What does the Bible have to say about current events? Many parents (and Christians in general for that matter) often wonder if God’s word is relevant for the evils facing our world today. Where should we turn when a Black or Brown man or woman is shot in the streets or in their own home? What does the Bible have to say about immigration, police brutality, systemic racism, missing indigenous women and girls, educational inequity, protests, rioting and looting? Well, actually, a great deal. But we want to summarize it in a simple phrase: Listen, then respond. Hear the cries of those hurting, understand the root of their pain, and the ways in which they are asking for care and justice in that moment. Our response should be motivated by real stories and real needs.
There are so many stories in Scripture where someone is abused, assaulted or oppressed, and God models to us how to center and elevate that person’s story. God has always cared about our stories; in the book of Judges, for example, we read story after story of injustice, including in chapter 19 the assault, rape and murder of an unnamed woman in the streets of Gibeah. It is a horrific murder. When the people of Israel heard about it, they assembled and then in Judges 20:3 the Israelite leaders said “tell us how this awful thing happened.” In other words, they sought out answers first, before they acted. The heinous, unjust killing of a human being demands a weighty response. But first we must listen.
The story in Judges 19 challenges us, as families seeking to raise our children with the heart of God, to ask the victimized community for their point of view. For example, instead of jumping to talk about grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation with our kids, we need to first do the hard work of encouraging our children and ourselves to hear a person’s (or community’s) pain and even rage. This is what happened after the conviction and sentencing of Amber Guyger, a former Dallas police officer who entered 26-year-old Botham Jean’s apartment and fatally shot him. Botham’s brother, Brandt, responded by saying “I forgive you” and the video of Brandt hugging Guyger went viral. However, many missed footage from the rest of the family, including these words from Botham’s mother, Allison Jean: “Forgiveness for us as Christians is a healing for us, but as my husband said, there are consequences. It does not mean that everything else we have suffered has to go unnoticed.” As author and speaker Dorena Williamson argues, “Listening to the entire Jean family offers us a fuller picture of Christianity. In their words and posture towards Guyger and the criminal justice system, we hear calls for both forgiveness and justice. But if we elevate the words of one family member at the expense of another, we run the risk of distorting the gospel.”
Much of the news today on everything from Black Lives Matter to immigrants, border crossings, anti-Asian racism and more in this country is steered by the dominant voice. But Scripture challenges us to listen to all the voices. We need to gear our attention in the direction of the marginalized voices and make the conscious choice to listen to the experiences of those who have suffered the most pain. In other words, we can control our own attention and focus to hear from those who are most overlooked.
Telling your own story is a God-given right. Every person of every cultural background and heritage has the right to talk about their experiences, struggles, and joys. Whether the person is an immigrant, a Black man, a Native American, a Latina, a second generation Asian American woman, a white person, or someone who is incarcerated, everyone has the right to be understood in the context of what they’ve been through and in the context of their relationships with others—and even more so for their experiences to be heard and believed.
So the next time a racial tragedy headlines on the news, our posture as a race-wise family should be to listen. The next time a Black or Brown person is killed, the next time immigration is described as a “crisis at the border”, or the next time an Asian is the recipient of racist rhetoric, we must challenge our family to first go to people who represent that community and say, “We must do something! So, speak up!”
We must raise children who value people’s stories. Whether they are named or unnamed on the nightly news or in a viral video, whoever the man or woman is, they are made in the image of God. He or she has a story and their life has meaning. As you watch the news on TV or when you know your kids are scrolling through news feeds, challenge yourself and your kids to lean into what the victim’s family and community is saying. Ask them how the voices of people of color might differ from the news organization reporting the story. Ask them to think about how a community of color’s perspective is different from the dominant white community’s response and consider why that is.
It’s only after fully listening and understanding that we can respond. If we have listened to the voices of hurting people of color, I mean really listened, we will challenge ourselves to see the world through their point of view. Current events, including racial tragedies are always complex, and while there is often room for differences in opinions, it’s important to show love to our neighbor by holding space and even being led by their opinion on an issue. True listening and understanding leads to holistic responses that align with real community needs and desires.
When we hold the Bible in one hand and the news in the other, our posture as a race-wise family will be to listen often and well, and to be slow to speak. We will challenge ourselves to hear all the voices in a news story and then respond in ways that are honoring and loving toward those who have been victimized or who are struggling.
Excerpted from The Race-Wise Family. Copyright © 2022 by Helen Lee & Michelle Ami Reyes. Published by WaterBrook, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.