“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.
11 thoughts on “Mommy, Why Does Racism Exist?”
After following Family Life for almost 7 years I was so glad to see an article of this topic. It would great if this was discussed over one of your radio broadcasts. And by this I mean racism – regularly opposed by the most prominent Christian based family organizations. A lot of our churches are not addressing racism and it is quite heartbreaking. Has this been considered?
Thanks Barbara for this article… My husband and I have followed your ministry since we were single… Many years now.
As an Black mom/wife, raising a black son (4yrs old) and being married to a black husband living in a predomitely setting, my heart aches and my tears are many. I don’t feel like my predomiately white church is a safe place for me to be honest about my feelings, pain, or even my thoughts about the racism we experience on a regularly bases living in the south. Last year, an unarmed black man was shot in the back by a police as I watched this unfold on the television my 4 yr old son entered the room and he looked at me and said mom is that my daddy? The tears immediately flooded my face, because from the back the man on the television looked so much like my husband and my only response was to hug my son and tell him no (immediately, calling my husband to hear his voice). Within the same week a police officer was killed and my heart broke for his family as well as the family black man. But, not many people at my church felt the same. I get to church the following Sunday and we as ministry prayed for the officer but not one mention the black man. I wanted to say something, but many people within the church think many or all black men are criminals and deserve to be shot in the back while posing no threat to the officer. And at my greatest time of heartache and disappointment, I did not have anyone to turn to that would share in grief or to simply say it will be ok. My prayer is that we (especially Christians) would look at each other with the same eyes that God looks upon each of us. Please don’t see the color of my skin, but see the content of my character. I am a mom, who worries everyday about my son and husband. God is teach me to live by Faith and not Fear, but it’s a struggle everyday. Thanks for the words of encouragement in this article today.
Dear hurting mom.
First I am grateful you felt safe enough to share with me, and our readers too, a tiny slice of how you feel. I have a friend at FamilyLife with whom I have talked several times at length who shared with me how afraid she is for her son who is in his 30s. Until I heard her tell me that (it was after one of the police shootings) I had no idea. But listening to her my mother’s heart immediately recognized the reality of her situation. I can’t imagine being afraid like that all the time. It was one mom identifying and understanding another mom. This is what you are longing for.
Is there another woman with whom you could risk sharing how you feel? One on one? And ask her to pray for your husband’s safety and your fears? It is in gospel based friendships that we can hear and be heard across diversity. I pray that God will provide that someone for you. And I pray God will protect your dear husband and your son as he grows up. May the church be different for him in this next generation. It will take the miracles of resurrection and restoration and repentance for it to happen, but that is God’s specialty. Always has been.
I’m grateful for you.
Wish I could give you a hug!
Hi Barbara. I do appreciate your writing this article. It was well put. Racism is so wrong and often can be so subtle and to exist among people who professed Jesus Christ as Lord. If we can only see that whatever we do, say and think whenever, wherever to whomever if only we could realize that behavior is our direct response to the Almighty God who sacrifice his only Son for us. May God have mercy on us all.
I appreciate your thoughtful and concise addressing of this ongoing issue that we see and hear about regularly. As you reminded us, racism and other mistreatments abound because sin abounds. While I think I’m not racist and I’m appalled at any evils occurring around me, this article mostly convicted me about my own self righteousness or superiority, which is evil in itself. I am constantly seeking my own agenda and comforts. I’m grateful for a chance to repent from this attitude and look forward to Jesus’ continual transforming me.
Hi. thanks alot for the articles.soecifically this one.iam a Rwandan and we have witnessed poisonous acts from racism.just one word to parents .it’s unfortunate when we plan seeds of hatred /racism into our children these seeds grow into poison . its even worse when it’s from a very respected person. As Christians, let’s be Christlike.
Hi Winnie — Thank you for writing. I’ve read several books about the Rwandan genocide. It’s incomprehensible and so sad; and evidence you are correct when you write we need to be like Christ. Living to please Him alone will change lives.
Just this weekend a dear young lady (27 years of age), and very strong believer and follower of Jesus, that i know was jumped, beaten and mocked due to her race. She was not only hurt physically but emotionally and spiritually. This behavior needs to end, this world is so hateful. I ask for prayer for her as she heals. This world is not our home but while we wait for our Lord to take us home we must remain steadfast in reaching sinners with the Love of Jesus. This is very hard for her as a victim to grasp although she is seeking God for the understanding and strength to do so.
This is so sad. I’m sorry for your friend and all of us because her suffering is ours too.
May she know His peace and direction.
God is wanting to take me to a higher level, but I don’t want to do it!!! He keeps speaking to me and I continue to run from him. I find myself indulging in sinful things. I know my life will be held at a higher standard and I’m afraid to walk into my calling. I ask myself why me and why God want leave me alone. He keeps speaking to me. I’m trying to ignore it but he want stop. Lord why me!?