Lisa Sharon Harper
By Philip Walkley
Not quite a year ago I heard Lisa Sharon Harper on a podcast. Prior to that podcast, I had never heard of her. But the words she shared (based on biblical truth and her experience as a black woman) rattled me.
Like many white people who grew up in the south in the 80’s and 90’s, as much as I hate to admit it, I grew up a racist. I wasn’t overtly racist - I never flew a rebel flag or called anyone the “N word.” And yet, perhaps more dangerously, I harbored thoughts and perspectives that were subtle enough for me to ignore but strong enough to give me a very unhealthy perspective on race and racism in America...the type of thoughts and perspectives that, if gone unchecked, will perpetuate the racial divide we still see so clearly in our country today.
Thankfully those thoughts and perspectives have been “checked” many times over the past decade or so. They were put in check by friendships I’ve developed with non-white people, by books I’ve read by black authors, and by living and working in neighborhoods and cities that are majority African American. I’m by no means implying that I have “arrived” or am sufficiently “woke.” I still have much to learn. But I am grateful for the grace that God has shown me in helping wake me up from my own racism.
Listening to Lisa Sharon Harper speak on a podcast was one of those defining moments where I my heart was put in check. Her perspective on the Kingdom of God and people being created in His image is simply beautiful. She speaks about the fact that ALL people are created in the image of God and therefore are called to have dominion over all of creation (Genesis 1:26-27, 31). Racism (and all other forms of oppression) has robbed countless people of their right as God’s image bearers to live out that command. Harper points out that “Where people’s capacity to exercise dominion is limited, distorted, ignored, you are also limiting, distorting, crushing the image of God on on earth, and therefore, declaring war on the Kingdom of God.” I could write pages about what she shared and how it has impacted me. But it would be mostly just regurgitating what she shared. So, perhaps the more effective thing for me to do is to encourage you to listen to the podcast! Or read her book - The Very Good Gospel in which she shares many of the same thoughts.
If you have read this far and if you are a white person who is maybe skeptical that racism still exists (either in our culture at large or even in your own heart), I want to challenge you to listen. One thing that I’ve learned is that someone else’s perspective is always valid. Regardless of if you agree with someone or not, their perspective on life (because of their experiences and environment) are REAL to them and effect who they are, how they see and experience the world around them. We all have different perspectives. And if we never take time to listen to someone else’s, we might fool ourselves into thinking that everyone else views the world the way we do. And that is a dangerous place to live. That is what perpetuates problems like racism. Because we can’t imagine why someone would get so upset over XYZ or why someone cares so much about XYZ or why some people respond differently to XYZ than you. And when we live in that place, we can harbor resentment, lack compassion, and even develop hatred.
Black History Month is designed to acknowledge and celebrate all the wonderful ways that people of color have shaped and contributed to our country’s culture and history. What better way to celebrate that, than to take a few minutes to listen to someone else’s perspective and be open to how God might use that to grow you as a person created in His image?