Two years ago, I saw a movie that moved me deeply. Hidden Figures tells the story of a team of black female mathematicians in the early 1960’s who worked brilliantly and diligently behind the scenes at NASA, amidst a hostile environment towards both females and blacks. In spite of these challenges, their work contributed significantly to the success of the first manned space flight. This film demonstrated how God puts the right people with the right skill sets at the right time and place to do a good work that had an enduring impact on society for the common good.
Since February is Black History month, this may be a good time to explore this topic from a Christian perspective. I invite you to consider how you can embrace racial diversity in your workplace and be agents of reconciliation, showing God’s love to a world divided by race.
I have a unique viewpoint due to my military experience. Based on over three decades of experience as an active duty Soldier and as a Department of the Army civilian, I can say with all seriousness that diversity works in the Army.
Why does it work? Equal Opportunity is imbedded our Army Values. All personnel are trained and expected to treat others with dignity and respect. They are held accountable if they do not. Discrimination of any kind is not tolerated. Everyone seems to get along no matter where you serve. The unity we have amidst our diversity makes us stronger – an unstoppable force.
Looking back, I appreciate the many benefits to myself and my family of being able to work, live, and worship within a racially diverse military community. It made all of us more compassionate and understanding. We came to respect, acknowledge, and embrace others’ differences, knowing that we were unified in one common goal – the defense of this great nation.
The Reality Elsewhere
The problems of racial and gender discrimination portrayed in Hidden Figures are not as blatant now as they were in the early 1960's. However, there are still problems to be addressed. Racial tensions do exist in many sectors, even in vocational Christian ministries.
Christian pro football player Benjamin Watson, in his book Under Our Skin: Getting Real About Race—And Getting Free From the Fears and Frustrations That Divide Us, mentions that that it has been over 150 years since slavery was abolished. He painfully points out: "You'd think that after all this time we'd have reached real parity between the races, that there would be truly equal opportunity, and that we'd be seeing and experiencing fairness in society between blacks and whites." Sadly, he reports, "A lot of white people believe that's actually where we are. A lot of black people know we aren't." I have to agree.
Unity amidst diversity
Even though we have come a long way since the 1960s, and even if there may be racial harmony in the military and other workplaces where diversity is appreciated, we must look to God’s word to see if there is any wisdom to help us work with those of another race.
Jesus, knowing that He would be the one to bring God’s blessing to the nations that was promised to Abraham, prayed specifically for unity among His followers in John 17:20-23. The result of this unity in the church would be that the world would take notice of God’s love.
There was much racial tension between Christ-followers of Jewish and Gentile descent in the first century church. Paul directly addressed this conflict in Gal. 3:26 and 28. He states that all Christians, no matter what their ethnic background, are part of the same spiritual family. “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus . . . There is neither Jew or Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Paul also addressed unity between Jews and Gentiles in his letter to the church in Ephesus. He reminds both groups that Jesus himself is their peace, since He has “made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph. 2:14). That sounds like something we need to be reminded of ourselves in our churches and our workplaces today.
Ultimately, we read that there will be a vast number of men and women "from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb" (Rev. 7:9). What can we do? Despite Watson's justifiable anger and frustration over the racial issues that still divide us, he does offer some hope. He writes, "The problem of racism is not in 'that guy over there.' It's right here." He confessed that racism is inside himself and suggests that it is inside all of us. He believes that the solution is for each of us to look inside ourselves, honestly confront the biases we have, and begin to change the evil that is in our hearts.
Furthermore, he asserts, "ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem." He is encouraged "because God has provided a solution for sin through his son, Jesus, and with it a transformed heart and mind." Watson concludes that the cure for racism is not education or exposure, but the gospel. The gospel, he reminds us, "gives mankind hope." Amen!
In closing, let me offer “a way” to get personally involved in racial reconciliation at work.
Four years ago, I had the opportunity to engage an African-American senior noncommissioned officer that worked in my office. Our dialogues began shortly after the Ferguson incident. I boldly asked him to help me understand what I had never seen. Our conversation was a bit awkward at first, but once he knew I was genuinely interested in understanding what it was like to be a black man in America, he opened up and shared freely. He opened up my eyes and heart to what was really going on, which often moved me to tears. He became a dear friend.
I ask you to prayerfully consider doing the same if you can. It may be life-changing. It may break down barriers in your workplace. It may earn you the right to speak about your Savior and Lord, who died that we might find true peace in His presence and find unity amidst diversity.
Perhaps God has put you right where you are at the right time and place to do a good work that can have an enduring impact on society for the common good.