Why Talk About Race At A Christian School?
By Mr. Keith Riddle
November 6, 2019
Recently, I have had several conversations with people who expressed concern about the need to talk about issues of race and culture within a Christian context. One asked, “Why do we need to talk about race at SSCA?” I thought this was a great question, and I wanted to take the time to give it a clear and thoughtful answer. My wife and I have been SSCA parents for 5 years, and for the past three years have co-led the “Be the Bridge” group that brings together SSCA parents to talk about racial justice and reconciliation. We are both white, and grew up in contexts where conversations about race were not the norm. But after 20 years in cross-cultural ministry in Dorchester and the South Shore, I am convinced this is a crucial issue for the church. I hope this is an opening to a conversation that we will continue to pursue with God’s guidance.
So…. Why should we talk about race at a Christian school? Glad you asked!
- The Bible talks about culture and ethnicity.
Since I’m the Bible teacher, I thought I would start here (not a bad place to start for any conversation, actually!). While the modern concept of race is not found explicitly in ancient literature, the Bible is packed with references to cultural and ethnic distinctions. Once you begin to see them, you may be amazed at how much saturates the Scriptures: God’s creation of languages (and therefore cultures) at the tower of Babel (Gen. 11), commands to “love the sojourner/foreigner” (Deut. 10:19), calls to thwart systems of oppression (Amos 2, Micah 6), and the need for diverse leadership in the early church (Acts 6). Jesus himself commands his disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,” in which the word for nations is actually “ethnos” – indicating ethnic groups, not political entities. I could go on! The Bible does not ignore cultural elements. In fact, it does the opposite – it lays them at the heart of human experience, and gives us a perspective from which to talk about and address them. As a Christian school that takes the Bible seriously, we must wrestle with how these passages and principles affect our every area of our life.
- Racism impacts all of us.
As a white person, I had to learn this (and am still in the process of learning). I used to believe that most racism was in the past, consisted of isolated individual actions, or was just an issue because someone “made it an issue.” I definitely did not believe it existed to any real extent in the church – surely not the church! In reality, I had the luxury of living with blinders on. Proximity and honest relationships with people of color in my core spheres (church, neighborhood, and SSCA) have changed my view. I discovered that racist attitudes and actions affect people of color everyday in ways I never imagined. If we are to truly “love our neighbor as ourselves,” then we must learn to listen well to one another. Many of my brothers and sisters in Christ, who are people of color, say there are issues around race. We can respond to this by asking ourselves a few questions. Do we believe them? Are we willing to listen to one another? Are we willing to share vulnerably? Are we willing to engage with hard conversations? If we say no to these things, how can we say that we truly love each other? How can I ignore the pain and suffering of my fellow believer, dismiss it as “perceived” or “unjustified” and still honestly say that I love them? In a different way, racism also affects me as a white person – not because I experience individual acts of prejudice (which are seldom) but because the reality and effect of racism keeps me isolated from parts of the Body of Christ, and we need each other! Our inability to hear from others inhibits real gospel-centered growth in individuals and churches. Over 50 years later, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s indictment of the church is still true: “the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” By not communicating in humility, we are missing out on the unity that is promised to the Body of Christ – our gifts, perspectives on God, and gospel impact are weakened in isolation from one another.
- Our kids need each other.
As much as I would like it not to be the case, the experiences of my white children will be different than those of their black and brown peers. Period. Parents of color are having conversations with their children that I never considered having with mine, such as how to respond when they are followed in a store, what to do when they are stopped by a police officer, or why their skin tone is not less beautiful than others. In response, I could ignore it as “not my problem” (but I won’t – see #2) or I could help my kids understand the experiences of their peers. Because one day, they may be in a situation together where their race matters. Our kids need each other to know – not only the realities of each others’ lives, but also to know how to stand together. So as a white parent, and as a Christian parent, I need to talk to my children about what they should do if something happens to one of their black friends because of their skin color – because it has happened to others in the past and will certainly happen again, and maybe even to someone they know and hold dearly.
- Racial unity is a gospel issue.
The world has a sense that something is “wrong,” but is flailing desperately at ideas to make it all “right.” The world may seek reconciliation, but the Church holds the key. True, enduring, and complete reconciliation – not only with God but also with each other – is only possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ death and resurrection did not only win salvation for individual sinners, but created “one new humanity” (Eph. 2:15). We have to understand that our individual relationships with Christ do not exist outside of the context of reconciled relationships with each other. Conversations about racial reconciliation should not just happen in a Christian context – they should start here and influence our world! We must also realize that reconciliation is both a present reality and a continuing process. Jesus prayed that we “may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:23). It is the church’s growing unity amidst diversity that gives a resounding answer to questions the world is asking.
- True reconciliation gives us a glimpse of our future.
Revelation 7:9-10 paints a beautiful picture of the gathered saints at the end of all things, praising God before his throne. As John looks around at this heavenly vision, he sees people “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” worshipping God. What strikes me here is that John sees such a diversity of people. Somehow, the languages, the nationalities, the cultural distinctiveness of each people group (ethnos) are represented in giving glory to God. If this is the picture of his church in heaven, should it not be a worthy goal for us to work towards that unity while here on earth? As Jesus taught us to pray, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Let us be brave in having these conversations in our families, our church, and our school, to the glory of God.