OPINION COLUMNS

Escaping the echo chamber could lead to real blessings

By Brian Knox | Published Wednesday, June 24, 2015
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Listening to a police scanner in the newsroom all day, you hear all kinds of calls.

But there’s one call I hear from time to time that makes me uncomfortable. It usually goes something like this:

“We need an officer in route to the complainant’s location for a suspicious person. Black male walking down the street.”

Brian Knox

Brian Knox

I’m sure the people who call the police for this type of thing are well meaning, but it does beg the question: if the person walking down the street had been white, would the phone call have been made?

Race is a conversation most people, particularly white-skinned people like myself, find uncomfortable. We like to tell ourselves that race relations are getting better. Some even argue it’s not an issue at all.

And then something like Charleston happens.

Nine black church members killed, all because their skin was the “wrong” color.

The last words they heard were “You rape our women, and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”

A 21-year-old white man’s heart became so filled with hate that he spent an entire hour in a Bible study and prayer meeting with them before pulling out his gun and slaughtering them.

He reloaded five times.

A Washington Post story I read over the weekend said the gunman, after his arrest, told police he “almost didn’t do it because they were so nice to him.”

Perhaps if this warped young man had spent more time attending that historic black church and actually getting to know those nine church members rather than wrapping himself in an echo chamber of white supremacists who cling with pride to the Confederate flag and argue that this country was better when black people were treated as property rather than the fully equal American citizens they are, the outcome might have been radically different.

But that’s not how we operate in this country apparently.

We like to listen to other people who look and think like ourselves to form our opinions about those who don’t look or think like ourselves.

Don’t believe me? Turn on cable television and note the skin color of those who decry black violence on the streets of Ferguson and Baltimore or those who think it is just fine to degrade one’s faith if you use the Arabic word for God, “Allah.”

A Muslim friend of mine earlier this month was cornered in a bathroom during a Tea Party event in the Metroplex. A Christian woman, noticing my friend’s hijab, a traditional head and chest covering worn by Muslim women, decided to “share her Christian faith” with my friend.

While I don’t know exactly what was said, I do know that my friend had to leave the building to go to the parking lot to compose herself due to the hateful way she was addressed.

My wife and I on a few occasions have had discussions about faith with this young woman, and it has always been a positive experience for all of us. Of course, we approach the conversation with love for her and respect for her faith, and we listen to what she has to say.

The Tea Party Christian, according to the group’s newsletter article about the incident, told my friend she’s “in America now where she can be free, and doesn’t she want to use that freedom?” She called my friend a “lost soul,” and asked if she’d “like to learn about Jesus?”

I know that the lady didn’t do any listening. If she had, she would have realized my friend, while her family is Arab, was born in Fort Worth and has lived in Texas her entire life.

Perhaps my Muslim friend could have told this Christian woman a story about her own father, the owner of a gas station in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

Last Thanksgiving, a black family traveling across the state had a blow out while returning to their home. A police officer tried finding a tire store that was open on the holiday, but he was unsuccessful.

The officer called my Muslim friend’s father, thinking his gas station might have a tire. Unfortunately, it did not have the right size.

The family said they would just sleep in their car and try to find a tire store the next morning.

My Muslim friend’s dad wouldn’t hear of it. He insisted that these strangers stay in an upstairs room at his business where there were couches, blankets, pillows and a bathroom with a shower.

He refused any money from the family.

Both the officer and the family were overwhelmed by such an act of kindness for strangers.

I still have a long way to go in my own Christian faith journey, but I saw the love of Jesus shared in one of the two encounters I described above.

And it was shared by a Muslim, not the Christian.

How many white Christians have opened up their home or business to black strangers in need?

Or are we more willing to call the police about a suspicious person?

So often we judge people based on our perceptions of race or culture when we really need to spend more time getting to know those who are different from us.

If we take the time to listen, we might just learn something. Or better yet, we might be blessed.

Perhaps if the Tea Party Christian had been willing to listen to someone different from herself, she might have experienced the love of Jesus herself that afternoon.

And if a 21-year-old racist had been willing to seek God with the help of the faith of those nine black Christians at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, our world would be a little less empty today.

Brian Knox is special projects manager at the Messenger.

One Response to “Escaping the echo chamber could lead to real blessings”

  1. Skip Nichols says:

    Thoughtful, well-written piece … Brian nailed it.

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