Being White and Vulnerable

A Preface from Pastor Jay

Jay Thomas, Lead Pastor

Friends, in this tumultuous historical moment, we need to process together what it means to be God’s people in the world. Our blogs are a means of thinking Scripturally about that very thing. Though tumultuous, indeed, these days are in God’s caring hands. I do believe He has coalesced certain realities such that His purposes might be fulfilled. One of those purposes is for His people to represent and bring about His kingdom purposes in our land with regard to ethnic unity and, dare I say, glory.

The elders of CHBC believe this is a God-given and clearly Biblical priority and we want to shepherd this body in pursuit of that mission. We are responding to the providential events of late but we are not reactive. This is not about hype. This is not about a bandwagon. We believe the Spirit of God is on the move and we want to respond in obedience. 

To that end, over the next weeks and months, you will see blogs written by some of our members regarding their sense of Biblical reflection and discipleship action with regard to ethnic unity and healing. But, this can be a controversial topic, can’t it? Therefore, I thought it wise to pen this as a preface of sorts. I need to be careful. I don’t want to mute, nor do I want to unduly endorse everything written. I am not sure if I will capture that balance by writing this, but my hope is to simply say that the things written here will be within the bounds of orthodoxy and wisdom. However, that does not mean everyone will agree, at least with everything written. The views of each author are not to be seen to represent the official position of the Chapel Hill Bible Church on matters that are not Biblically central or clear, at least as the church has interpreted Scripture through the centuries. But, nor will anything be put here that our leadership would object to as opposed to Scripture and wisdom. You will likely read positions from various viewpoints. Let us be careful not to categories or label too quickly without deep reflection and perhaps even dialogue with the author or fellow members who feel similarly. I especially want us to avoid binaries and dichotomies between liberal vs. conservative; Marxist vs. gospel; sound vs. irrational. Nothing will be put to print that is not orthodox, somehow helpful, sound, or within the bounds of evangelical convictions. 

My first hope is that we will all share fundamental and Biblically clear convictions that racial prejudice is profoundly sinful, even though we may disagree how racism plays itself out in our world. My second hope is that we will also use these blogs as a way to think, dialogue, and measure against the Scriptures like the Bereans. If you find something curious, troubling, interesting, hard to hear, or inviting, I encourage you to seek out the author and talk about it. Talk about these matters with your family, friends, life group, and other believers. 

The church of Jesus Christ has always cared about its world. It is not of this world, but it is in it and it wants to be a blessing to it. We have cared about orphans, the elderly, the unborn, the dissipation of rampant alcoholism and other substance abuse, sex trafficking, and many other social ills. It is my prayer that the Spirit of God convicts us of the social ill of racism in our land, that we all care deeply about it, and that we will grow together in making a difference in our spheres of influence to see the church reflect the kingdom, first and foremost, as we see the kingdom break more and more into our world. The church is not a social justice non-profit, in a secular sense. But we are a God’s justice people, armed with the Spirit and the Word, called to be a hallmark of Divine justice for the world. May we be of one mind on the main things, of complementary mind on the less main things, and gracious in all things as we move together. Soli Deo Gloria! 

— Pastor Jay Thomas (Lead Pastor)

white vulnerable

Being White and Vulnerable

— Written by Dan Davis (CHBC Member)

Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

Proverbs 27:6 (ESV)

As issues surrounding racism and injustice have come to the fore, I have heard many admonitions to “sit with the discomfort” and to “have the hard conversations”. In those admonitions, I hear the call for iron to sharpen iron and for friends to wound friends. Wounds will always be painful, but I am grateful for those in my life who were willing to cut the cancer out of my heart even when it left a big, bloody hole to be healed. If we are to reach across the racial divide to bring healing and reconciliation, we must be open and vulnerable; ready to accept the wounds of friends. Unfortunately, not every wound I have received has felt like the wound of a friend. At the same time my heart feels pulled towards vulnerability in having tough conversations, the ideology of whiteness has pushed me away and made it hard to be open with others. While the space here is too short to enter into lofty arguments on whiteness as an ideology, discuss different dispositions readers might have towards the ideology, or speculate how many others share my experiences, there is time enough to reveal some of my experience to show that, like all ideologies, whiteness has an effect in its application. It has created a tension in my heart which has only served to work against the goals of unity and reconciliation; the very things I am eager to see.

Admittedly, I am far from an expert on race. The small town I was raised in and the Army I briefly served in were not free of racism or racial injustice, but on the whole I have been quite insulated from them. As the story of George Floyd and the resulting protests broke, I had to admit my ignorance and begin to read and listen. While my journey doing so is not complete, I have already received some faithful wounds. The strongest of these wounds came during Bible Church’s night to Listen, Learn, and Lament. One of my brothers spoke about growing up hearing stories of lynchings that his own family had experienced. I could no longer compartmentalize lynchings and Jim Crow as “in the past”. They were recent and affect my brothers and sisters today. The hurt I felt for them changed me. The hurt was good. However, when I read about the tendency of white people to be emotionally fragile in conversations about race as they try to avoid facing their own privilege, this time the hurt was not so good. I was confused that someone thought they knew so much about me that they could peer into my heart, into places I thought only God would reveal on judgment day, based solely on the generalized experience of someone with white skin. Why was so much being presumed about me?

This is the nature of the tension I mentioned above: my heart tries to open up to the faithful wounding of my family in Christ while feeling the need to shield itself against the unkind wounds of an ideology that seems to presume it already knows me. The ideology of whiteness looms like a judge, ready to pounce on my vulnerability and reinterpret anything I say into some version of what it already believes about me as a white man. While the call for conversation beckons me, “Sit down. Let’s talk and be vulnerable,” white fragility seems to attack that vulnerability saying, “If you cry, you are being fragile and drawing attention to yourself to protect your privilege.” It is hard to be vulnerable when my ultimate vulnerability, tears, could be judged by my confidants as the product of sin inside of me. It is hard to be vulnerable when the concept of whiteness seems to presume it knows exactly what is wrong with my heart before I even speak. The very act of me, a white man, feeling hurt by being told about by whiteness is seen by many as undeniable proof of my whiteness. If my denial and confession lead to the same judgments possibly being made about me, is it hard to see why some choose to avoid these conversations all together? It is also important to recognize how prevalent this has become in our national, workplace, and church dialogs. Even though I cannot know how any individual may judge me, the bind whiteness puts me in creates a desire to avoid finding out the hard way. Why be open just to find out who has prejudged my heart? No matter how gracious or gentle you as an individual would be about explaining my whiteness to me, it is not your words I’m afraid of. It is the judgment those words carry, and there are few words that can cover the baseline assumptions this ideology makes about my heart.

We need conversations to lead us into understanding, and we need to be vulnerable if we are going to be unified, but so long as vulnerability feels hindered by presumption, the conversation stands the risk of leading to further division. So long as part of me feels the need to hold up a shield against the unkind wounds of whiteness, I will inevitably block many of the faithful wounds of friends as well. I am here and ready to talk. Can I put down my shield?

As you learn and introspect, begin to consider – what tangible actions you can take in your community?

Feel free to reach out to us if you would like to discuss together or desire help in finding more educational resources.

Additionally, please reach out to Pastor Ryan if you feel that you need pastoral support in this time. 

Bespoken: Stop & Listen (Part 5)

This blog article is published in parallel with our Bespoken series, “Stop & Listen”. In Part 5, Pastors Jay and Ryan interview Daniel Davis – a young and married CHBC member – as he opens up about his emotional and spiritual journey on racial inequality after the death of George Floyd. Dan’s come alive in the last year to the racial tensions and disunity in our country, but also has found himself wrestling with being vulnerable as a white man as he enters into dialogue around this topic. No matter what side you find yourself on around this debate, we are inviting you to STOP & LISTEN.