Talking to Your Children About Race

Talking about race in any setting can be both frustrating and frightening. Add children to the conversation, and you have an entire new set of challenges. Often we don’t know what to say or how to say it and it’s just more appealing to avoid a perplexing subject, but your children are hearing and gaining perspectives on race whether you believe it or not. Honest conversations about race will empower you as a parent to ensure that your children are given a Christ-centered view of race and ethnicity.

When it comes to race, while we all may not share the same color, our varying colors are an expression of God’s creative genius (Psalm 139:14). Paul communicates this reality when he says, “From one man he [God] has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live” (Acts 17:26).  While our colors differ, we all share the same ancestry. It’s faith in Christ that brings us into God’s family—not our social, economic, or ethnic background (Ephesians 2:8–9).

Additionally, Scripture opposes racial or ethnic prejudice. This can be seen in how Paul confronts Peter as recorded in the book of Galatians. Peter’s behavior was so harmful and indecent as a believer that Paul had to oppose him to his face in front of others. Why did Paul do this?

  • Because the gospel of Jesus Christ was at stake.
  • Because the church in Antioch was ethnically diverse.
  • Because the missionaries that were sent from Antioch were diverse: Barnabas— Jew of the diaspora, Simeon called Niger—most likely African, Lucius of Cyrene—Lucius was a Cyrenian Jew, like John Mark who wrote Mark, Manaen—friend of Herod the Tetrarch and Paul—Jewish (Acts 13:1–3). It was important for them to know that following Jesus was not based on their ethnicity but on their faith.

Paul confronted Peter’s prejudice, and you and I can’t shy away from speaking out when we see the unity of the body of Christ threatened or image bearers dehumanized. With this in mind, we should boldly share these life-changing truths with our children. Because Christ makes “a people” from “all people,” we must be intentional about giving our children gospel-rooted framework on race. This starts with a biblical perspective on race.

How Should We Define Racism Biblically?

To keep it simple, racism the sin of partiality or favoritism (James 2:9) and an unbiblical hatred for humanity (1 John 4:20). We can use the creation narrative to teach our children that every person is made in the image of a God who has no favorites and that we should never judge nor favor someone based on skin color.

James, Jesus’s half-brother, addresses the sin of favoritism by saying, “My brothers and sisters, do not show favoritism as you hold on to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ” (James 2:11). James is clear in this verse that favoritism dishonors God, degrades people, and destroys relationships. Biblically speaking, favoritism means to turn face or to lift up someone’s face; it carries the idea of judging based on appearance.

Paul echoes James’s sentiments in Romans:

“He will repay each one according to his works: eternal life to those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor, and immortality; but wrath and anger to those who are self-seeking and disobey the truth while obeying unrighteousness. There will be affliction and distress for every human being who does evil, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek; but glory, honor, and peace for everyone who does what is good, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek. For there is no favoritism with God.”

Romans 2:6–11

Paul urges believers to reject favoritism and hold on to the faith as equal partners in the gospel. We must teach our children that we can do this by seeing the image of God in ALL people, not some people. When we devalue people by judging them externally, we’re acting like we’re not recipients of grace ourselves and we fail to communicate the point of redemption. We’re blessed when we realize our spiritual poverty (Matthew 5:3) and need of salvation. If we realize our spiritual poverty, then it should be impossible to look down on anyone based on what we see externally.

Modeling this posture before your children is a to organically train them in the admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4) and teach them how to live as loving gospel witnesses (John 13:35). A brief overview of what the Bible says about the sin of favoritism makes it clear that the sin of racism fits in this category. It’s vital to name racism as sin. Just as we acknowledge that murder, stealing, cheating, and adultery are sins that start in the heart and emerge in words and actions, so we should acknowledge that this is also true of racism.

Knowing these truths, it’s important to teach your children about race on a spectrum to avoid loosely labeling everyone a racist when there could be other factors that are relevant. This also empowers you as a parent to avoid teaching your children to think of race in binary ways that could be unhelpful or even harmful. Many people are unaware about people of a different race—they are not consistently around people of other ethnic backgrounds and so they lack cross cultural or cross racial depth. Others are not simply ignorant, but rather they’re indifferent and even uncaring about the problems and struggles of other ethnic groups. Some are insensitive to issues of racism and injustice.

While ignorance, indifference, and insensitivity are not the same as willful hatred, they still must be confronted. As parents, we must prepare our children with a biblical anthropology and appreciation of the differences God has created us all with. While it may not be the subject every Sunday in the church or every discussion over dinner after school, it shouldn’t be avoided either. As a believer, you have the indwelling Holy Spirit to remind you that God has not given you a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7), so you can have tough or even frightening conversations.

How do we combat racial ignorance, indifference, insensitivity, and racism? Simply put, we apply the gospel to our lives and interactions. While our culture may evaluate a person’s value externally: looks, income, weight, gender, and in many cases, race, we don’t as believers we recognize that the foot of the cross levels the playing field and we live with the disposition of Paul who knew that without God’s grace he’d be nothing:

“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10 (CSB, emphasis added).

To avoid racial ignorance, indifference, insensitivity, and racism, we should ask ourselves: Do I judge people externally? Have my experiences caused me to wrongly judge an entire group of people? Am I comfortable with internal prejudice if I don’t say it? Do I value people based on their contribution or their Creator? As Christian parents we should teach our children to actively work against any attitude that ignores or demeans those made in God’s image.

Talking to Your Children About Race Cover 1

Talking to Your Children About Race: A Biblical Framework for honest conversations

Conversations about race and ethnicity can be uncomfortable. Often parents don’t know what to say or how to say it. It might seem easier to duck a hard, confusing subject, but your children are already learning about race from the world around them. But are they hearing what God has to say in the Bible?  

About the author

Jerome Gay

Jerome Gay the founding and teaching pastor of Vision Church in Raleigh, NC. He has a vision to see gospel-centered churches and leaders raised up within the urban context. He is the author of The Whitewashing of Christianity and Renewal: Grace and Redemption in the Story, as well as the children's book African Heroes, and minibook, Talking to Your Children about Race. Jerome and his wife, Crystal, have two children.

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