Racial Injustice and Reconciliation: An Interview

Though our work is far from done, creating safe spaces for conversation moves us one step closer to reconciliation.
14 min read

Editor’s Note: The following is an interview from a video Beth Guckenberger created for Vineyard Cincinnati Church where she is also serving as Interim Senior Pastor. Learn more about Beth and Michael at the end of this article.

Beth Guckenberger:

Welcome to the Vineyard. I wanted to address right off the bat, this weekend, the injustice that we are all grieving about—that’s happening in the country right now.

As we mourn the loss of George Floyd, who is part of one of many stories like this, I invited a friend of mine to have a conversation.

This is Michael Sickles. He works at Back2Back Cincinnati with me. We have these kinds of conversations all the time about racial tension and racial reconciliation—this subject.

And I wanted to have this conversation in front of you. If it helps you gain understanding, if it helps start conversations in your homes, if it helps you put words to things that you’re feeling—then I feel like as a church we’ve served you in that.

So, thanks for joining. Michael, tell me a little bit about what was it like for you when you heard about this most recent injustice—the death of George Floyd.

Michael Sickles:

Yeah, so it was tough. It was hard to hear that—to see that—to have the truth that sometimes is out there kind of be thrown in your face. And it kind of hit me hard. Because at that time I really had to start thinking about my children.

It was tough to see that there is a lack of love for human life.

I’ve lived through a lot of different things and in that moment, though. It became: what if that’s my son, what if that’s my daughter? And it just really kind of sat with me.

And I struggled, I wrestled, because it was:

How do I speak to my children about a truth that’s out there, a reality that exists, but also not jade them to the point to where they grew up in a place where they are having hate for other people or certain people groups?

And so, it was really tough. It was tough to see that there is a lack of love for human life.

You know, in looking at that video it was the point of even if things go the way they go—when somebody’s not moving, when somebody’s pleading and begging—there’s other options. And it was just that moment of “I’m focused on what I’m focused on” and nothing was done, and so it hurt.

It grieved me—it was hard for both parties that were involved with that.

It was hard.

And it was just hard to see, it was hard to watch, it was hard to have the conversations. It was hard to see how everyone reacted on both sides of the spectrum—because there’s so much loss that’s involved in this one situation.

George has lost his life. You have a country—a nation—that is grappling with where do I stand on this. And then you have the officers that are involved that are going through whatever they’re going through. It’s hard to reconcile all those situations in just one moment.

And to think that we’re going to solve it in a conversation or we’re going to solve it in a movement is not possible. But there’s options out there for us. And so, it was definitely hard for me to see that.

Beth:

And why is it important for us to have conversation? Why do we need to gain understanding?

Michael:

Yeah, it’s important because when you don’t know something, you don’t do anything. Right? And there’s a phrase I’ve heard all time: you don’t know what you don’t know. It’s that simple.

And the way we begin to move or change a narrative is by learning about something, sitting with individuals, having a conversation. So, when you learn, now you have more ability to do something about it.

And the way we begin to move or change a narrative is by learning about something, sitting with individuals, having a conversation.

Beth:

Yeah, when you know better you can do better.

Michael:

Absolutely. But the problem that I see a lot is that we’re not willing to be intentional enough to have a conversation, to learn from somebody, to hear their story, to hear where they come from, so therefore I can have a better understanding of the value of life.

We’ve seen in American history that the marginalized population—no matter what group it is—it has been prevalent in our history.

And that is just a group that we put somewhere else to say that we have power over, and that’s just the marginalized.

So, we know that it exists and it’s a sin that we see that is prevalent. It’s about I need to have power with something because I’m trying to cover something up. There’s something that’s there that I need to cover.

And I know about that because I was once in that same position to where I grew up hating. I grew up not knowing the gospel. My father was present, but he wasn’t. We were like strangers in the same house, and that’s because he didn’t know his father.

And so, me not knowing, I learned to hate. I decided, you know what I’m not going to deal with this. And so, then it became about me trying to take over and take what I wanted. I grew up hating and hating situations that happened to me.

Finding God.

I’ve been arrested. I’ve been pulled over, I’ve been thrown in handcuffs, thrown on top of the hood. Yes, I’ve had all these situations happen to me.

In the wake of my ignorance, I hurt many people and there was just a lot of things that I did wrong that didn’t help until God said, I’ve got a way. There’s a way to do this, but I need you to commit.

So then at one point I was I was like, man, I hate all cops, I hate all white people, and that was my stance. If I look at the record of my life and the way it went up to the point where I met God, it was a train wreck.

In the wake of my ignorance, I hurt many people and there was just a lot of things that I did wrong that didn’t help until God said, I’ve got a way. There’s a way to do this, but I need you to commit. At that moment that’s when I met Christ.

And when I met Christ, it was love that transformed my heart—not my degrees, not my athletic ability, not the people I knew, not the fame, not the money—it was love. Love is what came into my life and completely transformed me, and helped me see people the way He sees people.

Beth:

I love that. This weekend, the message is all about judgment. And the antidote to judgment is love, is understanding why. Going from thinking what’s wrong with that person to what happened to that person.

When you wonder and are curious about what happened, then you’re in a posture where you can begin to love.

Well, tell me—as a church, what are our options? What can the church do to be a place of peace, to be to be agents of reconciliation, to be biblical? What are our options as a church?

Michael:

I think one of the things that I had the pleasure of being able to go through was Undivided, and that was an amazing journey. But I had to get in the right space first—heart wise.

As I was going with that journey, I was able to have those conversations. I was able to see people intentionally for who they were and have a conversation.

And that was one of the biggest challenges for me. Because, for instance, I was looking through my phone, I’m going through the people around me, and I didn’t have much diversity. Groups that I was in, guys I played ball with, whatever the case was—I wasn’t intentional enough to be in conversation.

So that was one of the first challenges: to create a space that’s safe to have open conversations, because what we know is that where you grew up is not where I grew up.

And so because of that—not a bad thing, not your fault, not my fault—we all have our own individual silos, our unconscious bias that has existed from whoever has taught us from the time that we were little until now: uncles, grandmas, extended relatives, whatever the case might be.

That’s what they’ve given you to help you survive. And so, because of that, you automatically operate in its unconscious state.

Making space.

Without the intentionality of having a space where you can say, hey, oh, I always thought it was this way and not having to be condemned or judged, that allows you to put that fear aside. That allows you to even be vulnerable enough to say I’ve kind of got this fear I always thought thatthis”.

And, again, it will be offensive. It’ll come out the way it comes out, and it’ll hurt. But it’s when you have that safe space that people can start to say, oh, I didn’t look at it that way.

We want to say—where’s our story trending? We know disparity and division exist, but we want to move toward unity and equality.

I can’t tell you how many conversations Kris and I have had around despair and division. Conversations around how we have four pillars that we work in: equality, unity, division, and disparity. Right?

We want to say—where’s our story trending? We know disparity and division exist, but we want to move toward unity and equality.

In the middle of that, we know that the race conversation is real—we know it exists. We’re not taking that away. It is prevalent; it is real. We see that with millions of black people that are killed, millions of Asians, millions of Jews. It’s prevalent. We know the race conversation is real. Socioeconomic status, history, cultural norms—that’s the story in the middle.

We don’t want to get caught in the middle—we want to figure out how do I go from equality to unity disparity to that piece of it. Right? We want to be able to merge these things together—equality and unity is what we want to come to.

Beth:

That sounds like God’s family—that’s what God’s family sounds like. A place where we see each other in all of our fullness and fellowship. I think that sometimes people don’t know how to get in a place where they can be vulnerable.

They don’t understand how to look at their phone or their life and recognize. Maybe you take the first step and say: “okay maybe I do live in a silo. I do only have people around me that reinforced the same things I’ve always thought.”

Do you recommend that people take the first step? What is a practical thing that somebody can do this week that just moves them toward that equality in unity?

Michael:

1. The church has to be a safe space.

So first it’s got to come from the church.

The church has to be the pillar of the doors being opened to invite people into a safe space to be able to say I can do this. It’s the confidence that we have to have.

2. You have to be willing to learn.

Then the next part is to learn.

If you’re unsure of something, learn about it. You don’t have to post, you don’t have to do anything special, just learn about it—read articles. If you know somebody, ask them questions. Learn. Learn as much as you can about what that is.

3. Share information based on what you’ve learned.

And then share. Write and share information.

Because when you share information, as we’re doing now, you engage in conversation. When you engage in conversation, you get to see somebody. You get to realize, man, we’re more alike than we are different.

4. Be present. Be available.

Then the last part is to be.

And that’s usually the hardest part because in order to be, the first piece you have to do is be present, which is to acknowledge—to bring something into attention. I have to bring to my attention that there is a disparity. There is a difference. There is inequality, there is injustice, that I do see that a certain people group is being targeted.

So, once you are able to bring that to attention, then you can get proximate, you can draw that near. And that may look like people on your street, the mailman, whoever it might be who’s around you that doesn’t look like you—that you can try to be engaged in intentional relationship with. Just start having a conversation.

It doesn’t mean that I go out tomorrow and knock on somebody’s door like hey, I want to be in relationship with you. But it’s just being present over time. It’s showing up every day.

And next thing I know, tears are shared.

Be intentional.

I remember there was a time in my neighborhood maybe three weeks ago. I was in the backyard and again it’s nerve-racking because it’s hard to talk to people you don’t know. Right?

So, I’m in my backyard doing some work and I see my neighbor over there.

I’m in my head like, okay, talk to him. But I’m like, nah, because don’t do it. You know, it’s the struggle that we grapple with, it’s the realness of it.

And so, finally I said, okay, if I’m going to be intentional, I’ve got to be intentional. I said, “Hey, how’s it going today?” And the next thing I know we just start talking, he’s witnessing about God, and next thing I know tears are shared.

And I’m like where did this come from! It just left me in a space where I was like, this is what it can be like if somebody takes the initiative, the vulnerability to just say, “Hey, how are you?

Beth:

What I love about what you just said is that I’m always saying, we need to make room for God. We need to get in the middle of something that maybe we’re uncomfortable with. Maybe it’s a risk or a faith step of ours.

We need to get in the middle and then just create space for God, because God’s been telling us since He told Moses to build a tabernacle, if you make room for Me, I’ll fill it.

So, I like how hopeful that sounds that God’s never going to not show up. He’s never going to not grow us, He’s never going to not create, He’s never going to not be God.

So, if we can just get ourselves into places where we’re unfamiliar, or uncomfortable, or risk taking, or faith stepping, and make room for God—then He’ll come and bring His presence. Which will ultimately create connection.

We need to get in the middle and then just create space for God, because God’s been telling us since He told Moses to build a tabernacle, if you make room for Me, I’ll fill it.

Michael:

Yes. We have to be careful because there’s an enemy that’s present. And when we start to do these things you’ll get reinforced with some negative things. If somebody might say I don’t want to talk to you that’s okay.

Right? We know the enemy of learning is arrogance and ignorance, and so you’re either trapped in one of the other.

We have to be really careful when we do those things because it’s the intentionality that we have to have to be able to say I need to learn. Because we know the Bible tells us that every man is right in his own eyes based on his own understanding.

And again, if I look at my own understanding before I met God, oh man, it was horrible. It wasn’t good.

When I’m learning from other people who have lived experiences, when I’m learning from other individuals who are currently doing the work, when I’m learning from other people about their story and about where they come from—about their pain, about their trauma—I get to see them.

Getting to the root.

And it’s not based on my understanding, because I might see somebody and say oh, well, they’re typical, that’s what they do, that’s them, that’s the system, that’s what they do. And, we know that there are systemic issues.

We know it exists. We’re not taking that away. But we’re talking about the root of what’s causing this—and that’s the spiritual root.

We have to get back to our roots. We have to realize that love is the way we’re going to change this thing. God is the one who’s going to make things change and that in order to merge and melt hearts, an encounter with Jesus is the best thing to have.

So, when you’re in that space of understanding, when you’re in that space of I need to learn—not my understanding, God, but Yours. Help me see this person the way You see them. Because God sees everybody.

Jesus died for each one of us.

But He leaves space for us to come home. No matter who you are, no matter what you’ve been through, no matter what you’ve done, no matter how much you think you’ve done in your life—He always has space for you to come back.

The other day I was talking to my brother about this. When we look at what Jesus did on the cross, it just constantly reminds me that He went to the cross for everybody’s sin to the point where He was willing to make Himself the most arch enemy to God for you and I.

No matter what color we are. Jesus wasn’t saying I’m dying for the blacks, I’m dying for the whites—no He didn’t say that.

Jesus went to the cross and said I’m taking on sin because I know that there’s something’s going to come against you later, and I want to make sure that when you come to My Father you have the seal of approval.

I want to make sure that you are welcome. I want to make sure that when you get lost, as the prodigal son did, you know where to come home to.

Because that father didn’t say hey, you went out and got lost. Jesus could come get us, and we know He chases the one.

But He leaves space for us to come home. No matter who you are, no matter what you’ve been through, no matter what you’ve done, no matter how much you think you’ve done in your life—He always has space for you to come back to.

And He says I love you no matter what, and I’m your Father.

Beth:

That’s the best sermon you’re going to hear at this church for a while—I’m not kidding you.

God’s never going to not show up. He’s never going to not grow us, He’s never going to not create, He’s never going to not be God.

Thanks for being with us and for that good word. I just pray that these stories—this conversation—continues on in your household and in your community.

Resources You May Be Interested In:

post article end mark
  Updated on June 11, 2020

About the Author

  • Beth and her husband, Todd, live with their family in Cincinnati, Ohio where they serve as Co-Executive Directors of Back2Back Ministries. After graduating from Indiana University, the Guckenbergers moved to Monterrey, Mexico where they lived for 15 years. Between biological, foster, and adopted children, they have raised ten children. Beth is the author of eight books including adult and children’s titles. She travels and speaks regularly at conferences, youth gatherings and church services. Her style is based in story-telling and she draws from her vast field experience as a missionary, Bible teacher and parent for illustrations of biblical concepts.

  • Michael Sickles is a son, a poet, counselor, teacher, coach, and father. He is perfectly imperfect and is a miracle of grace, forever indebted to his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He has a Masters degree in Counseling, undergraduate degree in Psychology which fueled him to journey down the path of healing and helping communities find hope in despair. He lives in Cincinnati with “the wife,” “the kids,” and he occasionally wears dress clothes. He is working on His second Masters in Theology and Christian Leadership.

© 2020 David C Cook. All rights reserved.
© 2019 David C Cook. All rights reserved.
Ministry Spark email logo

Want to spark a stronger ministry? We'll show you how.

Join others who are taking their ministries to the next level with our regular email insights.

Please click “Submit” if you would like to receive our email updates, which may contain information about our products. Your use of this site is subject to our Terms of Use, and we will process your personal data in accordance with our Privacy Policy, which also contains details as to how you may unsubscribe from receiving our email updates.

Want to spark a stronger ministry? We'll show you how. Subscribe to email insights.

Please click “subscribe” if you would like to receive our email updates, which may contain information about our products. We will process your personal data in accordance with our privacy policy, which also contains details as to how you may unsubscribe from receiving our email updates.