There are important conversations happening now in American about race. Since I’m a student minister, I’ve been thinking about my students and how this conversation needs to include them. So, how do I talk with teenagers about something as big as race relations? Add to that hard question the fact that the youth I work with come from middle-class white families in the middle of small town America. In my setting, places and events like Ferguson can seem like a world away, and we can fool ourselves into thinking they are.
I spend a lot of time in general talking to students about the love of God. We spend a lot of time looking at the life of Jesus and his response to those who were different from him. We talk about loving the outcast and welcoming the stranger in my youth group. I’m good at sneaking in remarks about justice and equality. I would guess that these things happen in your church. Those are pretty typical church things to do.
Ferguson seems bigger. There are a lot of elements that are a part of this. I think it requires more than a passing comment or being simply hidden in general statements about loving everybody like Christ did. I think most of us have been pretending that the issue of race is something we dealt with a long time ago in America. Racism is still alive and well. Ferguson and the conversations that are happening now are just visible symptoms of it. We are standing in a place that requires all of us to stand up and speak out and to call racism what it is. Racism is a sin. Hate is a sin. Discrimination of any form is a sin. That’s exactly what I’m going to tell my youth. As middle-class white students they need to hear it.
When I talk to my youth about Ferguson and race, I’m going to be very mindful of the words I use. I’m going to speak with honesty and with boldness. I’m going to confess to them that I don’t have all the answers. I’m going to listen more than I speak because this conversation belongs to them. Youth are the ones who will truly change the way we see and treat each other. I’m going to encourage my students to ask questions, to pray, and to look for ways to bring about equality in their own lives. I’m going to model that for them. I hope you will too for the students in your own life.