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Helping parents navigate conversations about race

The calling we have as Christian parents is to help shape the worldview of our children toward one that increasingly reflects the heart and mission of God. This includes talking about things like personal integrity, love for neighbor, generosity, and peacemaking. As a parent to four young children, I’m convinced this must also include conversations about race and justice. 

American culture has been guilty of the sin of racism. It goes all the way back to colonial times; European settlers stole land from the Native Americans and brought African slaves to North America. In short, this is not a new problem, and tragically, white evangelical Christians in particular have often passed down an indifference toward issues of race and justice from generation to generation — an indifference that persists even as our country grows more divided. Brothers and sisters, this should not be. 

Many of us struggle to engage in what are challenging and increasingly complex conversations on race in our country. To that end, I want to share a few guiding principles and practical steps you can take in this direction with your family. The goal is not to have all the answers, but to engage with a posture of humility — listening, learning, and depending on God, his Word, and his people.  

  1. Educate yourself about God’s heart for justice in the Bible. As a pastor, I have found that many of the people I shepherd are surprised by how much the concept of justice is talked about in the Bible. Spend some time digesting the prophetic books where you read things like these passages from Isaiah and Jeremiah: 
    Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. (Isa. 1:17)
    Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. (Jer. 22:3)
    As you can see from these passages, the process within your family must move from education to action. For those committed to following the way of Jesus, these are not optional tasks. 
  1. Educate yourself about injustice in our nation’s history. All of our children should be learning about the evils of slavery and the significance of the Civil Rights Movement. They likely know the names Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, and Rosa Parks. But as you do your own research, tell them about the figures and stories you come across that they may not necessarily read about in textbooks. The Equal Justice Initiative has been an incredibly helpful resource for me in this area. In 2019, I purchased their calendar where you can learn about a different historical event in the realm of social and racial injustice in America’s history each day. deBecoming aware of deeper history will help our kids become advocates and burden-bearers for those who have been oppressed by racism, and help them not become casualties to the ignorance that erodes into damaging indifference.  
  1. Educate yourself about injustice in your city. I live in Kansas City, a place with a long history of racial division. A street called Troost serves as a modern-day “dividing wall of hostility” that continues to remind us of our dark past and remaining socioeconomic and racial divisions. Every city and state has stories like these, so do the work to learn them, share them, and model for your kids what it looks like to strive for righteousness. 
  1. Be intentional about sharing what you learn with the next generation. We drive across Troost every day as a family. I’ve shared some of that history with my kids in age-appropriate ways. I’ve also tried to translate the complexities of redlining or racially-restrictive housing covenants into language they can understand more easily, so they can begin forming a wider perspective of institutional practices that have handicapped millions of minorities in our city and how those things are not in alignment with the kingdom of God.
    In the student ministry I led, we toook a driving tour of our city with historical commentary of the role of segregation. We do this in an effort to educate and create space for questions and dialogue, in hope that we may not be guilty of the same sins of our ancestors.
  1. Cultivate empathy. As we watched the events surrounding the death of George Floyd and the following global protests, we talked about the imago Dei, the dignity of every human being made in God’s image, and the pain related to various forms of injustice our brothers and sisters of color have carried for so long — injustice that my kids will most likely never have to experience personally. They saw my wife and I weep and lament the injustice in solidarity with our brothers and sisters of color. My friend Brian Key says, “When you weep with someone, you identify with them in their pain. It is humanizing in the face of the dehumanizing pain of grief. It somehow makes the grief less lonely, though not less painful.” That’s the kind of posture we want to cultivate in our kids. It didn’t take eloquent speeches from us to point them that direction; it just took tears. 
    We want to stir empathy, compassion, and understanding in the hearts of our sons and daughters because that reflects the heart of our God. And we want to be the ones shaping the narrative biblically, not the media or their friends. This requires being proactive rather than reactive, and an eagerness to truthfully and courageously confront racist realities we have been born into as Americans. 
  1. Pursue expressions of diversity. In heaven we will worship with every tribe, tongue, people, and nation. But in the U.S., most of us have inherited the reality of living in more homogenous communities. It will take creativity and commitment to continually pursue diversity across the spheres of our life. 

Prioritize the conversation

What we talk about reveals the disposition of our hearts. This is what Jesus was highlighting when he said, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). As evangelicals we have done a good job of prioritizing conversations around sexuality, gender, and the sanctity of life — as we should. But we must also not neglect topics of racial justice or treat them as less important issues. 

The opportunities are all around us, whether it be in the history they are learning in school, the political debates they are increasingly aware of, or the questions they ask about people they see every day. So the next time you see something on the news, or your kids share about what they are learning in American history, or when you take them to Ephesians 2 in your family devotional time, seize the opportunity to point them to God’s heart for racial reconciliation and pray with them along those lines. Repent of apathy, and pray for opportunities to live out justice in your community.

May we not be guilty of turning a blind eye or passively handing over discipleship to the culture. But with confidence in Scripture and the calling we’ve been given to be ambassadors of God’s love in Christ to the world, instill in our children a heart that pursues justice, loves mercy, and humbly submits to the God who tears down dividing walls for his glory and the good of the world. 

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