“I’m just tired of only hearing white, mainstream evangelical voices,” a good friend lamented to me recently. “Why aren’t voices from other backgrounds listened to in the same way as the white voices?” I heard the weariness of consistent exclusion in his question, and frankly, wondered the same thing myself.
When I saw Rachel Held Evans’ list of 101 Christian Women Speakers a few months ago, I was struck most by their lack of representation and recognition in the mainstream white evangelical Christian culture. Looking at the speakers at so many Christian conferences and gatherings, it would appear that white males are the only people qualified to speak from a place of faith. Rachel’s list showed us that this was not so.
As I researched this list, I was struck by how many great voices from diverse backgrounds are speaking in the public sphere through all sorts of mediums – writing, music, art, speaking. It is my hope that this list will broaden the conversation even further and be a resource to help distribute the collective voice beyond only one dominant cultural perspective in the public Christian sphere.
Thank you for your amazing list, Jodi. Scanning it, I knew: GOD wants the change this blog post invites. He wants us white people to sit at the feet of other people, to listen and learn. He isn’t asking us to agree with everything we hear, but he is calling us to let people have their say, without rejecting out-of-hand viewpoints that differ from ours – that challenge our beliefs and/or put us in the hot seat. He’s calling us to dare to hear one another. He’s calling us to dare to hear his heart.
The God who reveals himself as Father, Son and Spirit speaks to each of his children individually. He also speaks to us through one another. “One another” does not only include ordained white men. “One another” includes the breadth of the Body of Christ.
When we listen only to one voice (such as the white, predominantly male, US evangelical voice), we come to equate true Christianity solely with that voice. We fear any other voice, for it might lead us into error. We disdain any other voice as inferior. We become so convinced that this one voice speaks for God, we will ultimately accuse the Lord himself of error when he speaks up to challenge what we’ve been told.
Yet no one human voice, nor even one culture’s voice, comes close to grasping the whole of truth. White preachers – like all other Christian voices – speak the truth in part. And all of us tend to see the truth through the grid of our own cultural biases and norms.
In a fallen world created by a holy God, every culture illuminates some aspects of truth, and every culture obscures some aspects of truth. Since my culture is like the air I breathe, I can rarely see where it’s clouding or clarifying my perception of truth, without help from someone “outside.” I won’t believe I need that help, or be able to receive it, except as I humble myself before the Spirit of Christ.
Humbling myself, I can open myself to embrace truth more fully in two ways:
1. Learn to listen to the Lord.
The ability to hear God proceeds from a heart wholly yielded to him – continually willing to let him point out sins and missteps, as well as to guide, encourage, affirm and provide. Only as I practice hearing and obeying God, Spirit-to-spirit, only as I receive and walk in his living Word, can I begin to discern when I am or am not hearing him speak through others.
2. Learn to listen to the Body of Christ.
For us who have been reared in the white evangelical church culture, this is a lot harder than it sounds. Having been trained from birth to trust only those voices that teach the exact brand of Christianity we’ve always been taught, we do not know: This actually makes us more susceptible to error, not less so.
It’s crucial that we quit letting pride and fear, busyness and disrespect stop us from humbly receiving what the Lord Jesus wants to pour into our lives through others who love him but look and think differently from us. It’s crucial that we quit putting our fingers in our ears at the first statement that offends us or seems to contradict what we’ve previously believed. Those very statements provide us important opportunities to run to our Lord, seeking clarity and waiting before him until he gives it.
I’m writing all this because I believe it. I’m writing all this to hold myself accountable to live it. For today, God is saying to me: “You know this, Deborah. I don’t have to convince you of it. Now I want you to follow through. Regularly, resolutely, I want you to go out of your way to listen to voices that, until now, you didn’t even know were speaking.”
Aha. Jodi, the blogger who went to great lengths to give names and contact information for 101 Culturally Diverse Christian Voices, has provided a treasure I’m now responsible to mine. I accept that responsibility with joy, and with trembling, crying out to God for grace to follow through. You’ll know if I do, for I will share with you some exquisite gems I uncover along the way.