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I remember sitting at a retreat while I looked around; most of the group was in tears or almost there. I thought I would leave the gathering without shedding a tear. The room was silent. Then a young lady voiced that her parents were getting a divorce and burst into tears. I had dry eyes until her roommate came over, hugged her, and wept with her. I could no longer hold back my tears. I sat there and wept.
In retrospect, her parents getting a divorce was upsetting, but that didn’t move me. But I was moved by her roommate’s genuine display of compassion. In that gathering, I saw what Paul meant by rejoicing with those who rejoice, and weeping with those who weep (Rom. 12:15) and carrying one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2). This is biblical compassion. Compassion is essential for unity in the Church, and I am convinced it can bridge the Church’s current racial divide.
What I mean by compassion is feeling with our brothers and sisters in Christ. When we have compassion for our brothers and sisters, we weep with them, we are angry with them, and we are offended for them. Compassion drives us to speak on issues not because they directly affect us, but because they affect our brothers in Christ. However, we have spent too much time dismissing feelings, worrying about absolute acceptance, and reciting facts rather than displaying compassion.
Social media is flooded when racially charged events occur and produce hashtags like Black Lives Matter, Oscars So White, and Ferguson. These racial issues have been dismissed by many in America. However, this dismissal has produced a culture of ignoring the issues that have been unfolding in the African-American community since slavery. What if we were to attempt to comprehend the concepts or feelings behind these issues and hashtags?
For instance, the Ferguson riots were the results of the black community’s feelings being dismissed. The news showed fire and chaos. It failed to show the fear of young black males, mothers’ sadness, and fathers’ anxiety. #Ferguson is not condoning violence, but embracing the feelings of a community. Everyone has different opinions, emotions, and thoughts about the issues of race in America. I am not demanding we all agree on how we think about these issues, but I am asking us to show compassion.
While conversing with my white friends about racially charged issues, they have asked me, “Why are people so angry?” After lengthy conversations, we may not agree, but we both come away saying, “I can see why you would feel that way.” Our compassion should not be dependent on agreement.
Paul expressed compassion to the Corinthian church, but still condemned their practices. He didn’t allow the sinful practices of the church to disqualify them from being objects of his compassion. We can agree with the Black Lives Matter movement in saying there is an issue in black communities with law enforcement, without accepting the movements tactics or stance on moral issues.
Compassion Before Facts
Compassion is more influential than facts. Knowing the facts does not mean you understand, it means you can google. It is great to know the facts, but it is more influential to know the people. What if we replace the numbers and facts with names and faces? Being knowledgeable is wonderful, but as believers we have a mandate to do more.
God has the authority to choose the objects of His compassion; we don’t (Exodus 33:19). We are commanded to love our neighbor, which requires compassion. Christ said we would be distinguished by our love for one another and that is inclusive of our compassion (John 13:34-35). Let us demonstrate that we are a family united by the gospel of Jesus Christ and truly feel with each other.