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Jamal is a Black student in a predominately White Christian college. During a discussion in class, one of his White classmates, Blake, states, “I don’t see why Black people are so angry about slavery. They’ve gotten so many benefits since then, like affirmative action, welfare, scholarships, and government programs to give them a lift. If I had all that help, I’d be fine.” Jamal is furious but is worried that responding will further ostracize him in a school where he’s already struggling to fit in.

Now, imagine that Jamal and Blake are in your class, and you are the instructor who witnesses this interaction. What emotions do you think Jamal is experiencing? Anger? Disappointment? What about Blake, what might he be feeling?

Now think about your reaction. As the instructor, the class will be looking to you for a response. However, your response will be motivated by your own experiences with race-related issues. Maybe you are a person of color who understands how Jamal feels. Maybe you grew up in a disadvantaged White community and have heard comments like Blake’s your whole life.

All eyes in the classroom are on you. How do you manage the conversation?

My guess is that most post-secondary educators would prefer to grade papers endlessly for the rest of their lives than to step into a conversation about race like the one Jamal and Blake are having. The reality is that most of us are ill-equipped to engage in conversations about race and are afraid that these conversations will turn hostile, divisive, and out of control.1 These conversations feel like a no-win scenario, so we avoid them altogether. This is also true in Christian communities that have complex histories with race and have too often been complicit with racism and racial injustice.2 In response, Christians sometimes rely on the desire to be “one in Christ” to avoid the difficult emotions that arise from having conversations about racial diversity and racism.

Unfortunately, our collective inability to engage healthily in conversations about race has left us ineffective professionally, interpersonally, and spiritually; robbing us of the opportunity to participate in the “beloved community” that Revelation 7:9 describes. The desire to see Christians move towards racial unity led my colleagues and I to write the book Healing Conversations on Race: Four Key Practices from Scripture and Psychology.3 We each had our own histories of difficult race-related experiences which were contributing to various challenges we found ourselves facing in our roles in Christian higher education. Furthermore, we believe that Scripture provides wisdom, guidance, and strategy to address the issues of our current culture. We also believe that our professions (psychology and social work) provide proven approaches to managing internal and interpersonal conflict. Thus, the four of us, who come from various ethnic and racial backgrounds and experiences, embarked on a journey of having difficult conversations about race. As we did so, we prayerfully developed a model to facilitate healing conversations on race to help Christians move away from apathy and complicity toward Christlikeness.

The HEAL Model

The HEAL Model starts with an orientation to the problem of racism and race-related disunity. In this narrative, the root cause of racial tensions is the fall of humanity and the resulting ongoing sin. Because we see racism as a sin, the solution lies in God’s redemptive plan, which calls for Christlikeness. In simple terms, God hates sin, racism is a sin, so God hates racism. This fundamental truth should motivate all followers of Christ to actively seek racial unity while rejecting racism and indifference toward it. However, even for those who agree with this premise, it can be very difficult to practice Christlikeness in the context of race. Many of us have very little experience or exposure to Christlike models in this area.

Thus, the HEAL Model is purposed to provide a framework to facilitate these conversations. It is an acronym: humility (H), empathy (E), acceptance of race-related emotions (A), and Christlike love (L). These practices are detailed in our book, Healing Conversations on Race: Four Key Practices from Scripture and Psychology. In addition to these practices, the book offers a specific six-step process to guide people through a healing conversation with someone who is racially different. Here, I offer a condensed version of these four key practices, which are explored in depth in the book, complete with practical steps, growth activities, and personal anecdotes.


Humility is the first principle of the model. Christ exemplifies the ultimate humility, which involves having a correct understanding of ourselves in the presence of God and others. It entails self-denial and self-emptying (see Philippians 2:7). The social sciences, however, describe cultural humility as an ongoing process that calls for introspection about our own knowledge, limitations, and personal biases while actively learning about the culture and cultural influences of others. This concept is compatible with Christianity; however, Christlike humility transcends cultural humility by redirecting our focus from ourselves to others and God. Our encouragement is to engage in prayerful reflection while demonstrating this form of self-emptying love during difficult conversations on race and racism.


Empathy is the second principle and is described as the capacity to understand an individual from their perspective rather than our own. It is a critical practice when attempting to manage strong emotions that arise when having difficult conversations about race. These conversations frequently involve emotions such as anger, frustration, and defensiveness. However, these secondary, reactive emotions often mask deeper, primary emotions such as sadness, fear, and shame. Primary emotions are signals of relational needs, and empathy allows us to remain open to others so we can be responsive to their emotions. We suggest that if Jesus, God incarnate, can empathize with human weaknesses (see Hebrews 4:15), then we should consider empathy a fundamental practice for Christlikeness in cross-racial conversations and relationships.


The third principle in the model is acceptance. Acceptance of race-related emotions is the key to remaining engaged with others; especially when conversations get really hard. Defined as non-judgmental consent, acceptance is a means of identifying our core emotions, such as fear, sadness, and shame, and inviting God into our emotional experiences in the present moment. For example, instead of reacting with anger, acceptance allows us to pay attention to and stay aware of our own underlying emotions—such as fear—and the fear experienced by others. Through self-reflection, attention, and emotional awareness, we can remain emotionally present and engaged during our conversations about race, without becoming reactive, argumentative, or disengaged.


Christlike love is the fourth principle and is characterized by unselfishness, loyalty, benevolent intention, and commitment toward God and others. It involves self-denial and servanthood— qualities exemplified by Christ (see Philippians 2:1-11)—and it requires entering into someone else’s world during conversations about race. We firmly believe that Christlike love is incompatible with racial disunity, racism, or apathy in cross-racial relationships. Therefore, it is through the intentional and active practice of Christlike love that we can move towards healing conversations on race.

The HEAL Model for Christian Educators

Let’s return to your classroom with Jamal and Blake. Now that you have a brief orientation to the HEAL model, we can begin to examine what emotions and experiences might be motivating each student. Jamal might appear angry; however, if we were to engage him in conversation and listen reflectively, we might discover that he was afraid. Instead of dismissing or embarrassing Blake, our model encourages you to approach him with humility and attempt to understand his emotions and needs. It might turn out that Blake is struggling academically and is feeling ashamed. Here, feelings of fear and shame are underlying forces to a conversation that outwardly is driven by anger and divisiveness. Moreover, as an instructor, your ability to press into these difficult conversations, acknowledge and accept the pain, and demonstrate Christlikeness in your response is dependent on how much work you have done personally to engage in healing conversations. After all, you cannot lead students down a path you have not been willing to travel yourself.

If you have read this blog and realized that you, like the four of us, desire to grow in your cross-racial relationships we invite you to join us on this journey towards healing and reconciliation. Together, drawing upon the powerful bonding agent of Christlikeness, we seek to become vessels for the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (see Galatians 5:22-23). I encourage you to walk with us as we seek to promote healing conversations on race and serve as an example to our students in the process.

(Photo by nappy:


  1. Derald Wing Sue, Gina C. Torino, Christina M. Capodilupo, David P. Rivera, and Annie I., “How White Faculty Perceive and React to Difficult Dialogues on Race: Implications for Education and Training,” The Counseling Psychologist 37, no. 8 (2009): 1090–1115,
  2. Jemar Tisby, The Color of Compromise: The Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2019).
  3. Veola Vazquez, Joshua Knabb, Charles Lee-Johnson, and Krystal Hays, “Healing Conversations on Race: Four Key Practices from Scripture and Psychology,” (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2023).

Krystal Hays

Dr. Krystal Hays is the Director of the Doctor of Social Work program and an Associate Professor of Social Work at California Baptist University. She is also a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with experience providing psychotherapy, and engaging in capacity building, in community mental health settings. As a social work researcher Dr. Hays focuses on reducing the burden of depression and other mental illnesses and improving mental health treatment outcomes for African Americans.