auditorium rather than an ornate church sanctuary, contemporary music and creative arts for worship, and a casually dressed pastor who oftentimes used pop culture to set themes for his sermon series. One would never have guessed that these two stylistically different churches, mere miles apart, were part of the same denomination.

Over the past year or so, the Southern Baptist Convention, perhaps more so than any other denomination, has found itself struggling internally over the questions raised by the candidacy and presidency of Donald Trump. The issues raised by his rise to power date all the way back to 1998, when the SBC passed a “Resolution on Moral Character of Public Officials" in the wake of President Bill Clinton’s infidelity with young intern Monica Lewinsky.

Race Relations in the Post-Obama Era

Race Relations in the Post-Obama Era

Note: These are the prepared remarks from which I gave my presentation on February 21, 2017 at Liberty University's Jerry Falwell Library in Lynchburg, Virginia as part of their Faculty Author Series.

In considering the title for this talk, some may think it’s far too soon to evaluate the post-Obama era. After all, it’s only a month and a day old!

With passions regarding the past eight years of the Obama presidency still high on both sides of the political aisle, it’s fair to assume that any verdict we render now will have the rough edges smoothed, or be thrown out altogether as time and distance bring hopefully greater objectivity and academic rigor to the study of his time in office.

That said, history, whatever its verdict, cannot take away the significance of Barack Obama’s ascendancy to the White House. Whether you wished him well or ill, he was the first black person to become president of the United States.  As we observe Black History Month, his achievement is arguably the culmination of a tortured history between Americans of European and African descent dating back to 1526, when Spanish settlers brought, among others, a group of African slaves to establish and inhabit San Miguel de Guadalupe, the first European settlement on what is now the continental United States.

Peace on Earth

When the first of November rolls around each year, my spirits begin to rise in anticipation of the holiday season to come. The period that begins with Thanksgiving and ends with Epiphany – Three Kings Day for some - on January 6th is my favorite time of the year. I’ve been pushing the envelope in my household for years on when I start to play Christmas music – regrettably, there is not a lot of Thanksgiving music out there! – and while I usually wait until Thanksgiving Day, this year I started a little bit early to try and usher in the season as soon as I could.

Colin Kaepernick, Black Lives Matter and the End Game

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" ~ Evelyn Beatrice Hall, Friends of Voltaire

The start of the 97th season of the National Football League (NFL) is two weeks away, and football fans are ready and eager to set aside their cares from the work week and immerse themselves in the entertainment and escapism that is professional football. The NFL is clearly America’s greatest sports pastime, which by definition is “something that amuses and serves to make time pass agreeably”, a “diversion.”

Bearing One Another's Burdens

I’m sitting here staring at a blank piece of paper, my mind filled with thoughts and my heart troubled. Like many of you, I’ve been trying to make sense of the racial tension that has our nation in its grip, and I’ve been dismayed by the tone and tenor of the conversation on social media, even among my friends and acquaintances. Calls for understanding are being met with resistance, requests for prayer are being ridiculed as inaction, and some are even predicting God’s coming judgment on one race over another.

Those of us who strive to follow the whole counsel of God are left to wonder if we are alone in trying to honor our common heritage as image-bearers of God, all of whom are worthy, yet all of whom have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. All I know with absolute certainty is that God’s thoughts and ways are not ours, and I want to think, feel and act as He does, as much as I am able.

Does the Color of a Person’s Skin Matter?

I recently posed the question on Facebook; does the color of a person’s skin matter? I was hoping to illicit some responses which could lead to healthy discussions on race. Instead what I discovered was a collective yawn. I received a grand total of one response, which read essentially, “sometimes yes and sometimes no.” It seems that although the issues of race run deep and run continuously, they also seem to run below the surface. Concerns over skin color lie dormant until some actual or perceived injustice springs back to life, the cry of racism.

A few years back I was deeply moved by the testimony of a young teenage girl, given during a discussion about “race and how it affects me.” Her comments, to this day, produce a stir of emotions within my soul due too the profound truths she so innocently proclaimed. The discussion was part of an all night youth lock-in at the YMCA, culminating a two year cross cultural relationship between teenagers from two church youth groups; one group white, the other black.

Let me back up a little first. In 1995 I moved my family south, after having lived my entire life in Upstate New York. We suddenly began to encounter more African American’s in our daily interactions with society than we would have encounter in several months, back home. It was my observation at that time that although blacks and whites seemed too co-existed amicably at work and in society, there didn’t seem to be much personal interaction. This troubled me and I pondered how things “ought to be,” in light of living in the heart of the Bible belt.

My wife and I worked with our church’s youth program and we decided to phone around to see if there was a black church of similar size and located near by, which would be interested in working with us. Sure enough we found a church willing to push aside the status quo and tackle the issues of race head on. Our leadership teams met over dinner to discuss and design a strategy for getting to know one another. Although initially our interactions were tentative and sometimes awkward, we persevered and forged wonderful new relationships that previously were very unlikely.

Our youth met monthly and enjoyed swimming together, playing volleyball, bowling, basketball, roller- skating, worshiping at one another’s churches and other group activities too. For most of us, crossing the cultural barrier was a new experience, but one richly blessed with new understandings and insights. There were certainly challenges to overcome, such as the time we planned to visit a neighborhood swim club. I became concerned a couple of days before the event that the members of the swim club, located in a predominantly white neighborhood, might not appreciate sharing their facilities with twenty or so black teenagers. I didn’t want to assume the swim club members would be prejudiced and yet I feared that if they were, it would be very uncomfortable for our new friends to discover they were not welcome, with swim suit and towel in hand. So I called around to the board of directors of the swim club to seek permission for our use of the pool and facilities. In the end the board of directors had no issues with our use of the pool and the event went off without incident, but the awareness that something could go wrong was always in the back of my head; further evidence of the subtleness of racism.

Anyway, the night of the lock-in, the youth played basketball, swam and just had fun hanging out together and mingling until mid-night. During the two years of interaction prior to the lock-in, we never formally discussed race or anything related to race, so mid-night was selected as the right time to broach the subject. The youth were seated in a circle at center court and the discussion began. Initially the teen’s comments were general and polite. It was the consensus of the group, both black and white that racism wasn’t such a big deal. The teens felt that considerable progress had been over the years, but they didn’t feel their lives were significantly impacted by racism.

But then the girl I mentioned at the top of this article stood up and shared her story. She worked at a local convenience store as a cashier. She said, “When white people come in to pay her, especially the older white people, they lay their money on the counter because they don’t want to touch my skin.” Here was an innocent young girl sharing honestly from her heart, a very real pain she experienced regularly. She wondered why the color of her skin mattered so much and why she wasn’t good enough. This girl’s honesty provided others with permission to take off their masks too. I saw for the first time what was previously invisible to me and I have been forever changed by the courage of a teenage girl. I invite each of you to join me in taking off all of our masks so we can see what has been too long unseen. I honestly can’t remember the other stories shared that early morning, but I will never forget the girl who testified that the color of a person’s skin still matters; at least it does in her world.

Stephen C. Weaver Esq. is an attorney and President of the No Walls Ministry, Inc. located in Lynchburg Virginia, whose mission is to help churches work cross culturally and cross denominationally to address the needs of the local community.  He has been teaching, speaking, writing and engaging in inner city ministries for over twenty years with his particular interest and passion being in the area of race relations.

Does Celebrating Diversity Lead to Unity?

Diversity Management grew out of the Civil Rights struggle of the 1960’s. It opened doors for minorities in the workplace and has helped employers adapt to the changing demographics of society in the decades since. Minority cultures previously ignored by mainstream society slowly began to be noticed and appreciated, which began the process of bridging the significant gaps between cultures. Today most, if not all of the fortune 500 companies, offer some form of on-going diversity training designed to foster team building and encourage appreciation amongst their employees. We can only speculate what motivates corporations and their executives to invest so heartily in diversity training when the results are so tenuous, but quite possibly some executives are driven by a profound sense of altruism and decency. Others quite possibly are prompted by sheer pragmatism and a sense of protection for their own bottom line. Either way, I applaud corporate America for urging their employees to treat others with, simple respect. No harm can come from emphasizing respect, yet for all the energy expended to bring people together, there seems to be little return on their investment.

I talked with a young African American woman recently who told me “we are often still not welcome.” It troubles me to think that in spite of the progress over the last fifty years, society is still not there yet. Even more distressing though, is the reality that my young friend still feels unwelcome and thinks in terms of “we and they.” This is a sad commentary on the status of race relations in America today.

About ten years ago, I worked as a Diversity Manager during my companies roll out of its diversity initiative, to over 100,000 employees. I traveled along the east coast conducting training sessions in distribution centers and stores, on valuing diversity. I truly believed in the idea of celebrating our differences. I felt the roll out was significant and if embraced by our employees, would make us a better company to work for and more responsive to our customers needs. However, there was a disconnect somewhere for me. For all the effort there seemed to be little change.

Diversity programs typically identify racism as a root cause of many social problems and they attempt to address adverse behaviors through dialogue and education. The thinking seems to be that if people are educated about the differences between people and encouraged to celebrate those differences rather than look down upon them, we will all get along better. This might be true if when celebrating our differences we didn’t add value to people based on their differences, subtly encouraging them to be different. The implication is, my differences must be valued or there is something wrong with the other person. If someone fails to value my difference according to my expectation, they are insensitive, bigoted or even worse, they are racists. Neither the one holding an expectation to a particular type of treatment, nor the one accused of racism is likely to feel the love.

The Unity Model takes a different approach and begins with the belief that racism is rooted in sin. Built upon this understanding is the belief that Jesus Christ offers the only solution for the problem of sin. So, any attempt to effectively address racism must focus on Christ, or the effort will come up short. Unity is not, in and of itself the answer, since even unity can be twisted into evil. God intervened at the Tower of Babel when men began to unite for the purpose of making a name for themselves.1 He testified to the power of unity and cautioned us to its danger when directed away from His purposes, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”2 Jesus reminded us that He and the Father are one and desires for us to “be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”3

Christ draws diverse people together and their Unity is evidence to the world of two things. First, God sent Jesus for our benefit and second, God loves us individually in the same way He loves Jesus. We must remember Unity is not natural because we are so diverse. Naturally we are more comfortable with people who are like ourselves. Therefore our Unity provides supernatural evidence of God’s presence in our midst. Our Unity will cause a watching world to wonder, what is different about us.

Unity celebrates our similarities where as Diversity celebrates our differences. Unity acknowledges that our value does not come from being different, but from being similar. We are fearfully and wonderfully made,4 unique in our personhood, yet all formed in the image of God.5 Our matchless fingerprints and exclusive DNA, testify to the fact that we are unique individuals before God and yet utterly common before mankind.

It is not our differences that make us strong, but our similarities. Celebrating Diversity overlooks the problem of sin and focuses on the individual. It trains us to expect certain treatment or demand censure; neither of which lead to unity. Only when we surrender our personal identities (skin color, culture, economics, education, etc.) and identify with Christ, can we be united with diverse peoples. Celebrating Diversity may be politically correct today, but it fails to deliver a lasting and genuine unity between people from a wide array of cultures.

Stephen C. Weaver Esq. is an attorney and President of the No Walls Ministry, Inc. located in Lynchburg Virginia, whose mission is to help churches work cross culturally and cross denominationally to address the needs of the local community.  He has been teaching, speaking, writing and engaging in inner city ministries for over twenty years with his particular interest and passion being in the area of race relations.

1 Genesis 11:4.
2 Genesis 11:6-7. 
3 John 17:23.
4 Psalm 139:14.
5 Genesis 1:27. 

The Healing Power of Love

She was eleven years old. She had big brown eyes and wore her hair in puff-ball pigtails almost every day. At first glance, she looked like other girls at the summer program her age who loved listening to Justin Bieber and jumping rope. But something was different. When the other girls were turning ropes and jumping, she would run in when it wasn’t her turn and mess up whoever was jumping; she would rip the rope out of their hands. On her brother’s birthday, she wrote him a card that said she hoped he died. It wasn’t long before the other kids avoided her. And that was how she wanted it.