Magazines 2021 Mar - Apr Seeing past outward appearances

Seeing past outward appearances

08 March 2021 By Claire Odogbo

God calls us to value people just because God created them, not because of gender or race. How are we building relational bridges in response to that call, asks Claire Odogbo.

Last year I had the privilege of sitting on a panel to discuss systemic racism in our communities and what we can do about it.

As a black woman who has lived most of my adult life away from my country, I have learned to take on a pragmatic approach to thriving in a world that still judges people based on gender and skin colour.

The Bible teaches that all humans are fallen sinful creatures. What is even possible regarding eliminating unjust biases? Thankfully we also know salvation through Jesus and the power of God bringing our society’s ultimate transformation through hearts that are changed and minds that are renewed.

Meanwhile as believers, the group of people with transformed lives and minds that are being renewed, how are we doing in this area?

When we understand discrimination to be based on biases born out of our sinful nature, we can start to talk about how we are not exempt from that way of thinking. How many times do we size people up according to their socioeconomic status, academic background, hair colour, complexion, dress sense, gender and skin colour?

Imagine a world where people are valued because God created them, nothing more and nothing less. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:16 (TPT), “So then, from now on, we have a new perspective that refuses to evaluate people merely by their outward appearances.” I love how the word “refuse” indicates that we have a choice in the matter.

We can choose not to be people who evaluate others based on what they have or how they look (to use the wording for that verse used in the Message version).

Taking stock

It’s obvious we have our work cut out for us. There is so much healing and heart transformation required to begin to look at people through God’s eyes.

Why not start now, as black history month has just ended and international women’s day is upon us?

As God’s people and His ambassadors for reconciliation on this earth (as Paul writes two verses later), how can we play our part to ensure we eliminate systemic racism and give women a seat at the table?

  1. Live out that truth. Who are your friends? I endlessly challenge both black and white people. You will not begin to understand and build bridges with people of other races until you have them as your friends and enter their world and give them access to your world as a friendship of equals. We begin to understand behavioural nuances associated with people groups, and thus our perspective begins to change and becomes less about “them and us.” If you don’t have diverse races in your network of friends, a great place to start is to read about them or try other diverse forms of the arts. One of the fun things I enjoy doing is watching movies and documentaries about different people groups. I begin to gain a bit more insight into them.
  2. Teach your children. We need to demonstrate our refusal to evaluate people merely by their outward appearances at home by walking the talk. Do our children and families hear us speaking ill of a person just because of their race, gender or looks? Secondly, do they see us inviting diverse people group into our space? Or do we have a homogenous group of friends?
  3. Be intentional. This challenge is to church and ministry leaders. Be intentional in encouraging both gender and racial diversity at the table. The richness of ideas and perspectives you get from being intentional about this is unparalleled.
  4. Mentor people. Building on from 3 above, I am by no means an advocate of placing people in positions of influence or leadership just because of their skin or gender. Still, by the same token, if we want to see more representation in our boardrooms and ministry leadership, we need to be intentional about spotting talent in people- especially minority groups and naturing them to the point where they can take their rightful place at the table. And to those of you who are ministry leaders, I ask, How are you doing? And this applies to everyone, including those of us from racial minority groups. Are we being intentional about passing on our wisdom so that someone else can stand on our shoulders and have significant influence because of us?

Together with 12 other black women, I recently co-wrote the book The 9%: Black Women Leaders Tell It Like It Is (Divine Insights Press, 2021). The intention was to encourage the younger generation of black women so that they can, in turn, grow and take on positions of leadership and we can break the proverbial glass ceiling.

The idea is that we can all and should constantly be doing something to eliminate and reduce the racial inequalities that exist in our midst. The list above is by no means exhaustive, but we can all start somewhere.

Dr. Elo Claire Odogbo CPA, CLBC is a Christian career and business coach in Hamilton, Ont. She has previously written in Faith Today about working for difficult bosses and loving Mondays even in difficult workplaces