Although my immediate family is white (like me) and I attend a predominately white church, I live in a neighborhood in east Orlando that is heavily populated by Hispanics. In addition, I spend the better hours of my day working for an organization, The Impact Movement, that reaches out to those in the black community, with 90% of my co-workers being African American. So as one that is personally involved each day in building friendships with those of a different ethnicity, this topic has particular importance to me.
The discussion on God's Politics began with a critique of the New Monastic movement and with Bart Campolo's assertion that it is nearly impossible to build the kind of friendships with those of very different backgrounds than it is with those that have a similar life experience as our own. Here are some of his words:
"Bart’s point then and now is that, even as we reach out across racial and cultural barriers, we shouldn’t feel guilty about staying rooted in mostly homogeneous core communities, nor should we feel compelled to seek an essentially unnatural diversity within those core communities. While we shouldn’t automatically exclude different people from our inner circles, we shouldn’t feel obligated to change our group dynamics to suit them either. According to Bart, it is difficult, if not impossible, to build a core community that meets the deepest needs for intimacy and understanding of people with radically different backgrounds, and seeking to do so almost always results in painful divisions and burnout...Instead of feeling guilty about this limitation, Bart suggests we should accept it and resolve to use the strength we draw from our core communities for the important work of reaching out to build authentic cross-cultural relationships, wherein we learn from, teach, nurture, challenge, protect, mentor, and work together for justice with one another. Such relationships are not superficial—just not intimate.The blog then posted two separate responses from other individuals here and here. To be fair to Campolo, he is someone that is practicing incarnational ministry as he lives among the people that he seeks to minister to in a disadvantaged part of Cincinnati. He is heavily involved in racial reconciliation and for that he has my respect. But I do have to disagree with him that truly intimate relationships cannot be formed across racial lines.
Because of the opportunities that I have in my everyday life to be around those of ethnicities other than my own, I've experienced firsthand the possibilities that can take place between those of seemingly incompatible backgrounds. My very simple definition of reconciliation between individuals is friendship. With those that are my true friends I am able to laugh, cry, share hopes and fears, argue, encourage and love.
If I can't really laugh with someone, then we're probably not that close. If they've never shared their hurts with me and I with them, we're probably not friends. If we've never been able to work through disagreement and conflict and come to a place of resolution, then any kind of friendship that we have will remain at the surface level.
In any relationship, conflict and hurt feelings are bound to arise, but it is how we respond to those conflicts that will determine the depth of our friendship. In cross-cultural friendships, those disagreements or misunderstandings can oftentimes be interpreted much differently than if those same things took place with a friend of our own culture. Many people that have intentionally sought to build a friendship with someone of a different race have not demonstrated the commitment to the relationship that is needed to sustain it. When times get tough, it's always easier to cut bait and run.
But therein lies the problem. Racial reconciliation involves trust, humility, servanthood and commitment. If I want to end a friendship with someone of another ethnicity the first time there's a problem, I was never that committed to the relationship in the first place. It is often in working through our conflict that we learn more about each other and come to greater places of understanding.
I know from personal experience that building relationships across racial lines is extremely hard work, but I know that it's worth it. I feel like I am a better person and a better Christian because of the close friendships I have with my friends that don't look like me. I have learned from them and they from me and we each have a greater picture of the unique ways that God has created us.