The Only Proven Way To Improve Race Relations

Two of the biggest obstacles to improving racial relationships are "anger" and "apathy," and "intentional personal relationships" are, as far as I know, the only proven way to do anything about it. Let me explain.

You see, I could have lived my whole life without ever knowing a black person, and it wouldn't have impacted the outcome of my life one iota. So my temptation was to be apathetic to the issue of race–even indifferent. And I was. Not because I was a "bad" person, but purely because of my life situation.

Then in 1976, I met Tom Skinner. The chemistry was immediate. He was interesting, and he found me interesting. He loved tennis, and I loved tennis. He loved Jesus, and so did I. Tom was black, and I am white. We started hanging out and, before long, Tom and I became best friends.

As I got to know Tom, I began to care about what he cared about. I began to see what he saw. And I started to appreciate where he was coming from. (And vice versa). Tom taught me that he, as a black man, wouldn't last 30 days without understanding how white people think for three reasons: the employer-employee relationship, the landlord-tenant relationship, and the vendor-vender relationship. So his temptation was to be angry about race. And he was. Not because he was a "bad" person, but purely because of his life situation.

I came to see the only sustainable path to reconciliation– racial or otherwise – was to spend time together. Sound too simplistic? Consider this. Just as a physical wound can't heal until the severed parts are brought into contact, neither can a racial wound heal unless the parties come together. As Tom liked to say, "The problem is we do not know each other."

Soon, an amazing thing happened. He helped take away my apathy, and I helped take away his anger. Once I cared, once my apathy started to shrink, I became more interested in doing something positive than jabbering about the problem.

As a result, when we had a small race riot in Orlando in 1980, I brought black and white leaders together. We started The Black/White Fellowship which met for five years. That group broke down a lot of walls.

As a result, when I left business for ministry in 1991, Tom and I helped start Mission Mississippi, an ongoing ministry of racial reconciliation throughout the state of Mississippi.

As a result, when an African-American pastor who attends our Bible study wanted to start a multi-racial, multi-ethnic ministry to men in our community last year, I told him that I was all in.

None of that would have happened if Tom and I had not intentionally built a personal relationship. If you've wondered, "What could I possibly do? The problem is way too big," there is something you can do. Get to know someone of a different color. Because when you love someone, you care about what they care about. When they hurt you hurt.

As far as I know, spending time together is the only proven way to improve relationships between blacks and whites or, for that matter, anyone else.

Until every church disciples every man...

Pat