It takes three years for a church to trust a new pastor.
That was the estimate provided by a seminary professor whose information seemed out of date even in the early 2000s. It takes about six years currently.
There has been a growing deficit of trust in many sectors of society. We no longer trust institutional leaders in our church, government, neighborhood and, in some cases, first response teams.
We tell people that trust must be earned, but then we continue to label people according to stereotypes. Distrust multiplies exponentially as a result.
In the last six months, we have seen how distrust can have a detrimental – even fatal – effect in community.
Protests, violence and the killing of innocent citizens and police officers bear horrific testimony to the lack of trust – trust that people once took for granted.
How might local churches function as “ambassadors of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:20) in a time when distrust breeds disharmony and violence in community?
Rockdale County in Georgia, where our congregation is located, is effective at building harmonious community.
We’ve seen collaboration among churches, nonprofits and governmental agencies.
For example, a local nonprofit ministry in our community is aiding partnerships between local congregations, individual volunteers and other community organizations to combat homelessness.
We also had many conversations with clergy and lay leaders who value peacemaking over and against fear-mongering and exclusion, which resulted in a community gathering on race relations at a local church in January.
Building bridges through cooperation between community groups is essential to carrying out a ministry of reconciliation.
Even amid this hard work of bridging racial, religious and economic divides, however, there is more work to be done.
Ambassadors of reconciliation are in the business of “truth-telling” and “truth-listening.”
The events surrounding Ferguson, Missouri; Staten Island, New York; and Cleveland, Ohio, demonstrate that more effort is needed in our communities to foster mutual conversation that encourages understanding and level-headed dialogue.
Trust cannot become a community’s most cherished value when people insist on keeping one another at arm’s length and talking over each other.
For far too long, neighbors have stereotyped one another and formed opinions based on those caricatures.
Truth-telling based on reality, not vitriol, breaks down barriers. Listening sows seeds of understanding and respect.
Dialogue deals with how we describe changes in our community. When done negatively, it perpetuates division between neighbors who are more alike than they think.
For instance, we have heard comments in our community that unfairly connects a growing minority-majority population in our community with random crime and controversy we read about in the newspaper.
The assumption is that the more African Americans move into the county, the higher the crime rate. This is unfounded. In fact, crime is lower now than in years past.
A false perception is based on stereotypes that damage people of color and cast a shadow of fear and distrust on hard-working families who are buying new homes, opening creative businesses and participating in a wonderful school system.
It increases fear among the entire populace and sows seeds of discord even amid valuable relationships.
People fear what they do not know, and the fewer relationships they have with their neighbors, the more violently they will react based on stereotypes rather than facts.
An effort to enact biblical reconciliation overcomes this temptation by providing truthful ways of deepening – not widening – relationships in a local community.
Trust, therefore, begins when we tell the truth about evil actions that include stereotyping people who are different, spreading vitriolic beliefs that have racial undertones and perpetuating fear by promoting falsehoods that do not honor all people who are made in God’s image.
Joe LaGuardia is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Conyers, Georgia. Karen Woods is associate pastor of missions and outreach at Trinity Baptist. A version of this article first appeared on LaGuardia’s blog, Baptist Spirituality, and is used with permission.