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Talking with kids…about race

ib2newseditor —  September 18, 2017

Parenting conference takes on serious discussions

parenting panel

Steven Harris (left) moderates a panel including the ERLC’s Trillia Newbell and Texas pastor Jason Paredes on how to help children view diversity like God does. Photo by Kelly Hunter

Is it ever too early to talk about race with your children? Panelists at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s Aug. 24-26 conference on parenting said no, resoundingly.

“You should not wait,” said Rachel Metzger, an educator and mother of two. “Because waiting seems like a secret, or something you don’t want to talk about.” Metzger joined four other parents and church leaders for a panel discussion on how to raise children with a biblical view of racial unity.

Coming less than a month after deadly protests in Charlottesville, Va., the panelists addressed the topic at a time when America’s racial divides are glaringly apparent. But, “this is not just something that we need to be talking about because something in the culture happened,” said Trillia Newbell, director of community outreach for the ERLC. “It’s something the church needs to be on top of, ahead of, because it is ultimately a biblical topic.”

Newbell is the author “God’s Very Good Idea,” a new children’s book about the diversity inherent in God’s creation. The book calls families to celebrate differences because they are, after all, God’s doing.

“That’s what’s missing in our culture—we don’t celebrate our differences; we politicize them,” Newbell said during the panel. “And we should celebrate. This is God’s good plan. It’s his idea.”

With kids, celebrating differences means acknowledging them. Newbell told the audience in Nashville that her son identified early on the difference between his mom’s skin color and his own. As her children have gotten older, open conversations about skin color have evolved into discussions about the realities of racism, division, and ethnic pride.

“It is heartbreaking, but it’s something that we have to be talking about,” Newbell said. “But even with that, we are sharing the full picture of the gospel that unites.”

The panelists shared several suggestions for fostering in children a biblically-based appreciation for racial diversity and unity:

1. Educate yourself. Dive into what the Bible says about the nations and the image of God, said Byron Day, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Laurel, Md., and president of the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention. “You need to know for yourself first of all what it is that you believe, and why you believe it, so that you can better then explain it to them.” Day noted two helpful Scripture passages: Genesis 10 and Revelation 7.

2. Point to real-life examples. Adoption is such a part of the culture on his church staff, said Pastor Jason Paredes, that if an outsider were to try to match parents with kids based on skin color, it would be impossible. In that environment, said the pastor of Fielder Church in Arlington, Texas, identity is based less on looks and more on family bonds, giving parents a real-life way to talk to their kids about God’s view of racial unity.

3. Lay a biblical foundation. Pastor Afshin Ziafat recalled seeing an interview with a white nationalist in the aftermath of protesting in Charlottesville. The man’s angst, Ziafat remembered, seemed ultimately to be about protecting himself.

The root of racism is the sin of self, said Ziafat, pastor of Providence Church in Frisco, Texas. “With our children, I want to teach them that all are made in God’s image, but I also want to make sure I’m teaching them that life isn’t about you. Philippians 2 is what I want to teach them: Count others more significant than yourselves; put the interest of others before yourself.”

4. Invite people in. Get to know your neighbors, Newbell advised. Ask God to give you eyes to see color and culture, and invite the people around you into your family’s life.

Ziafat said mission trips have motivated his church members to get to know the people around them. “As we’ve gone on mission trips and our people have gone to other cultures and come back home, I’ve seen them have a heart to now want to go meet my Indian neighbor who I’ve never even talked to, because I just got back from India. I think tharat’s been a huge thing for us too.”

5. Start now. Newbell acknowledged some listeners probably feel the guilt of not having had these kinds of conversations with their kids. “It’s never too late to talk about the glory of God and Imago Dei. If you’re listening and thinking, ‘Well, I didn’t do that,’ start today.”

The Illinois Baptist’s Meredith Flynn was there. Watch for more articles from Meredith from the conference.