Twenty-five years ago, I was part of a movement that has come to be known as the Brownwood Revival. It started at Coggin Avenue Baptist Church and Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas, and then spread across America, deeply affecting over 100 college campuses. Its profound impact continues to this day.
In the midst of that movement, God began to break down racial barriers in our city. In a service where God brought our city together, a young man asked an elderly African-American man if a white man had ever served him before. He could not recall that happening. The young white man then knelt and quietly shined the black man’s shoes. In the worship service. We saw brokenness, with tears of sorrow and joy.
Later, Dan Cathy, CEO of Chick-fil-A, heard the story and was inspired to give 1500 shoe brushes to Chick-fil-A leaders. He encouraged them to lead out of a servant’s mentality and humility, following the foot-washing example of Jesus.
For twenty-five years that story has blessed people from all ethnicities and walks of life every time I have heard or shared it.
Recently, Dan recounted that story and then reenacted it by shining Lecrae’s shoes in a worship service. And then, the online attacks began. Some Anglos accused Dan of aligning with a nefarious agenda. Some African Americans accused him of virtue signaling or even racism.
I have been pondering this ever since. How does a story that has blessed so many people somehow become a problem? And how should Christians feel about this?
Do What He Does
In my life and in my leadership here at Life Action, when things are confusing, there’s one idea that always simplifies things for me: Just follow Jesus!
Do what He does. Say what He says.
Someone said to me recently, “I want to speak out and do something about race relations in this country, but it seems like anything you say or do these days is controversial!” And that’s true.
Even writing this article feels risky. But worse than being controversial in these critical days is being irrelevant to the advance of God’s kingdom, or disobedient to His call to be salt and light in the world.
So, if we are going to stir things up—if some people will not like whatever we do—let’s just do what Jesus did!
Humility and Healing
Obviously, shining someone’s shoes is symbolic of the biblical practice of foot washing. After Jesus washed the feet of His disciples, He said, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (John 13:14-15 ESV).
In Jesus’ day, the sewer was a trough that ran through the middle of the street. People dumped their buckets there, and everyone walked through the streets in open-toed sandals. So when you came into your house, you literally had sewage between your toes. If your feet were not washed, you brought disease into your own home.
The lowest servant was the one who washed feet. The posture was humbling, and the purpose was healing!
Really, is there anything we need more than that right now? Humility and healing?
I’m going to wash feet and shine shoes. Because Jesus did, and He told me to serve. And because the world needs humility and healing.
Some have criticized Dan Cathy for saying there should be shame and repentance on the part of Anglos. Critics say they have nothing to apologize for. They have not enslaved anyone or hated anyone.
I understand that. But in Daniel 9, the Lord led Daniel to pray a prayer of repentance for ALL the people of God—for their sins of hundreds of years. This is what he said:
“To us, O LORD, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you. To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him” (Daniel 9:8-9).
I am going to ask forgiveness of my African-American brothers and sisters because I am a part of some hundreds of years’ history of oppression. And for me to think that I have not personally contributed in some ways, and ignored the pain of my black brothers and sisters in other ways, would be arrogant.
I am going to keep washing feet and shining shoes. Because Jesus did, and because He told me to serve. And because the world needs personal and corporate responsibility for sin from God’s people, and forgiveness sought and granted.
A Better Way
Are you tempted to argue your position on how all this should be solved in America? Have you noticed that this is almost all we hear right now? How is that working out for us?
Could there be a better way?
All of us have a cultural identity based on things like our ethnicity and life experience. But as followers of Jesus, we have a kingdom identity that is meant to come first, above everything else!
In the words of my African-American pastor friend Andrew Osakue, “We don’t need to be color blind. We need to be cross eyed!”
So, what if I decided it’s not necessary for me to present the facts, argue for the truth, and defeat my opponent? What if I decided that when I am talking about these issues, especially with someone of another ethnicity, to seek to be “cross eyed”—to cross into their culture instead of speaking first out of my own, like Jesus did for the Samaritan woman at the well?
What if I decided to touch lives in ways that others won’t, as Jesus did for lepers and beggars? He didn’t argue with them about the law or why they were sick or poor. He listened to them cry, and He touched them and took their pain on Himself.
What if I decided to be about the kingdom of God instead of the kingdom of me? What if I asked the Spirit of God to make me cross eyed?
What if I just did that?
A Missing Element
My cultural identity makes me pretty certain that I am right about some things … until I really listen to someone whose culture is different from mine—not “listen” while preparing my answer, but listen because I truly love them. I believe that could bring the kind of change we desperately need in this country.
Maybe that’s an important missing element. Is there anyone of another ethnicity that you know well enough to love like that? If you are white, did any black person cry on your shoulder after the murder of George Floyd? Do you know a black person well enough that they would trust you to grieve with them? Love requires relationship.
If you do have an opportunity to truly listen and grieve with someone, resist the temptation (which is often overwhelming) to argue the other side. No one in pain needs that.
Imagine if someone you dearly love came to you frightened, with a cancer diagnosis. Would you explain to them that more people die of heart disease than cancer, so let’s talk about other problems for a while?
Of course not. You would listen. You would hold them. You would cry with them. And then you would do all you could to help them get well. You might even get more involved with helping in cancer treatment and research.
In the same way, consider not chasing other issues, like black-on-black crime and the breakdown of the family or whatever else may come to your mind. Your brother or sister is standing before you grieving. Just grieve with them. And love them.
I’m going to keep washing feet and shining shoes. Because Jesus did, and He told me to serve. And because right now the world needs us to win people, not arguments.
Time to Do Something
Finally, I’m going to keep washing feet and shining shoes because it’s time to DO something.
Sometimes I think that all of our debates and arguments are just a way to convince ourselves that we really don’t have to do anything differently.
Life Action is about revival. We believe that an authentic movement of God is the only ultimate hope for all the problems of America and the world.
We must pray. Nothing will happen without that. But when we go into our “prayer closet,” let’s also change into work clothes, and then leave the closet to go work for justice with our brothers and sisters.
If we will not do that, God has a sobering word for us: “Even though you make many prayers, I will not listen” (Isaiah 1:15).
God literally says He will not hear our prayers if we are not willing to be a part of the answer. So a few verses later, He tells us what to do: “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression” (v. 17).
I’m going to keep washing feet and shining shoes because Jesus did, and He told me to serve—and because the world needs God’s people to DO something. Right now.
How the World Gets Saved
I had lunch today with Daryl Arnold, an African-American pastor in Knoxville, Tennessee; an incredible leader in so many walks of life; a Life Action Advisory Board member; but most importantly to me, my friend. I talked to him about this whole shoe shining controversy.
I will never forget his response. He said, “Tell Mr. Cathy to keep shining shoes, no matter what anyone says. Jesus washed Judas’ feet, and then Judas got up and killed Him! But this is how the world gets saved!”
I’m going to keep washing feet and shining shoes. Even if it’s controversial. Because Jesus did, and He told me to serve. Would you join me and all of us at Life Action?
Because Jesus died for us, and rose for us, and now sends us as His plan, as His ambassadors of real reconciliation.
And that’s the way the world gets saved!