Celebrate Differences for Healthier Children and Communities

Speak and model the language of racial solidarity at church

by Michelle Reyes

The children in our church don’t always talk to each other. It’s not what you think. I’m grateful we don’t have issues with cliques or bullies, and we don’t have huge age gaps. Rather, not everyone shares the same language. We are an urban, multicultural church in east Austin, Texas, and on any given Sunday, we have children walk through our doors who speak English, Spanish, French, Hindi, Arabic and more.

Language is not the only barrier. By nature of their ethnic backgrounds, our children also look different from each other. They eat different foods, have different styles of clothing, like different sports and even think differently about God, the Bible, prayer and the purpose of the local church.

If we teach our children to value each other’s differences, they will be closer to embracing God’s intended solidarity for all peoples.

The obstacles that arise from the confluence of diverse children in our church are a microcosm of the racial fractures and estranged relations that exist between children in our society at large. One of the main goals in our church is to pave the way for racial healing in our community, and a large part of this approach includes teaching and training our own children to have a robust, biblical understanding of racial solidarity.

I’m using the term racial solidarity as opposed to racial reconciliation or racial equality because it is more holistic for both the person and the community. While racial reconciliation, for example, starts with the problems that divide people groups, racial solidarity focuses on what should unite us, namely the imago dei, the image of God. Kings College professor Anthony Bradley defines racial solidarity in this way: “We must embrace our common human dignity (Genesis 1:26–28) as a human family in ways that celebrate and respect differences between ethnic communities for the common good. This is beyond the failed concept of “color-blindness” and recognizes the importance of racial, ethnic, and ideological differences as a catalyst for loving our neighbor’s well (Matthew 22:36-40; John 17).”1

How can congregations address issues of racial solidarity for better whole-person health of their children?

Affirm Difference, Not Conformity

An important starting point for teaching children about biblically rooted racial solidarity is to affirm the differences in their ethnicities and cultures. This is where Scripture begins, and so should we. Every child at church should know the narrative of racial solidarity inherent in Scripture, starting with Genesis 1:26–28. Here, we see that God makes all people in God’s image. Both man and woman are created with inherent dignity and worth, and no ethnicity is superior or inferior to the other.

Unfortunately, in many ways the church falls far from this ideal. Our interracial relations are deeply wounded by the tendency to require subdominant minorities, including minority children, to conform to majority white cultural norms. In other words, children learn that if they want to fit in, they need to check their ethnicity at the door. No talking in Spanish; wear “American” clothing; no dancing during the music; and so on. Sadly, majority Christians often see minority culture mannerisms and behavior as uncomfortable or even inappropriate. This sort of thinking advances the notion that white culture is better, a logic that children internalize, thereby perpetuating a vicious, divisive cycle and diminishing the health of children and the communities they belong to.

Instead, a church’s children ministry, and by extension the whole church, would do well to celebrate their diverse cast of children with their cultural heritages. Leaders outspoken in their encouragement of children to bring in favorite foods, wear favorite cultural garb and more to church provide opportunities for children to talk about themselves and to get to know other children, too, much like the traditional “show and tell” times at school. Designated Sunday mornings for cultural celebrations are another idea. For example, if you have Latino children in your church, how much of their cultural celebrations were incorporated into your children’s ministry’s lessons and discussion at Christmas?

If we teach our children to value each other’s differences, instead of expecting others to conform to their own standards, they will be closer to embracing God’s intended solidarity for all peoples, tribes and tongues in the imago dei. Children who feel affirmed and valued as image-bearing humans will no longer feel forced into silence or shame, much like they often feel at school and in their communities. Health benefits of positive self-image, confidence, and acceptance will spill over into other areas of their lives.

Invite Open Conversation

“White privilege” is hard to talk about, but we need to. I recognize that the mere mention of white privilege can generate a lot of differing emotions and opinions. The simple point I want to make is that our kids need to know that white culture is not the standard or ideal of Christian living.

White privilege has been defined this way: “A right, advantage, or immunity granted to or enjoyed by white persons beyond the common advantage of all others; an exemption in many particular cases from certain burdens or liabilities.”2 In other words, being white comes with certain social power and unarticulated advantages. As we teach our children their value to God—the image of God—let’s also talk about how other cultures are beautiful, dignified, and worthy to celebrate. Minority children internalize that white is better. By talking about the beauty of black, brown, and white, children learn to value their own ethnicity and not devalue the ethnicities of others. If we truly want white children to seek out racial solidarity with their minority brothers and sisters in a faithful understanding of Scripture for the health of the communities around them, then we need to help them recognize the advantages they have and help them think through how they can use them for positive, gospel-minded impact.

Think of the apostle Paul in the Bible. This was a man of great privilege within the Greco-Roman world, and he used his intellect, his social power and resources to spiritually care for a wide range of peoples. In 1 Corinthians 9:20, he talks about his ability to move within both Jewish and Gentile circles, to be like both and influence both. Talk about social power! Practically, for our kids, this means thinking through what they have, what they know, and what they can do, and using these things to help love and care for other children with less. Now, one important caveat: this does not mean that white children should see themselves as saviors, but rather—in going back to our ideal of racial solidarity—they should see the children they serve as equal and fellow image-bearers.

Model Diversity in Leadership

Finally, another pain that has inflicted itself upon ethnic relations between children is the issue of power and authority. Questions like, “Who is qualified for leadership?” and “Who should submit to whom?” are visible to our children in multiple ways. If leadership is an all-white male cast, the message is clear that majority men and women, and by association their children, have power and authority over minorities.

It’s incredibly sad, yet telling, how kids perceive this imbalance of power and model it themselves among their peers. Perhaps unintentionally white children often feel more confident to speak up during Sunday school or to volunteer to “take the lead” in a game. At worst they overtly disavow minority children’s opinions and even reject following their leadership. This misuse of power seems no different from Peter’s own rejection of Gentile fellowship in Galatians 2, which Paul heavily criticizes. To reject what another can offer, especially when he or she is a minority, is an affront to the gospel; for the gospel has united us in Christ.

Indeed, we need to give minority children more opportunities to speak up and lead, especially when this involves new ways of thinking that are grounded in different cultural values and traditions. Children’s leaders can be intentional about having older, minority children help teach a Bible lesson or lead everyone in a song. For instance, let them choose which hand motions or dance to accompany the music. We must value their ideas, recognize their capability for leadership, and appreciate the different models of leadership that minority children offer.

Our children need to know, see, and take part in racial diversity in leadership. Not only does this teach children a very practical way to equally distribute levels of power and authority among their different ethnicities and cultures, but it also plays a crucial role in laying the foundation for future leaders of both church and society. The possibilities for healing in both arenas, when minority children are affirmed for their leadership capabilities, are limitless.

It is possible to find healing for the racial conflicts that often plague both our church and our society at large, and we can begin to do so by changing our deep images of each other through biblically rooted concepts in racial solidarity. When the church as a whole embraces these concepts and, just as important, teaches and models them to children, healing begins. Children learn to affirm, celebrate, and enjoy each other’s differences, not merely for the sake of multiculturalism, but because we are all created in the image of God with equal worth, value and dignity.

Can you imagine a world in which each of our children truly flourishes and where our children also care for and seek after the flourishing of other children across ethnic, linguistic and national lines? This should be our aim, and as the church invests in this sort of racial solidarity in our children, we will be paving a path to a more holistic, stable and united future.

Notes
1. Antony Bradley, “Moving Toward Racial Solidarity,” World Magazine (September 7, 2011), https://world.wng.org/2011/09/moving_toward_racial_solidarity (accessed January 3, 2018).
2. Kendall Clark, “Defining White Privilege,” http://racism.org/index.php/articles/race/white-privilege/387-whiteness05a (accessed January 3, 2018).

Tagged under:

Share on: