Breaking Racial Barriers: Starting the Conversation

November 2, 2015

Charles Ware

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Charles Ware

Over the years I have found it difficult to engage in healthy helpful discussions on race relations. How do I keep from becoming bitter, cynical, defensive or just simply disengaged? Effective biblical counseling assumes authentic, transparent and humble conversations. It has proven helpful to me to break the broad concept of racism into four groups that, I believe, better identify the motives of people and assist in addressing the true need of their hearts.

Racism is a difficult subject to discuss!

“Race relations are like a perpetual wound that some argue is worsening rather than healing. Indeed, eradication of the disease has proven to be an elusive dream….” (One Race One Blood, Ken Ham & A. Charles Ware, p.58) Recent protests and rioting in response to the deaths of black men by predominantly white police officers have sparked a heated national debate about racism. As the debate escalates, even police officers have been gunned down.

Media coverage seems to fan the flames of distrust and division between different ethnic people. As a Christian, whose skin is black, I have often wrestled with how I should view whites as I seek a biblical solution to racism?

How would you define racism?

There is a lack of common definitions and expectations. Blacks and Whites differ greatly on what constitutes racism, the seriousness of the issue, and the solutions. Is racism an attitude, a belief, an action, a look, structure, an environment, a method, or a combination of all of these? How can we solve a problem that we cannot define?

Webster’s New World Dictionary (Collins, 1979) defines racism as, “a doctrine, without scientific support, claiming the superiority of one race.” Biblically, racism is “respect of persons.” (Acts 10:28-34; James 2:8-12)

Wisdom is needed

Wisdom is needed to keep one’s heart in check and treat others respectfully when discussing heated issues like race. We must keep in mind that the wisdom from above is different from the world’s wisdom. (James 3:17-18)   How can we engage someone in helpful conversation and counsel toward healthy relationships without a proper diagnosis of the problem? It is always beneficial to pray for knowledge, wisdom, and discernment. (Colossians 1:9-12; Phil 1:9-11)

Wisdom requires that we seek, listen, receive and keep what we learn. After many conversations over the years, I have come to the conclusion that there are at least five different motivations for actions that some would classify as racist. It has proven beneficial for me to determine with which of the following five groups a person is identified before assuming a single diagnosis and prescription.

Racists are people who, like the Nazis, refuse to listen to any evidence that contradicts their bias. These people are usually open and vocal about their innate racial superiority. They need an unusual work of grace.

Prejudiced people have made a judgement without all the data. When given more data, a prejudiced person may change.

Perplexed individuals are confused by the entire racial discussion. They tend to be very sensitive and are constantly concerned about saying or doing something to offend someone. They need to be loved and handled gently.

The protective person is usually a parent whose greatest concern is that they do not want their children to get involved in the racial debate for fear they may be hurt. Protective persons fail to understand that Christianity often calls for suffering. To suffer for righteousness is a privilege granted to some of us by our heavenly Father.

The positioned person, like the Apostle Peter, supports segregation due to his or her belief that the Scripture teaches it. This person, like Peter, needs to hear a clear defense of racial reconciliation from the Bible. He may well require more than one hearing.    Ware, A. Charles. Prejudice and the People of God. (Baptist Bible College of Indianapolis, 1998), p. 23.

We live in a culture where Christians find it difficult to have honest conversations to bring hope and healing across ethnic/racial lines. The above categories assist me in rising above fear, bitterness, anger and cynicism to insert biblical truth that can free, grow and unite us in Christ.

What can you do?

  1. Pray for divine wisdom for how to develop healthy relationship
  2. Listen to people who are hurting from either real or perceived racial injustices.
  3. Learn about cultural experiences that form the beliefs and perceptions.
  4. Discern the heart motivation of your audience and how best to engage in conversations that lead to healthy biblical relationships.
  5. Seek cross-cultural relationships for mutual encouragement and growth.
  6. Model the greatest commandment, love God and your neighbor.

Recommended reading

Beyond Suffering – Dr. Robert Kellemen
Prejudice and the People of God – Dr. A. Charles Ware
One Race One Blood – Ken Ham and Dr. A. Charles Ware

I also recommend Crossroads Bible College course, Culture, Race and the Church. The course can be taken online, visit

Join the Conversation

  • What are your questions?
  • What helps you engage in difficult racial/cross-cultural conversations