Equipping Our Children to Think About Race

Race and racism have always been relevant. But in an age where our children are as networked and connected as ever, it is important that we help them develop a biblical framework.

This article will focus briefly on three important truths we need to teach to our children regarding race and racism. Part Two of this two-part series (running on Rooted tomorrow) will hone in on three truths we need to model for our children.

Truth #1: Everyone is an image bearer of God.

This is a crucial piece of theology. We must instill in our children the understanding that according to Genesis 1:26, every single human being is made in the image of God (the Imago Dei). Each person in all of humanity is uniquely vested with various and wonderful attributes of our Creator; these traits include rationality, creativity, love, relational skills, power, and dignity. This is a great truth for our children to grasp personally – it gives them value and dignity. At the same time, when Christ commands all of us to “love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31),” we want our children to view everyone around them as a fellow dignified image bearer.

Every single person matters because of this reality. This includes every life on either side of the birth canal. These lives matter to God and they should matter to us. There are no differences in intelligence, physical ability, or morality based on one’s ethnicity.

Sadly, much of the American narrative is rife with the ideology that some cultures are not fully human, do not bear the image of God, and therefore do not matter. The abuse of the Native Americans (called “savages”) and the institution of chattel slavery (where blacks were considered 3/5 of a person) are just a few of the ugly realities that have negated the image bearing qualities of all human life.

We want for our children to pioneer a brighter tomorrow by affirming the Imago Dei in everyone everywhere.

Truth #2: Racism and prejudice are sins

Some people talk about racism as if it is an idiosyncrasy or a character flaw that only belongs to certain people. We can look at the recent events in Charlottesville and decry the heinous “white supremacy” of the KKK and alt-right. But the reality is that belittling, oppressing, ignoring, or mistreating anyone because of his or her culture or ethnicity is sin, and none of us are immune from it. This is a tough truth, but until Jesus returns we will continue to combat this sin in our lives.

If someone told us that they had no struggle whatsoever with lust, greed, or envy we would find that hard to believe because those sins are common to everyone – even if we battle with them to varying degrees. In similar fashion, all of us struggle at times with favoritism, ugly thoughts, indifference, unpleasant words, or odious behavior towards others. This is why Jesus had to come and die for all of us. We need to help our children understand that we are called to “regard no one according to the flesh” (2 Corinthians 5:16), and that God despises partiality of any kind (James 2:2-7). The externalities of race, class, gender, or nationality should never be grounds for discrimination, crass jokes, snide comments, or ugly behavior.

Truth #3: Colorblindness is not a virtue

“Colorblindness” sounds beautiful, but as a doctrine it creates errors.

As mentioned earlier, it is crucial (and Biblical) that we see everyone the same regarding his or her image bearing status. But let us also remember that God is incredibly creative. The differences in the physical hues of our skin and eyes and the textures of our hair are things to be appreciated, not ignored.

We are equally human, but uniquely beautiful.

Our distinct cultures produce equally unique cultural artifacts of art, music, literature, apparel, food, and beauty. This is because our Creator endowed each of us with creative ability. The majority of these cultural artifacts should be seen as diversely wonderful and distinctively appreciated.

On the other hand, despite the fact that we are over 50 years removed from the Civil Rights Movement and the ugly days of legalized segregation, there are still systemic racial injustices in this country that frequently target people of color. I live and serve in a part of Birmingham, Alabama where most of the minority children are zoned for an under-resourced or failing school. This is educational injustice. It is rampant in cities around the nation and affects millions. These same kids live in a food desert with no access to quality grocery stores with healthy vegetables and produce. Predatory lending stores infest the neighborhood, dispensing quick loans and then charging poor and desperate people almost 500% in interest.

One has only to look at our prison system to see that the majority of men in prison are minorities, despite the fact that there is almost an equal number of crimes committed in predominantly white neighborhoods as there are in predominantly minority neighborhoods.

If we are colorblind, then we fail to see the nuanced and beautiful contributions of various cultures; if we are colorblind then we are also unable to see how injustice and poverty often target people of color. Colorblindness whitewashes both the beautiful and ugly aspects of color out of our view.

The onus is on us to help our kids appreciate cultural diversity as a gift from God. We need to empower them to decry racism everywhere they see it. This starts with them beholding the Imago Dei in themselves and everyone they meet – that they would seek to affirm the dignity, the life, and the flourishing of their diverse neighbors.

To read part 2 of this article, click here.

Ben Sciacca currently serves as the Director of Leadership Development for Desire Street Ministries (www.desirestreet.org). Ben has been ministering and living in under-resourced communities for almost 20 years. He writes and speaks about the gospel and social justice. His latest book is Meals from Mars: A Parable of Prejudice and Providence. He and his wife and four children live in Birmingham, Alabama. You can follow him @iamJudahBen.  

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