Many of us are finding it difficult to disciple our children during this painful time, and rightfully so. Some of us have talked with our children about topics around race their whole lives and others are doing so for the first time. Some have experienced racism firsthand and find it painful to introduce these realities to their children; others are only recently aware of the challenges faced by people of color in the United States and don’t know what to say or do. I wanted to offer a few thoughts to you as you consider how to shepherd your children in this time.
It really matters that we talk to them about racial injustice and the sin of racism. For those wondering how to move forward, beginning these conversations in our homes is an essential place to start. I’ve included an article from Christianity Today and one from The Gospel Coalition to help you begin talking with your students about race. It’d be great to watch this 6-minute Bible Project video about Biblical Justice with them and discuss it together.
We need to speak for two reasons:
- Being true to God’s heart for justice: George Floyd was a black man made in God’s image whose life was unjustly taken by a white man in a position of power. Our children need to know how much this, and the long history of injustices against African Americans, grieves and angers God’s heart. We should encourage them when their hearts burn to do something about racism. We should affirm them if they desire to follow Jesus’ command to focus on the weightier matters of the law like justice and mercy (Matthew 23:23). We should help inform them by directing them to passages like Jeremiah 22:3; Proverbs 31:8-9; Psalm 146:7-9.
- Being consistent followers of Scripture: If our students hear us decry the sin of abortion, but not racial injustice, they’ll question whether we actually care about justice. If they hear us lament shifting cultural attitudes towards sexuality, but not the prevalence of extreme poverty, they’ll wonder if we’re motivated by love or something else. If we constantly refer to the truth and application of Scripture, but neglect the idea of biblical justice, they will question if we should follow all of the Scriptures. To be clear, the reason to talk about George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and others, is that they are men and women created in God’s image who were unjustly killed–full stop. But the need for consistency underlines this urgency.
Social media has changed the game (again). Students regularly engaging in social media can face a whirlwind of perspectives, emotions, and shame.
What’s helpful about social media?
- It is good for students to engage in this conversation and be exposed to others’ perspectives, especially if you can digest social media content together with your student.
- In our online age, public posts are an important means of advocacy and showing support.
- The 24/7 nature of social media creates an immense amount of pressure to say and post the “right thing” online, which can lead to a tremendous amount of shame. If your student is more emotionally reactive in conversations about race, it could be that they’re transferring onto you the shame that they fear would fall on their own head if they said something that isn’t “woke” enough for others online. There is a tendency to gravitate towards more extreme positions as an attempt to avoid being shamed and what we want to help students understand is that this is not the same thing as experiencing personal conviction that leads to repentance.
- The very nature of social media lends itself to actions that are performative in nature, as opposed to true heart change which is best developed in our minds and imagination during quiet periods of reflection. Our students need to step away from the constant cycle of news and opinions in order to become the kind of people who can truly bring about change in society. We adults need that, too.
Fear. The horror of recent killings of black men and women, the ongoing pandemic and local closing of stores due to concerns about looting makes us and our students afraid. What do we do with those fears? We need to help our children name them and bring them before the Lord in prayer. After that, for those of us who have not experienced these fears in the past, it’s good for us to reflect with them on the extraordinary privilege we enjoy almost all the time. The experience of racism is common for many people of color in our church and community. The threat of violent crime is normative, not only in places like Jos, Nigeria, but also just a few miles away in Southeast Raleigh. We have ministry partners who live and serve in these places like Raleigh Rescue Mission, Neighbor to Neighbor and With Love From Jesus. May our fears lead us to greater trust in the Lord and also greater empathy with our neighbors.
Your student wants you to talk to them. And they want you to help them know what to do next. But what is the next step? My encouragement to older students is to take time away from social media and the news and do something embodied: read a book about the history of racism in the United States or a novel that has a person of color as the main character such as Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cryby Mildred Taylor or a piece from Martin Luther King such a Letter from Birmingham Jail. For those younger members of the family, you might want to read together The Gospel in Color by Jarvis J. Williams and Curtis A. Woods or God’s Very Good Idea (Tales That Tell The Truth) by Trillia Newbell. And most importantly, pray. What we want to help our students understand is that racism is real and it’s going to take costly obedience to Jesus over a lifetime–not overnight–to fix. The best thing you can do as a parent is to enter that wilderness of not knowing what to do next with your child. Converse, read and pray with them. I know it might be scary because you don’t know what to say, but your willingness to listen, lament and repent will speak more loudly than the right words ever could.
Lord Jesus, open our hearts to see our neighbor, to confess our failure to love our neighbor as ourselves and to come closer to your heart for justice.