Discipling Families in a Multi-Ethnic Lifestyle
This guest post comes from Blair Waggett, the Kids Director at our Chapel Hill campus. At the encouragement of several of our African American pastors, Blair offered to share some of how he and his family are pursuing a multi-ethnic lifestyle.
My hope in writing this is that you will hear the heart of a family pursuing Christ-like community in our own home, while simultaneously embracing our mistakes and shortcomings. It is my prayer that I don’t appear as a self-righteous white guy. I have a lot to learn, but I have also learned a lot. As part of the majority culture, my prayer is that we can greatly impact the climate of healthy biblical change at our church. Therefore, my primary audience is other people within the majority culture. I also humbly ask for grace and mercy from our minority families, whose wisdom I continue to need as we disciple our families better.
I am a daddy of three kids (5, 2 1/2, and 1). I grew up in Wilmington, NC, and to most it’s a surprise when they find out about the home I grew up in. My dad is biracial (white and Filipino) and my mom is white. As part of the Asian culture, an athlete, and a pretty sick musician, my dad had the blessing of being able to walk both the white and non-white side of the fence growing up in the 1960s & ‘70s. He had black friends, white friends, Filipino friends, and Samoan friends. This lifestyle permeated my thought process as a child. My closest friends have almost always looked different than me. Some of my own family members don’t even look like me. I’ve always been most comfortable around multi-ethnic communities.
Yet, despite that comfort, I haven’t always understood multi-ethnicity, nor have I always respected and honored it. To be honest, at times, I was open to and even participated in conversations that degraded someone for their race.
Like all of us, I am broken by the sin of racism. As I think of what a multi-ethnic lifestyle looks like in the home, my hope is that we get to a place where we, as daddies and mommies, not only push our children to understand race, ethnicity, and culture, but to respect, love, and, most importantly, value it the same way that God does—because he treasures the richness of the varied ethnicities he created.
My wife and I want the little disciples in our home to say, with ease and sincerity, “Mom! Dad! I have a black/brown/white/Asian/Latino/Native American friend. And I love them.” To reach that goal, here are five ideas we prioritize in our home:
1. Celebrate the community that God has placed you in.
Eventually, your kids are going to notice that someone they know looks different than them. They will see a person who dresses differently, or that talks differently, or they’ll notice someone’s hair is different than theirs. Often times, we parents see this as a moment of confusion. Some of us don’t want to deal with answering these questions because we have our own stereotypical thoughts or negative ideas about a certain group of people. Others of us don’t know how to guide the conversation without being misinformed and coming across as rude, so we try to avoid it or minimize it.
But here is the real truth of the matter: God created man in his image (Genesis 1:27). So that little boy or little girl that your kid has noticed is a child of the great I Am—a prince or princess worthy of all the respect due God himself.
When your kids notice someone that looks different, don’t shy away from the differences. Instead, celebrate the diversity that God has created. Celebrate the difference that you would have otherwise have ignored (but that your kid, not knowing the social rules, just blurted out).
The alternatives to celebrating these ethnic differences aren’t pretty. If we ignore them, we communicate to our kids that ethnic differences are dangerous to talk about. Worse, if we denigrate others for the way they look, we communicate to our kids that God doesn’t find beauty in all of his children. So let’s take our kids’ sincere and awkward questions as an opportunity to see the beauty that God has put right in front of us.
2. Go first.
What would happen if, instead of your kid bringing up something out of the blue, you brought it to their attention first? “Hey, Sam! Did you notice that God blessed you with friends that look different than you? How can you thank God for the people he has placed in your life?”
Let’s take our kids’ sincere and awkward questions as an opportunity to see the beauty that God has put right in front of us.
You’ve now set the stage for shaping how your children see those around them through the lens of the gospel. Leaving a first-time experience like this up to someone else (a teacher or a classmate) is risky. Maybe another grown-up will shepherd your child well in this moment. But maybe they will reinforce hurtful stereotypes. Wouldn’t you rather frame your kids’ understanding of ethnicity before a relative stranger does?
And if you harbor stereotypes yourself, why not “go first” by modeling humility and repentance before your children? If you need to be discipled in addressing issues of multi-ethnicity, show your kids what Christlike vulnerability is by admitting that you have room to grow and asking for help. Go first!
3. Expose and experience.
I grew up listening to old-school R&B and ‘90s rap. I’m not condoning all of what I listened to, but it definitely gave me something to talk about with friends who didn’t look like me. My non-white friends resonated with this music because it was most often created by their culture and reflected much of their experience.
My wife and I allow our kids to experience a variety of music genres as well. Christian rap, contemporary Christian music, Gospel music, kids music, and (appropriate!) secular songs are all on the playlist. My 5-year-old son and 2 1/2 year old daughter can sing you a song off their Summit Church worship CD, a Lecrae rap song, a little Justin Timberlake, and several Gospel songs. The coolest part, other than hearing them sing, is that they also know who sings the song, what they look like, and that the sounds of their songs come from their culture.
We also try and monitor the resources that our kids are exposed to when it comes to the Bible. Here’s a challenge for you. Open every single children’s Bible app, book, coloring page, and whatever else you have. Does the depiction of Jesus and other Bible characters look … like you? Or do they look Middle Eastern? As a positive example, The Jesus Storybook Bible makes an attempt to portray Jesus with olive-toned skin and dark eyes.
Here are some helpful questions to ask yourself:
- Of all the songs, books, apps, and everything else your child is exposed to, how much of it is written, sung, or created by white artists?
- What percent of those Christian-based items depict characters (especially Jesus) as predominantly white figures?
The answers to these questions should be a good indicator of how heavily your children are exposed not only to multi-ethnicity, but to accurate biblical characterizations of those the Lord thought necessary to have in his written words as well. Simply put, the authors of the Bible were multi-ethnic (and none of them were white!). These experiences are paramount in showing our children what God is about when it comes to our unique, valuable differences.
4. Diversify your dinner table.
Without a doubt, diversifying our dinner table has been the most impactful piece of raising our children to know a Jesus that is about all nations, tribes, and tongues. If you don’t have any family friends that look different than you, your family is missing out.
Now, to be clear, when I say, “dinner table,” I mean, “your life.” It’s helpful, of course, to literally have some other families join you for dinner. But your friendship can happen in a number of different contexts. Regardless of how it looks, these need to be real friends, not acquaintances you simply say hello to in the breakroom, but part of your daily discipleship—parents struggling through marriage, kids acting out in school, neighbors on your street. Intentionally pursue multi-ethnic relationships and your kids will see it.
If you don’t have any family friends that look different than you, your family is missing out.
Here’s the beauty about starting with relationship. Not only does this put our family in contact with people who look different, think differently, and possibly dress differently. But these relationships put a face to the atrocities we see happening with race relations in today’s world. Which leads me to my last suggestion…
Model what it sounds and looks like to pray for injustice and reconciliation. You don’t have to go into specifics until your child is ready. You don’t even have to know the best words for each situation. Sometimes how you sound—sad and heartbroken—might be all that is really needed. Simply acknowledging to God, in front of your children, that things aren’t as easy for our brothers and sisters of color can raise some great conversations. When we weep with those who weep, it sets the context for race conversations in our kids’ minds. I’d much rather stumble through my words with them than trust society to do it for me.
I have heard it said that in pursuing multi-ethnic community, we must spend time in relationship—listening well, having conversation—and twice as much time on our knees, begging God to move in the lives of those impacted by and those who have perpetrated oppression. After all, we model humility for our children through our weaknesses, not our strengths. When our children see us sincerely struggling through issues like this, it demonstrates to them how they should also depend on God to direct them, even when they are unsure.
There is a lot of fear in this process. I have been afraid to take on this task with my children because there is so much I don’t understand. I have been afraid because I sometimes don’t want to find out the truth for myself. But my biggest fear is to sit back and do nothing, to be complicit in a continual cycle of division. I am still learning, and while I may be doing things differently in 10 years than I am today, I never want to stop growing.
These conversations and relationships are challenging. But through these efforts, my family and I have found this challenge to be one worth taking. My prayer for my family, and yours, is that we can push past our fragility and boldly teach the next generation the whole truth of the gospel in light of our differences, not despite them.