We lament and remember the victims of this past weekend’s acts of racial terrorism and hatred in Buffalo, New York; Dallas, Texas; and Laguna Woods, California. We say their names:
- Roberta A. Drury (32)
- Margus D. Morrison (52)
- Andre Mackneil (53)
- Aaron Salter (55)
- Geraldine Talley (62)
- Celestine Chaney (65)
- Heyward Patterson (67)
- Katherine Massey (72)
- Pearl Young (77)
- Ruth Whitfield (86)
- John Cheng (52)
Each human being in this list bears the image of God in fullness. In saying their names, we testify to this reality and pray for their families as they grieve their senseless loss.
We speak up and denounce all acts of racial violence, hatred, and terrorism. White nationalism and white supremacy, in particular, have no place within the Kingdom of God, and do not reflect the heart of God. We speak up and denounce all acts of racial violence, hatred, and terrorism. White nationalism and white supremacy, in particular, have no place within the Kingdom of God, and do not reflect the heart of God. Click To Tweet
We reject this false gospel and stand in the reality that we are a part of a global, multicultural, multiethnic, historical church that embraces the beautiful tapestry of all people. All have a place at God’s table, and we will create room for this to happen.
In light of this, we are honored to feature an interview with Helen Lee and Michelle Ami Reyes, coauthors of The Race-Wise Family: Ten Postures to Becoming Households of Healing and Hope, which releases this week. In cultural moments like these, we often become paralyzed, unsure how we can help address such an intractable problem as systemic racism within America. Helen and Michelle speak directly to this reality, with a powerfully simple solution: Racial transformation begins in the family unit as parents and their children speak honestly about these realities with one another.
Helen and Michelle, introduce yourselves to the Missio readership. What compelled you to write this particular work, together, in this cultural moment?
Helen Lee: As the former director of content and resource development for Missio Alliance, I’m a big fan of Missio! Currently, I am the director of product innovation at InterVarsity Press. I wrote The Missional Mom back in 2011 to encourage Christian mothers to parent their children in countercultural ways, including on the topic of race. I always felt more could be said on this topic, and the need became even more apparent in the last five years with the increasing racial unrest in our country and continuing aggression and violence against people of color. I knew I needed a writing partner to pursue this complicated topic, and God brought Michelle Ami Reyes into my life—it’s been a joy and an honor to work with her!
Michelle Reyes: I am the vice president of the Asian American Christian Collaborative and the scholar-in-residence at Hope Community Church in Austin, Texas. My first book, Becoming All Things: How Small Changes Lead to Lasting Connections, came out last year. It was on my heart to equip Christian parents with a joy-filled biblical engagement with race. Too often I see parents approach race-related issues out of fear and simply with a list of what not to do. But race isn’t an issue we should fear. In fact, it’s an opportunity to continue to build the kingdom of God. When Helen reached out with the idea, I knew I had to say yes!
What’s the premise of The Race-Wise Family? How do you hope it stands out as a distinct and helpful resource?
Christian families are navigating the tricky journey of addressing and responding to racial issues in the church and the world. Doing so requires approaching the topic with wisdom, asking for God’s guidance and direction each step of the way. Our hope is that our book offers a biblical and theological roadmap for Christian families and empowers them. Tackling the topic of race may seem overwhelming, so we pare it down to ten essential postures every family can embrace and provide practical guidance along the way.
We believe that Christian parents are the primary and main disciplers of the next generation. If we don’t proactively learn and teach our children how to think about race, what they will end up absorbing may not be aligned with Christ’s intentions for the church. Children begin noticing racial differences even in infancy, so the earlier we begin to teach and train them, the better we will be with pursuing racial harmony together, for God’s witness and glory. Christian parents are the primary and main disciplers of the next generation. If we don’t proactively learn and teach our children how to think about race, what they will end up absorbing may not be aligned with Christ’s intentions… Click To Tweet
Most resources that address racial issues, systemic injustice, and other ethnic prejudices baked into Western/American culture focus on the individual. Why did you choose to address whole family units?
In addition to what we mentioned earlier, we are both from Asian cultural contexts that place a high value on the family unit, so we were naturally inclined to lean this direction. Also, it’s hard to find resources about race from a Christian perspective written from leaders who are not Black or white. We are bringing another nuance to the conversation as women of Asian heritage.
Racism and racial injustice cannot just be addressed with our own individual efforts. We have to come together collectively as the church to address structural and systemic issues. Talking about these issues in the family context is a wonderful training ground to demonstrate what it means to tackle racial injustice as a collective unit, because that is what the family of God itself needs to be doing together. Racism and racial injustice cannot just be addressed with our own individual efforts. We have to come together collectively as the church to address structural and systemic issues. Click To Tweet
How can parents initiate a healthy dialogue about racial issues and systemic injustice with their children? How has this conversation taken place within your own family?
We tell stories in the book about how each of us has done this with kids who range in age from early elementary to college student. Often, current events prompt conversation, and as we process what is happening, we share transparently with our own kids. More personally, when racial incidents occur to us or to people in our own networks, this conversation strikes closer to the heart. Older children may be the drivers of racial awakening in a family, and race-wise parents will be open to and encourage this process. Throughout Scripture, God’s Word provides ample opportunities to discuss God’s heart for people of all ethnicities and for justice and compassion for all. If we are primed and willing to take advantage of those opportunities, we will see them everywhere.
Is there something you find hopeful and helpful right now within the wider cultural dialogue on race and ethnicity? What can we improve upon and do better?
In 2020 it was amazing to see the whole country, Christians included, galvanized to care about racial injustice in the wake of multiple traumatic injustices borne on the bodies of Black and brown men and women. We saw friends and leaders we know rise to the top of major bestsellers’ lists with their books on the topic of race. But in the back of our minds, we wondered, “Is this just a passing fad for the church?” Not nearly as many voices in the church rose to support the Asian American community in the wake of a staggering rise in anti-Asian violence and hate. And now, the pendulum has shifted the other way entirely. We are seeing incident after incident of conservative white Christianity denigrating almost anything referencing race and racial identity as being a threat to the gospel.
Standing against racial injustice and racism in all its forms is not a capitulation to cultural winds. If anything, the church should be leading in this battle, not decrying it. Those committed to valuing the dignity of all people and to the naming of racial brokenness need to keep making those commitments public and to continue fighting for justice in the spaces they inhabit. We are in a marathon to the eschaton when God will complete his healing work among the nations. But until then, there is much for the church to do, to both proclaim and demonstrate that gospel work includes sharing the message of ethnic healing that God clearly outlines in the Scriptures. Standing against racial injustice and racism in all its forms is not a capitulation to cultural winds. If anything, the church should be leading in this battle, not decrying it. Click To Tweet
What is the role of the local church body—small communities of followers of Jesus rooted in a particular neighborhood and cultural “place”—in stewarding this conversation? How do we integrate this dialogue into our wider efforts to disciple and form mature Christ followers?
The work of racial healing is both an embodied and a spiritual process, which means that in addition to our homes and families, churches are an ideal place for this work to take place. It starts with commitment from the church leadership to pursue this course. Biblical teaching and preaching sets this work in the proper context and demonstrates how all Christians are called to the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5).
Christian leaders must demonstrate how God intentionally uses ethnic diversity to further the witness and mission of the church. As local churches lay the proper foundation to instruct their congregations that the roots of racial healing lie at the foot of the cross, and that by pursuing this healing more people will be drawn to Jesus, then relational interactions can follow where the orthopraxy that is pursued can match the orthodoxy that is preached.
How can the church equip its congregants and, by extension, families to value multi-ethnicity?
This is not a value that develops overnight or in one fell swoop. But the first step for many congregations is one of awareness. Especially if you are in the majority culture of a church or local community, you might not even be aware that racial dynamics exist in your context. Church leaders need to create an environment in which it is safe and welcome to notice and name racial and ethnic dynamics, without shame or judgment. Often, these leaders need their own training to become more comfortable to have these kinds of conversations and discussions without defensiveness or fragility in their own lives. Church leaders need to create an environment in which it is safe and welcome to notice and name racial and ethnic dynamics, without shame or judgment. Click To Tweet
Ultimately, a congregation needs to reach a point of naming and owning their own potential complicity with the forces of white supremacy and white nationalism. Areas of potential racial brokenness in their own church must be identified, leading to a collective repentance that asks God to both forgive ways in which the church has explicitly or implicitly condoned or encouraged racial division, while also crying out in humility for wisdom to move forward. This is deeply spiritual work, and it is not done in one sermon series, or in a year of events honoring the various cultural backgrounds in the congregation. But these are potential starting places for an ongoing work that hopefully will be built into the life and rhythm of a congregation over time and with consistency.
Christian parents often rely on outside voices, particularly the church, to be the main educator for their children. Gospel-rooted approaches to race should start in the home. How can Christian leaders have a greater holy imagination in developing a more robust relationship between the church and the home?
It is tempting for Christian parents to believe that one to three hours of Sunday school or youth group involvement will result in their children being fully formed disciples of Christ, even in areas of race. But the reality is that this is not sufficient. God desire for parents to disciple their children happens throughout the flow of a normal day’s rhythms (Deut 6:4-9). Our children are in a church setting for a miniscule number of hours a week compared to scores of hours with their parents in the home. It’s daunting and even scary, but we as parents need to own that this is our role and responsibility: to teach and train our children to walk in God’s ways, which includes in the area of racial understanding and justice.
The local church can and should absolutely help in this process, by offering opportunities for training and teaching, by modeling in the pulpit and in other upfront roles the need to engage rather than withdraw, and by creating safe spaces for parents to process, whether in small groups, book clubs, or other gatherings. Churches can be a significant support for parents in this ongoing journey and conversation, and they can normalize and model theological behaviors that help support those who truly are pursuing a life of hope and healing in racial engagement.
Missio Alliance encourages you to order your copy of The Race-Wise Family: Ten Postures to Becoming Households of Healing and Hope today.