Dr. A. Charles Ware
Counseling Happens in Unexpected Places
The recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio have sparked a national conversation about white nationalists, immigration, and hate. Can we discuss this crisis in a way that distinguishes the color of one’s skin from their sinful hearts and actions? This is important because our children are listening to our conversations.
Counseling happens in unexpected places, at unexpected times, with unexpected counselees. From the White House to the schoolhouse to the church—children are listening. From our living rooms to our kitchen tables to the backseats of our cars—children are listening!
What images of humanity are being planted in the minds of our children who are listening to our conversations?
Are Black and Brown Bad?
A child from an interracial relationship struggles with her grandfather’s profession of love for her while regularly describing people who look like her in derogatory terms. A woman shares how, as a child, she lived in a segregated neighborhood. A man’s father continually says dehumanizing things about his son’s wife, who happens to be of a different complexion from his family. She is a humble, mature Christian.
Are black and brown bad? We must watch how we speak and how we respond to what others say. Our conversations must distinguish one’s color from their sinful hearts and actions. Our children are listening.
Ashamed of Being White?
A few years ago, a teenager said to me after a discussion in class, “This is the first time in my life when I can say I am not ashamed of being white.” She explained that at a younger age, she had said she was “white and proud” only to be called a racist. Her white parents were church planters in a primarily black neighborhood, and black people comprised the vast majority of the church members.
Yes, there is a historical context for her peers calling her racist, but do the actions of some who share her ethnic background make her guilty? James reminds us, “…let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19).
I rejoice that she was able to discern the sins of others without being ashamed of her God-given complexion. Her honest communication challenged me to be careful not to confuse children with blanket condemnations of people groups. Instead, our words must affirm human dignity while exposing sin.
Conversations about Culture, Race, and the Church Can Be Difficult
Ken Davis, a white co-worker, and I created a college class, Culture, Race, and the Church, which seeks to review the racial history of the U.S. from its conception to the present. We focus on the words and actions of believers.
Students share how communication of past and present injustices have shaped their perceptions about themselves and others. Honestly, some aspects of history can make us angry. Some words believers use to describe fellow humans, even in some cases fellow believers, dehumanize people created in the image of God.
Our children need to hear a diverse group of believers affirming one another and united in their worship of Christ the Lamb. The Apostle John speaks of a such a time, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev. 7:9-10).
Humility Lifts Another Up
During a Sunday School class, an Asian student was told by another student that he had funny eyes. The Asian child went home despondent because the teacher who heard the comment did not seize this teachable moment. Not realizing the depth of the pain, the teacher merely asked the child who said the hurtful words to say he was sorry.
During a time when negative words are characterizing immigrants and others, we have such an opportunity to affirm the beauty of God’s diverse humanity! Our children should hear the reality that we are one body with many shapes and shades of color.
We need hearts that are transformed by God that speak in humility. We need to imitate Peter, “But Peter lifted him up, saying, ‘Stand up; I too am a man.’ And as he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered. And he said to them, ‘You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean” (Acts 10:26-28).
Words Counsel, Even Unintended Audiences
Our words counsel—even casual words not intended for the hearers. Our children are affected by what we say when we react to breaking news, political speeches, tweets, and various forms of entertainment. Our laughter, disgust, condemnation, affirmation, compassion, or lack thereof counsels our children. As believers, we must speak in such a way that sin is not associated with the color of one’s skin.
May we be careful to speak words that minister grace to those to whom we are speaking as well as to our children who are listening, even if they are unintended counselees. Paul encourages the Ephesians to “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29).
Intentional Conversations for Unintended Counselees
Both intended and unintended audiences should hear healthy, gospel-centered counsel from us. May listening ears hear voices of reason, discernment, edification, and compassion. May our listeners learn of the dignity of humanity, our fallen state, God’s grace, and our unity in Christ.
May we intentionally expose our children to voices of biblical hope and healing. May they hear voices of people from diverse ethnic backgrounds speaking to issues with grace, truth, and love. May they hear voices from a diverse people celebrating the extravagant grace of God that saves and unites, in Christ, people from every tribe, language, and kindred.
Questions for Reflection
1. How do we speak in such a way that our children will have a biblical perception of people who are ethnically, economically, or religiously different from our own family?
2. What are some resources that you have found helpful in assisting our children in distinguishing one’s sin from the color of their skin?
3. Who are some leaders of different ethnicities than yours that you expose your children to?