America needs a way forward after the unjust killing of George Floyd. Miles McPherson, pastor and author of “The Third Option: Hope for a Racially Divided Nation,” joins the podcast to share his personal story of experiencing racism and how we all can move past an “us versus them” mentality to build relationships with those who look different from ourselves.
Also on today’s show, we read your letters to the editor and share a good news story about daily prayer and worship gatherings that are taking place at the site of Floyd’s death. Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.
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Virginia Allen: I am joined by Miles McPherson, pastor of the Rock Church in San Diego, California, author of “The Third Option: Hope for a Racially Divided Nation,” and a former NFL football player. Pastor Miles, thanks for being here.
McPherson: It is my pleasure. How y’all doing today?
Allen: We are doing well, really excited to chat with you. You joined The Daily Signal Podcast about a year ago, and you talked about your book “The Third Option: Hope for a Racially Divided Nation,” and it’s really a joy having you back on today because we are in need of some of that hope right now.
Allen: We sure are. … For those who might not be familiar with your book, just give me a little bit of a summary. “The Third Option,” you said that you wrote it because we grow up and we’re trained to think in this “us versus them” mentality, but you say, “No, there’s actually another way to think.” What is that third option?
McPherson: Correct. You know, if you look on the news and you can just feel it, you have to, it’s us versus them. You have to pick one side against another. You’re either for or against black lives, you’re either for or against the police or for or against defunding the police. And there’s so much division in the world.
The third option is that we honor what we have in common. So instead of being me against you, if we can join together and focus, acknowledge and focus on what we have in common, we have more similarities than differences.
All of us bleed red, all of us love family, food, fun, sleep, and we’re all made in the image of God. And so the number of things that we share in common far outweigh our differences.
Even when George Floyd was killed, the reason we’re seeing protest is because all of us—black, white, Hispanic, Asian—have pain in our heart. We share that in common, and we share in common that what was done to him was wrong. And so if we can join forces and focus on those things, then we can walk in hope and actually experience some healing.
Allen: You do such a good job in your book of explaining some of your own experiences as a kid facing racism from both the black and white community. Could you take a minute and just share a little bit of your own story?
McPherson: All my grandparents are from Jamaica, two black grandfathers, one white grandmother, and one half Chinese black grandmother. So I have light brown skin.
I went to school in my white neighborhood, in the white neighborhood near me, and when I grew up, it was segregated. So I went to school in a neighborhood that was 100% white. And so I got harassed there because I wasn’t white, and then I got harassed because I wasn’t black enough. And that’s where I lived.
So I always felt a little bit like an outsider, but when I went home, I had the United Nations in my house. And then when we played football, black and white came together and we also had unity on the football field. So that’s kind of where I got to meet and get to see unity and actually participate in unity, was on the football field, in addition to my house.
Listen, racism is sin, and we all have some kind of bias toward people and that applies to everybody on the planet. And so every country is different and we’re just now experiencing one expression of it here in the United States.
Allen: I think sometimes when we hear stories like yours, there’s this temptation, specifically in the white community of which I’m a part of, to say, “OK, I’m not going to see color.” But you point out that it’s really not helpful. And it’s actually dishonoring a huge part of who a person is. So how can we actually see color in a way that adds honor to an individual who looks different from us?
McPherson: It’s a good question. You know, one of the ways to honor the similarities that we have is to acknowledge that we have blind spots and a blind spot is being blind to what you are blind to. You don’t even know, you don’t know. It’s the gap between your intent, of what you say or do, and the impact of what you say or do.
So if someone says, “I don’t see color,” their intent is to build a bridge or to say, “Listen, I’m not going to judge you,” but the impact can be to the person of color is negative because you just told that person you don’t see them and you don’t see them for what they are.
I remember the first time someone told me they didn’t see color, my color. I thought they had an eye astigmatism. And so they said, “No, no, no. We just don’t see your color.” And I was like, “So you see red, blue, and green, but you don’t see my color. So, how do you know I have a color you don’t see if you don’t see it?”
… I even asked them, I said, “Do you see me as white?” And they didn’t know what to say. And so it’s because I’m not white and my experience is not white.
So when you say you don’t see what I am, you are also ignoring the burden that comes with my color, which means you don’t want to deal and address or acknowledge my burden. Which means how can you love me then? How can you really care for me if you’re willing to ignore and deliberately ignore any pain that I have?
So saying you don’t see color, I get the intent, but the impact can be negative. So it’s better to say, “No, I see what you are because God made you that way and you’re beautiful.” There’s nothing wrong with that.
It’s like when someone gets a tan in Hawaii, they want to show it off. So when you get a tan in Hawaii, you want to celebrate. But when you get a tan in the womb, you want to invalidate. And so it’s kind of hypocritical to say, “I’m going to go to Hawaii and get a tan so everybody can see my brown,” but when someone’s born brown, we say we don’t see it. And so it’s a blind spot.
I think people should say, “I see what you are, I respect what you are, I want to learn about who you are.” And that’s how we grow and honor and respect.
Allen: In that same vein of learning about others and other people’s experiences, you talk about having race consultations instead of just conversations. What do you mean by that?
McPherson: Well, because you see color, every person you talk to you, you’re having a race conversation. Even when you look in the mirror, if you’re white, you know you’re talking to a white person. If you’re black, you know you’re talking to a black person. So whoever you have a conversation with, you’re aware of who you’re talking to.
Therefore, every time you see someone, even before you say anything to them, in your mind you’re saying, “That’s an Asian person,” “That’s a what,” and you may be wrong, but you’re guessing.
… Also, because of your background and your social narrative, which we all have, which is the story that shapes how we see the world based on all the information we’ve received as a kid, growing up, we have opinions and those opinions speak to us when we see someone.
What we need to do is take those opinions, which are the race conversation, and suspend them until we get to know the person and let the person self-disclose to us who they are. That’s called a race consultation. I am letting you show me who you are and I’m letting you expand and challenge my preconceived ideas about who you are.
So if I see someone that’s like the lady in New York City who had the dog off the leash and the black man came and said, “Can you put the dog on the leash?” And she freaked out and called the police and said, “An African American man is threatening my life.” And all he was doing was asking her to put her dog on the leash. And he was videotaping this. Well, what she saw was a black man and she got scared because what was in her head.
But if she would [have] just asked him or if she would just obey the rules to put a dog on a leash, it wouldn’t have been a problem. But if she would’ve said, “Tell me about yourself.” He would have said, “Well, I’m a Harvard grad,” which is what he was. But she didn’t have that consultation.
She didn’t give him the chance to reveal to her who he was. She just judged him because of what was in her head. So instead of us doing that with people, we need to give people opportunities to reveal who they are.
Allen: How do we keep that going? Because I think in moments like these, there’s so much energy and there’s passion and we want to build those bridges, but several months from now, a year from now, we need to keep these consultations going. How do we do that?
McPherson: I think we have to walk. You know, one of the things that we all have in common is that we’re all on a journey and we’re all learning and we will learn till the day we die. If we’re faithful to being human, we will learn about ourself, we will learn about other people. And if we choose to give people the respect that they are learning too, [then] we walk together and learn together in relationship.
This is not like people who don’t want to deal with it and just want a quick fix—”I did my thing, I said, ‘Hi.’ I said, ‘I don’t see color.’ So now I can go about my business.” Well, it’s not that simple.
It’s more about building relationships, loving, honest relationships with people who don’t look like you and getting to know each other and giving each other [the] opportunity to be wrong and learn and say dumb things.
Because I have a bunch of friends of all nationalities and we say all kinds of dumb things to each other and we learn and we grow and we forgive but it’s all based on love. So it’s a whole lot of room for mistakes and questions. And we have to have a culture where we can do that.
But I would say to people, listen, develop relationships with people and then develop relationships with their friends and their friends and their friends. And don’t ever assume you have arrived, just be a learner and be humble about it.
Allen: And that’s something that your church is very, very passionate about and focused on. How have you all cultivated that in an ongoing way of bringing people together from different backgrounds?
McPherson: Yeah. Our churches, we have tens of thousands of people in our church from more nationalities than I know. San Diego is very diverse. Sdrock.com, You can watch our services at sdrock.com.
But you know, we have been diverse for 20 years ever since Day One. And we worship together, we serve the city together, we pray together, we counsel and cry together. So, we do life together.
And because we do life together, you get to know people and then you get to realize, “Wait a minute, the diversity we have is our strength.”
I did a sermon in Spanish a couple of years ago and in preparation I got a bunch of Spanish speakers together so I could practice and we have 15 Spanish-speaking nations represented. That’s just Spanish. And so, because we do life together, we get to know each other and learn from each other.
As you do that, you realize, “Wow, people are amazing.” So it’s not like I have to feel like I’m better than you, or you’re not as good as me. I have something to learn from you. …
When you have the experience of learning from different kinds of people all the time, which is what happens when you come to our church, you’re always around different people. And so when that becomes your norm, you get more comfortable with that. And you get more comfortable with the fact that you don’t have to know everything. That you don’t have to be the superior one or the inferior one. You get to be one of the people.
So we just do life together and that’s how I go back to my relationship, if you build relationships with people.
On my social media, I’m always talking about these kinds of things. And if someone wants to follow me, @milesmcpherson on Instagram and all the things, @milesmcpherson. I’m always posting stuff.
So I’m always talking about color, and race, and educating people. And also showing that you can do that and be comfortable. It doesn’t have to be a stressful, fearful thing … I’m comfortable in my ethnicity and people in our church are comfortable in their ethnicity. It’s not like if you say, “That person’s white,” or, “That person’s black,” that that’s a racist thing. It’s just a fact, if you say it respectfully and honorably.
Allen: … You mentioned social media, the media does play a big role, I think, in how we often see race—whether that’s social media or movies or TV. But how can we train ourselves to, when we kind of see those portrayals, recognize when maybe it is racist and choose to not agree with inaccurate portrayals that we’re seeing?
McPherson: It’s all about numbers. I’m a numbers guy. No. 1 is the number of unity. No. 2 is the number of division. And when you hear stuff, if it’s causing a No. 2, in other words, me against you, or if it’s creating distance or dissension, that’s division. If it’s creating unity, it’s love.
So how you say things, what you say, how other people say things, if it is uplifting and life-giving and unifying, it’s not racism. If it’s degrading and demeaning and causing division, well, then that’s the negative.
What we always want to do is think, “OK, how do I turn that comment into a positive? How do I turn that experience into a positive? How do I see the positive in that person?” That’s why my book “The Third Option” helps people see God in people.
So I would encourage people to go to Amazon, go to milesmcpherson.com, and get the book “The Third Option.” Every chapter has three questions at the end. So you can actually go through a discussion guide and go through discussions and talk with people.
It has things you can do in the community. And to practice, I have a chapter where I challenged people, a few white people, to go to a neighborhood where they’re the only white person. Because black people [are] always around, they’re always a minority, but white people are rarely the minority.
So you have to go to a place where you’re the only white person, and then you can feel like, “Oh, this is what it feels like to be the other.”
I did it with a guy and even in my book, he wrote his testimony about what he felt. And he was telling us what people were thinking in their heads. And I was wondering, “How do you know what people are thinking in your head?” That’s what he was feeling, but it’s not necessarily fact. Now he had a taste of what it means to be a minority.
So I just want to encourage people to get the book, get “The Third Option,” read it, do it, live it, and go through it with somebody who is different than you.
Allen: Yeah. And we’ll be sure to put the link for the book in today’s show notes because … it’s so relevant.
And, Pastor Miles, your story is so inspirational. Everything from your time in the NFL and growing up to becoming a pastor and leading such a diverse congregation, it’s so relevant.
Before I let you go, I just want to ask you, what is the prayer that you’re praying over our country right now and how are you encouraging your congregation to pray?
McPherson: John said, “I must decrease and Jesus must increase.” If all of us would just say, “God, I need to decrease. This can’t be about me. It’s got to be about you.”
And everybody wants to be defensive and be right over somebody else. That’s us first then. But if we all humbled our knee before God and say, “Lord, I just want to decrease. And I want you to be elevated in my life,” John 3:30, that’s what I would encourage people to do.
Just to humble themselves before God because none of us are right, you know? Yes, there should be justice. That’s correct. George Floyd should not have been killed. That’s correct. But justice is a God thing. And the justice that God is going to render is way better than the justice of man.
Those cops, they can go to jail for the rest of their life. God has a better justice than that. He wants to change all of our hearts so it doesn’t happen again. And so I would encourage people just to bow before God and surrender their life to him.
Allen: Pastor Miles, thank you so much. Really appreciate your time today.
McPherson: Thank you.