Monday, December 8, 2014

Seek First to Understand

My friend, Jack Frederick, recently posted a piece on Facebook reflecting on the current racial tension in the US. I want to share some portions of it with you. As you read, please know that Jack and his wife, who are white, have reached out to people of different races for many years. Jack has made sacrifices to teach in many inner city schools and Historic Black Colleges. He walks the talk. This is a longer post than readers are used to in this space, but there are times when more is needed.

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood” (one of Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”)

I want to speak frankly and honestly in humility; I will make mistakes and be misunderstood so I ask you to hear my words with kindness and grace. I’m searching like many to understand. I ask that you please not respond to this as a political statement; it is not. I’m not telling you ‘how it is’, I do not have the answers, I’m just wrestling like you are.

 My  goal is to provoke all of us to try to put ourselves in the shoes of those who are ‘not like us’; if you are white try to understand what it’s like to be black, if you’re black try to understand white people’s perspective. Likewise to the rich and  poor, etc. We really need most to learn to love one another as Jesus loved; if we seek this we will seek to understand those around us and to live considerately.
I used to think I understood how difficult it is to be black, or African American, in our society; I realize I don’t. I grew up with a single mother who raised six sons.We were so poor in rural Alabama that we went one night a week to watch TV with our black neighbors because they had a TV and we didn’t.

I experienced the discrimination and ridicule poor people receive, but not what my black friends and neighbors endured. Our government and society have made some progress but there remains prejudice, bigotry, racism, discrimination, name-calling, inequality, hatred and fear.

I don’t believe the vast majority of white people or black people consciously agree with these wrongs, though these likely reside subconsciously in each of us. Yes, I did intend to say both white and black people hold on to some of these wrong ideas, and we should each consider ourselves, and what wrong ideas we hold on to.
Gail and I have two daughters we have taken into our family, their skin color is way different than ours. They were fatherless & motherless, in need of care and love; we do our best to treat them like our children, and our family loves them. We have sacrificed for them. We have taken homeless young black men in off the street because they had nowhere to go and nothing to eat. We’ve also taken in Asians, Hispanics, white people and Europeans including a young Bosnian mother who fled to America with her baby to escape her drug-dealer ex-boyfriend. All that is good & commendable, but it doesn’t mean I understand what it is like to be them.
Prejudice and bigotry exists around the world, some far worse than in America. Throughout God’s word He teaches us there is no place for such in His family and yet it even arose in the churches, thus He had to address it in the Bible. Greeks, Jews, slaves, free, rich, poor, male, female; the Bible says “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28, Col 3:11). My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ we must not show favoritism (James 2:1).

Many people in America are protesting; I haven’t decided yet to do that, but I understand why some are. I asked my African American daughter Tia her thoughts about the current crises. I am troubled and I worry about the safety and fair treatment of my friends and family who have been treated unfairly because of their race. I want to understand better, I want to not just brush it off as if it were happening far away.

My power to change things is limited, …but I can love those who are not like me, beginning with my neighbors and those I know in churches across America and the world. You can, too. I encourage each of us to take the time to talk to someone who is different from ourselves; don’t just get your ideas from what some news reporter tells you. It’s very easy for us to choose to listen to news channels and reporters who affirm what I already thought rather than really trying to see it from the perspective of those who are not like me.

You still have a mind and you can think; just because you listen to others doesn’t mean you must accept their perspective, but at least you listen. That’s a biblical approach; the apostles listened to the crowds of disciples who complained that they were being mistreated in Acts 6:1ff. And consider how difficult it is for any of us to change our minds and traditions, the way we think; that’s not because we are bad people, but it is wise to avoid changing without thinking things through. Pray deeply about your decisions, and above everything else love one another (1 Peter 4:8).

My heart goes out to everyone involved, and to our nation as we wrestle with how to love one another. I struggle to understand. I have questions. I can’t understand the fear and pain many of you feel because I’ve not been black, I’ve never been arrested, my business has never been burned by rioters. My heart goes out to all those who have suffered tragedy. My prayers are with the nation.

As part of God’s family when one suffers we all suffer; as brothers & sisters in our nation and as brothers & sisters in mankind around the world we likewise suffer. We should all remember one another, empathize with one another in suffering, respect one another, be kind to one another. Respect leaders and the government, but exercise our freedom to protest and bring change.


  1. This is a very well written and thoughtful article. Thanks to Jack for writing it and thanks to you, Tom, for posting it to mind change moments!

  2. This is very powerful. I appreciate the frankness and honesty. We do need to love. It can fix the greatest problems we have. That is why God is always the right answer to the question.