Teach early racial unity, panelists say

NASHVILLE (BP) -- Christian parents should start teaching early and model for their children consistently the Bible's teaching on ethnic diversity, panelists said at the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission's national conference.

Photo by Kelly Hunter
The guidance came from a diverse panel addressing the topic "All God's Children: Growing Kids Who Embrace a Biblical View of Racial Unity" during an Aug. 25 breakout session of the ERLC's conference on Christ-centered parenting. About 1,300 people attended the three-day conference at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville.

Parents should not wait to discuss the issue, Rachel Metzger told the breakout audience, "because waiting seems like a secret or something you don't want to talk about."

"So as early as my kids could communicate, I started talking to them about our similarities and our differences, and I celebrated all of it because it's all a part of God's design," said Metzger, a long-time educator, as well as the mother of multi-ethnic children.

Trillia Newbell said, "We have not waited because they know at a young age" there is a difference.

Celebration of diversity "is what's missing in our culture," said Newbell, an author and the ERLC's director of community outreach. "We don't celebrate our differences. We politicize them. [Diversity] is God's good plan."

"Start early," she said. "Get that foundation early so that they can celebrate and so it's not this strange thing...."

Byron Day, president of the National African American Fellowship of the SBC, told attendees it is "important that you model what you're going to teach.... Show respect to all people, all ethnicities in your daily life."

Parents who have failed in this area can still be examples to their children when they recognize their sin, Newbell said.

"[I]f we exercise repentance in front of our children, it speaks volumes, it speaks volumes to them," she said. "And so we can repent of our own bias and where we've struggled with racial pride. We can receive the grace of God and continue to walk in a manner that's worthy of the Gospel."

The panel shared some truths they seek to teach their children regarding racial unity.

The root of racism is "sin of self at the end of the day," said Afshin Ziafat, lead pastor of Providence Church in Frisco, Texas. "So with our children I want to teach them that all are made in God's image, but I also want to make sure I'm teaching them that life isn't about you.... Put others before yourself.... [T]hat's the foundation, I think, that wipes out racism."

Metzger said she tries to talk about the subject in the context of "ethnicity, nationality and history, because I think bigotry really gets its fuel from sweeping generalizations. I try to explain to my kids we're individuals first before we fit in this group or that group."

Jason Paredes, lead pastor of Fielder Church in Arlington, Texas, said a multi-ethnic church -- and, in Fielder's case, multi-ethnic families within the church -- can play an important role in helping children think biblically about ethnic diversity.

"What it does is it creates a space for there to be beautiful conversations that are natural and normal that didn't seem like I'm trying to force us or shove it down your throat," Paredes told the audience. "It's just evident for everybody to see because that's who the church is.

"It's the opposite of color blindness; it's color richness."

Newbell -- who has an interracial marriage and has written a book on ethnic diversity -- said parents can help their children in some practical ways within the home.

"I think our dinner tables are essential for this," including inviting neighbors for a meal, she said, additionally suggesting "getting to know those around you and asking God to give you eyes to see color, to see culture, to see diversity so that you can celebrate God's creation and invite people in."

She also recommended learning the history and culture of different groups, as well as attending various cultural events and art exhibits.

As an issue, racial unity belongs to the church, not just the culture, panelists strongly affirmed.

Racism is "an affront to God," Ziafat said. "It's an affront to the Gospel.

"It's an affront to heaven."

Newbell said, "Is this a church issue? Yes, because of Genesis 3. It's a church issue because we live in a fallen world. But it's also a church issue because of Genesis 1. God has created us all in the image of God. It's also a church issue because of Jesus. Jesus died for every tribe, tongue and nation. It's a church issue because we have a multi-ethnic mission -- to go and make disciples of all nations. And it's a church issue because [of the vision of heaven in Revelation] -- we're all going to be worshiping together one day."

The church "ought to be at the forefront of this matter, not the last people to realize what's happening in our country," said Day, senior pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Laurel, Md. "The church ought to be leading the way. That's what Christ intended us to do.

"The only real cure [to racism] is the Gospel," he said.

"And so what it's going to take is for believers like us to have that patience, that perseverance and that grace."

Steven Harris, a policy director for the ERLC, moderated the panel discussion.

Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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