Back to Top

“Loving Everyone” and Learning to Listen

I am hoping that someone reading this will learn from my failures. I am still developing the muscle-tone at midlife to have conversations with people of color where I mostly just listen, the way God listens to me. I am a white male leader at a multiethnic, majority-white church, and I’m learning from my mistakes. I’m offering them here in the hope that if you need to, you might learn from them too. 

The past five years have been difficult in churches in America, particularly multiethnic ones which are majority-white. Creating an atmosphere where people of differing races and cultures can worship together is complicated, to put it gently. Stewarding a multiethnic church has become even more complex during these racially-conscious and highly-political times as 76 percent of white Christians voted for Donald Trump, while most Christians of color did not.* Donald Trump’s rhetoric gave legitimacy to racism for many whites, including many white evangelical Christians. I recognized the racism, but sometimes tried to strike a kind of “balance”. In my mind, I convinced myself that I could both address the racism while simultaneously “loving everyone” in my congregation. 

In listening to the people of color closest to me, I heard one consistently clear message

That may have been the intent, but it was not the effect. What I did was tolerate some congregants’ racist ideas by neither addressing them directly… or, when we did bring it up, doing so very indirectly. The intent was to correct these congregants while trying not to offend them. This seemed like a very loving way to try to “restore that person gently” (Galatians 6:1). It was only later that I began to ask myself how this “gentle” approach affected people I knew who are actually hurt by racism? So I started having conversations. 

In listening to the people of color closest to me, I heard one consistently clear message: when we white church leaders are silent or indirect about racism and racial injustice, we allow our churches to feel increasingly unsafe for the people hurt the most by racism. Period. Full-stop. 

As a leader, I had not done enough. 

It isn’t like I didn’t do anything, but that isn’t the point. I like to think of the handful of times where I did speak up in conversations with other white people and sometimes even in worship. This was helpful. However, these few times I worked up the courage to speak, I was not prepared for how to deal with the backlash from white congregation members that often ensued. It was wearying. I started worrying about my reputation. I soon took my eyes off the people most hurt by racism, and started focusing once again on me. That is a pretty white thing to do, I’m finding out. 

I fail often, but am hopefully failing less frequently than I used to.

So here is what I see has happened over the past five years. Every time I chose to be silent, I was, actually, enabling the sin of racism to find a home in what was supposed to be a sanctuary. I was, essentially, sparing my own feelings at the expense of the emotional and bodily safety of people most at risk from racism. I was not “loving everyone” – I was only loving myself and the people who looked the most like me. 

Today, I am trying to do better. One of the corrective practices I am trying to learn is listening to people who are very different from myself. This is hard, because I like to talk, and I think I have good ideas. But what I keep telling myself over and over is that my self-confidence and self-assurance so often morphs into pride or an unteachable spirit. What I need to do, in order to grow, is learn humility, meekness and self-control. I need to keep reminding myself that the people who know the most about racism are the people who experience it the most. I am not the expert. I am the student. I need to listen. So, I’m trying to learn to be teachable and correctable. I’m trying to learn how to ask good questions, and then sit back and hold my tongue. I fail often, but am hopefully failing less frequently than I used to.

But honestly, I still have some regret for the times I didn’t listen well, the time I wasn’t brave enough to speak up… because too often these days I feel like I am conducting exit interviews with my friends and congregants who are people of color. For some people whom I deeply love, there has been too much damage to make it worth staying in the CRC because people – like me – have frequently been silent about racism in worship. 

Like I said at the beginning, I am hoping that someone reading this will learn from my failures. Maybe if I had been listening more often to God about racism this whole time, I would have chosen to act differently. For now, I am trying to learn to listen more to the Spirit, and people of color, who are still willing to take a chance on me. I have not had my last conversation, and for this, I am grateful. 

* New York Times, Preliminary exit-polling data: 2020 National Exit Polls 

Photo by Daniela Mota on Unsplash


The Reformed family is a diverse family with a diverse range of opinions. Not all perspectives expressed on the blog represent the official positions of the Christian Reformed Church. Learn more about this blog, Reformed doctrines, and our diversity policy on our About page.

In order to steward ministry shares well, commenting isn’t available on Do Justice itself because we engage with comments and dialogue in other spaces. To comment on this post, please visit the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue’s Facebook page (for Canada-specific articles) or the Office of Social Justice’s Facebook page. Alternatively, please email us. We want to hear from you!

Read more about our comment policy.