One of my favorite prophets is Isaiah. He is an Old Testament prophet who had no problem preaching and teaching God’s word and challenging his people to return to holy and righteous living.
As we read Isaiah 1:18, we discover that the Isaiah received a revelation from God describing a scene similar to our culture today. People had turned their backs on God. They were doing what they thought was right in their own eyes. People were not seeking justice, defending the oppressed, or caring for the widows and orphans. Instead, they were dishonoring God with their lifestyles.
Amid this wickedness, God downloads a word in Isaiah’s spirit: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool (Isa. 1:18, KJV).
It was a divine invitation from God: Come, let’s sit down together and talk this over. Here was a holy God humbling himself to engage a people who had forsaken their relationship with him.
In the spirit of the words given to Isaiah, God is calling and challenging us to model his humility. He is inviting us to come and reason together at the table of courageous conversations.
He invites us to move from suspicion to trust, from skepticism to curiosity and on to acknowledge God's grace in one another.
And as we engage in courageous conversations, we hold the unswerving belief those we are engaging with are valued as people made in the image of God, just as we are.
Engaging in courageous conversations is not as simple as it sounds. This is not an invitation to your local Starbucks with a covenant group to share a latte. This is an invitation to come together to acknowledge some deep hurt, some deep sins and some critical needs for forgiveness.
All too often, our conversations around challenging topics like racism and many of the other “isms” have been shallow and superficial. One of the many reasons for having safe conversations is that when we engage in tough conversations, we begin to experience anxiety, fear and discomfort. When these feelings emerge during a conversation, our default posture is to fight, freeze or flee.
Avoiding tough topics or going on the attack when we experience anxiety and fear is not the solution. Instead, we must challenge ourselves to stay at the table and lean into the discomfort. To encourage staying at the table, we must create a safe environment that does not tolerate blaming, shaming or attacking one another.
It must be emphasized that the objective of our courageous conversation is to move us beyond being polite and using empty words, beyond using politically correct slogans or piercing accusations and beyond the historical fears and hurts that have kept us divided.
We also must remember that courageous conversations are not ends within themselves. The objective is to engage and encourage each other to move from being uninformed to being informed, from being just informed to being concerned and from being just concerned to actively participating in the struggle to dismantle systemic issues such as racism.
During courageous conversations, the invitation is to come and let us reason together. This invitation invites us to come and share interpersonal and interactive dialogue instead of debating each other. When we debate, we seek to win an argument or persuade someone to embrace our perspective. Unfortunately, in our argumentative culture, too many of us are prone to debate and not dialogue.
Dialogue differs from a debate. During our courageous conversations, the goal is to be open and attentive the another's opinion, perspectives and awareness.
Dialogue introduces us to one another’s assumptions and our various experiences in life, which inform our attitudes and actions.
Let us remember what the Apostle Paul taught us in Philippians 2:14: “Do everything without grumbling or arguing.”
As we gather to engage in our courageous conversations, we must be on guard for the enemy’s satanic strategy to hinder and hold our fruitful conversations hostage: mistrust. The spirit of mistrust will lead to suspicion, impulsive conclusions and dismissing each other for or accusing them of ulterior motives.
While at the table of our courageous conversations, we must constantly remind ourselves we all have sinned (Rom. 3:23) and none is perfect. We all are in a perpetual process of sanctification (Phil. 1:6). Therefore, during our courageous conversations, we should be willing to extend the grace of God to each other and not judge each other’s motives for being at the table.
Finally, the most important variable during our courageous conversations is listening. James 1:19 challenges us, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”
Listening is an action verb that allows us to hear each other’s whole message and see and appreciate each other for who we are. Listening also allows us to hear the voice of God coming through each other
Therefore, every courageous conversation should begin with the practice of listening.
We should be willing to listen to each other’s stories and struggles as they relate to our individual journeys. As opposed to judging, defending, debating and critiquing each other, we should be quick to listen to each other.
Can we talk? This is an open invitation to continue to learn, grow and love one another as the word of God commands. It is not an invitation to a one-time event.
I trust you will be willing to accept this invitation to come to the table and let us reason together about the issues that unite us, not divide us. And I believe you will trust that God will be at the table with us, enabling each of us to listen and to speak with courage and humility.
When we view our courageous conservations from this perspective amid a culture in conflict, we can embody the love of Jesus Christ (Jn. 15:12) and model an authentic beloved community for all people of all colors, cultures and categories.
Dr. Harold Lewis, Vice President of Biblical Diversity
Dr. Harold D. Lewis Sr. is Converge’s Vice President of Biblical Diversity. A native of Greenwood, Mississippi, he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Tougaloo College in Tougaloo, Mississippi, a Master of Divinity from Gammon Theological Seminary in Atlanta and a Doctorate of Psychology from the University of the Rockies in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He also has been awarded multiple honorary doctorates. Dr. Lewis comes to Converge with over three decades of pastoral and leadership experience as a turnaround church pastor and a transformational coach for clergy and laypersons. His ministerial experience also includes more than 10 years of multicultural and justice responsibilities, which included collaborating with and resourcing Native American, Micronesian, Hispanic, Korean and Haitian ministries, as well as Black Methodists for Church Revival and the Conference Committee on Religion and Race.