“Mommy, why does racism exist?”
What a huge question from an inquisitive eight-year-old girl in the wake of recent white supremacy demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia. What a huge question for a loving mother, my friend, to answer that day on the drive home from school.
What’s a mom to say to her children?
To put it bluntly, racism is a bold manifestation of the worst of humanity. It is evil. To believe that one group of people, your own race, has more value or worth than another is pure arrogance.
You might explain to your kids that racism has been around a long time. The Hutus killed millions of Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994. The Nazis killed millions of Jews during World War II. And, of course, in our own country the Civil War was fought over the belief that the Black race was inferior to the caucasian race and therefore could be bought and sold as property.
Not to oversimplify, but to be truthfully concise: racism exists because sin exists.
Everyone is born a sinner and racism is one kind of sin. Therefore, the sin of racism exists because people—even believers—haven’t fully surrendered our hearts, lives, thoughts, and opinions to God. Racism exists because sometimes we still choose what we want: our own agenda, our own comforts, our own ideas instead of God’s.
It is God who created us in His image, after His likeness (Genesis 1:27). So to suggest that any group of people is in some way sub-human or sub-par is to judge the God who created them. It isn’t simply degrading to the people; it’s degrading to the Creator.
If it’s this serious—and it is—then why is it so prevalent?
As we find ourselves appropriately grieved and confused by the horrors of racial division we see on our TVs, filling up our newsfeeds, just down the street in our own neighborhoods and schools, and maybe even inside our own living rooms, we should also find ourselves sobered. The truth is that each one of us is capable of this kind of evil.
Jesus talked about this in the Sermon on the Mount when He said, “I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:22).
Beware also of allowing your anger to stir in you a sense of your own righteousness or inclusiveness. If you find yourself thinking that you are better than the outspoken racists whose hateful acts are plastered all over social media, you will be falling into the same sin of superiority that they are acting out.
Then what is a biblical response for us and our families?
1. Decide for yourself and then for your family. Racism is evil and we cannot pretend that it is not a part of the rhetoric in our culture. Christians should be among the first to repudiate it. Our commitment to love the world that God loves cries out for us to stand together with those who are on the receiving end of hate.
2. Stand against racism. Silence is simply not an option. We must speak clearly, proclaiming that all men and women bear the imago dei: the image of God.
3. Be intentional about your relationships. One of the most important reasons Dennis and I sent our children to public schools was to provide the opportunity for them to get to know children from all ethnicities and races, varied economic backgrounds, and different religious and cultural backgrounds. We encouraged them to invite all of their friends to our house, including those of other races. And they did. We didn’t do it perfectly but we taught our kids that everyone is valuable to God. “There is no partiality with God” (Romans 2:11).
Our children learn about life, values, and what matters most by what they see their parents live out. We can tell our children that God created men and women of all races and abilities with equal dignity and worth. And we should.
But are you modeling that you believe people who are different than you matter too? Do you greet and speak to people of other races during your day: in a waiting room, at the grocery store, at work? Are there any subtle way that you communicate discomfort or unkindness toward someone who is different from you? Your kids will notice and mimic your model. Talk to God and ask Him to change you.
4. Call your children back to truth regularly. My friend, whose daughter asked this question, continues to teach her daughter to never dislike someone because of something that person can’t change: skin color, hair texture, a disability.
Remind your children to see each person as an individual. Teach your children that God created each person exactly as He meant to so that He can get the most glory and credit out of that person’s life: skin color, hair texture, IQ, disability, and more. Allow them, and even encourage them, to seek out friendships with all kinds of people, to recognize, enjoy, and participate in the distinct beauty in all of God’s creation.
Ultimately the solution to the problem of racism is for the hearts of men and women to be transformed by the good news that God has a great gift for all who trust in Him. It’s the gift of grace—unmerited favor. It’s the gift God offers to unworthy, rebellious people. It’s the gift He offers to the racists who will repent and believe His message. It’s the gift He offers to the self-righteous person who thinks he’s better than others. It’s the gift He offers for the mom denying she has to teach even these hard truths to her kids.
That gift of grace is a transforming gift. It makes men, women, boys, and girls new people who are alive to God as sons and daughters.
The Bible is clear that we will have sin in this world. There will be wrongs that need righting, and tears that need wiping away. The Bible is also clear that as long as His Church is in this world, His Holy Spirit is on the move. His Spirit must move in places like Charlottesville, and He is moving in the aftermath in Charlottesville, moving His people, the Church, to keep fighting for good as long as we have breath.
There is a day coming when racism will end, when a great multitude of people from every tongue and tribe and nation will gather together to join their voices to cry out, “Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever!”
Thanks to my friend Tanisha for her story and to Bob Lepine for his insight with the message of this post. And thanks to Christianity Today’s article for some helpful points as well.