At the leading edge of most cultural movements in our country’s history, you can find a single commonality, youth. The civil rights and anti-war movements were carried on the feet of passionate baby boomers; Generation X took up the mantel for the third wave of feminism; and my own generation, the millennials, made their mark during Occupy Wall Street and the #MeToo Movement.
The current teenage generation is no different. In fact, Gen Z has already proven themselves to be a generation to watch. In March of 2018, Gen Z walked onto the cultural stage when they organized and led one of the largest youth protests to date, the March for Our Lives, in Washington, D.C. And this was only the beginning. The past two years have shown us time and time again the growing passion, power, and influence of this teenage generation.
And if history holds true, Gen Z will carry the torch of justice then pass it along to the generation following after them. This is why we cannot afford to stay silent with our teens on issues of race and racial injustice. However, before we dive into how to talk to teens about race, there is one other important note to make about this generation.
Gen Z has not only been identified as a generation of justice warriors but it is also America’s first truly post-Christian generation. In his book Meet Generation Z, James Emery White unpacks evidence that reveals this generation’s biblical illiteracy. He describes Gen Z as a generation raised “without even a memory of the gospel.”
When justice is found outside of the gospel, it is not true justice. And when the gospel we speak is void of justice, it is less than biblical.
So while Gen Z may be a generation consumed with the idea of justice, they are also a generation who knows little of its Author. This is why we, who know the God of righteousness, must speak about issues of justice with our teenagers. When justice is found outside of the gospel, it is not true justice. And when the gospel we speak is void of justice, it is less than biblical.
But where do we begin?
First, we have to keep in mind that this will not be a one-and-done conversation. If we are going to approach the conversation of race with teens, we must be willing to commit to walk the path of justice with them also. It will be a labor of love—a good and worthy labor—but a labor nonetheless.
Second, the most common fear I hear from parents and leaders before broaching the conversation of race is their lack of knowledge. They believe they “are not the right person” to have this conversation. But this is exactly what our enemy desires us to believe. Praise God who has filled you with his Spirit and given you a stewardship. If he has placed you in a role where you have influence in a teenager’s life, then you are the right person for this conversation.
Third, while conversations about race will necessarily involve a discussion of systems and structures, they are not primarily about those things. We should seek to do our homework so that we understand this world’s systemic brokenness. But conversations about race must always be, primarily, conversations about people—conversations about the beauty, value, and dignity of women and men made in God’s image. That’s what our students most desperately need to hear.
Finally, we must keep our conversations rooted in the Scriptures. Walking the full path of justice with our teens will mean seeking biblical, historical, cultural, and self awareness in the conversation. Each of these areas matter as we engage our teens in conversations about race, but their order matters as well. Our teens must see us view each cultural moment through the lens of the gospel, not viewing the Bible through the lens of each cultural moment. So be sure to begin there, by rooting your conversation in the storyline of Scripture. Allow God’s Word to do its intended work, revealing the dignity of humanity in light of God’s heart for his creation.
Step forward in faith. Be a learner. Focus on God’s love for people. And above all else, make certain that your conversations with your teen are anchored in the confidence you have in your own union with Christ and your belief in the gospel’s power for reconciliation. Reconciliation with God is the very message we are called to carry (1 Cor. 5:17–20). And it’s only with confidence in his redemptive work that we can freely grow in our own awareness of history, culture, and self, all the while inviting our teens to journey with us.
This post is the third in a three-part series by the family ministry staff team at Redeemer Fellowship Midtown in Kansas City, MO. Part 1 (on courageous christianity) and Part 2 (conversations about race with toddlers and preschoolers) posted at the Gospel-Centered Family website.