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How to Talk About George Floyd with Your Teen

Posted by Axis on June 05, 2020

George Floyd died on May 25 when a Minneapolis police officer put a knee on his neck for 8 minutes. Since then, peaceful protests and riots have ensued. In-person and on social media, we are witnessing the cries of a broken-hearted black community.

As the global pandemic continues to unfold and national tensions rise, it seems as if the world is crumbling before our very eyes. Many of us are wondering: What is the correct response to something like this? What should I do? How am I supposed to help my teen to navigate this?

Though we cannot easily answer these questions, we hope this post will begin to unpack each of them with a heart of empathy, love, and biblical understanding.

How should Christians respond?

How are we supposed to erase hundreds of years of oppression borne of slavery, segregation, and hatred? How can we take back the terrible things done to our black brothers and sisters throughout history and in the present-day? Can we really change the world with one facebook post?

We can’t.

But maybe that’s the point. Maybe the goal isn’t to erase the past. Jesus does not call His people to ignore their sins once they’ve been saved, but to recognize those sins as a very real, very painful part of their lives, and then grow from them. We are to seek healing and forgiveness, allowing Him to take our ashes and turn them into beauty.

What would it look like for the church to recognize and validate the pain that the black community feels? We can stand with our brothers and sisters in love now, no matter the color of their skin. We can begin new patterns, built with understanding, compassion, and empathy, rather than hatred, fear, and separation. 

But we can’t move forward in love without first looking backwards. History matters in this discussion, and we need to do all that we can to acknowledge, learn, and remember the tragedies that came before us. Yes, we have come a long way from where we were but we still have plenty of room for growth. We must acknowledge both the good and the bad of our past to know how best to move forward. If you’d like to learn more about how history has affected modern American culture, here’s a great place to start.

We also must remember that we serve a God who loves justice. When we see injustice in the world, it should make us uncomfortable, and it should move us toward action. We as the body of Christ have led the way before to true change before—great Christian leaders have shown us this, such as Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s heroic activism—and we should continue to do so, especially now. Because in a world in which inequality, hatred, and discrimination still persist to this day, to remain silent is to reject our God-given responsibility to fight for the voiceless.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. — Edmund Burke

But what about all of this rioting and destruction?

You may wonder, how can death be resolved with more death and destruction? How is all of this looting supposed to help anything? These are great questions, questions we need to be asking. In a speech at Stanford University on April 14, 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. had this to say about rioting:

I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.

Axis does not condone rioting and violence, and neither did Dr. King, but he does offer a unique perspective in his speech: Public outcries do not develop out of thin air. But instead of participating in riots, or responding in hate towards those actions, maybe we need another way. A place where we listen, really listen, to why this all may be happening. We need to practice discernment in knowing which voices to listen to, which actions are good to take, and how we should respond as individuals in the body of Christ. Some of us may never fully understand such desperate motivations, but we all have a responsibility to “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly” with God. We encourage your family to discuss the differences between rioting and peaceful protesting, and how you each feel those methods hurt or help this cause.

How does the Bible provide a framework for issues of racism?

In an interview with Religion News Service, African American Rev. Efren Smith shared his thoughts on racial diversity within the body of Christ. Specifically, he brought it back to scripture with the story of the woman at the well. Here’s what he had to say about it:

We forget that Jesus, the savior, c­­­ame as a marginalized, oppressed Jew. He came as an Israelite, Palestinian, brown-skinned human being. The main ways in which Jesus declared and demonstrated the gospel, that the kingdom of God is near, was among the most vulnerable in the society that he navigated. And Jesus going to Samaria in John chapter 4 is another great example of that.

But it's not just that he went. It's how he went. The son of God goes to Samaria and he sits down at a well. And he looks up at a marginalized outcast woman, who was despised by the religious leaders and asks her for a drink. And so if Jesus can do this, why can’t my white brothers and sisters in the evangelical church come and sit at the well of the African American church, the church that was birthed from slavery, from oppression, and sit at the well and ask for a drink?

This woman at the well was a Samaritan, part Jew and part Gentile, and greatly disliked by both parties. And yet, Jesus asks her for a drink. He welcomes her by His side, He speaks to her, and offers her living water. As Rev. Efren Smith pleads, it is our job as Christians to do the same for our brothers and sisters, no matter their skin color, background, sins, or differences. 

Our God is not a God of hatred and discrimination, He is a God of love for all people. He called us to “make disciples of all nations,” from “every tribe and language and people.” He turns none away from His throne, and He invites us to live the same way. Loving others as He loves us, we are to come together as one body.

(Check out this book by D. A. Horton, where he steps into the tension to offer vision and practical guidance for Christians longing to embrace our Kingdom ethnicity, combating the hatred in our culture with the hope of Jesus Christ.)

How do I talk my teen through this?

As parents and caring adults, it’s important to talk about hard topics with our teens, because as we’ve discussed, to remain silent on issues of injustice is to allow evil to flourish. Our teens need us to face difficult issues head-on, despite obstacles of discomfort or fear, as we continue to navigate this broken world together.

You don’t need to have all the answers to have a conversation about this, just open up a dialogue and make sure your teen feels heard and valued in the discussion. We’d first encourage you to personally consider these questions, before beginning a discussion with your teen. The psalmist David asks God to search his heart and see if there is any offensive way in him. Before entering into such a difficult topic, taking time to have God speak to our hearts is paramount. 

  • How does the death of George Floyd make you feel?
  • Why do you think there’s been such outrage since his death?
  • What do you think your place is in issues like this?
  • What keeps you from wanting to think about this? 
  • What is God’s view on diversity?
  • Have we unknowingly enabled evil by remaining silent?
  • How can I take on the posture of Christ?

After you’ve had time to reflect, here are a few questions you may consider asking your teen:

  • How does the death of George Floyd make you feel?
  • Why do you think there’s been such outrage since his death?
  • How have your friends reacted to this issue? 
  • Do you think these are brand new issues?
  • Do you think the Christian church is doing enough to fight the issue of injustice? 
  • What action steps do you think are important for Christians to take?
  • How can we as a family take on the posture of Christ?

In bringing up this discussion, be prepared for your teen to disagree with you. Especially with our older teens, they may be expressing real hurt, anger, and a desire to join protests. And we also much remember that Gen Zers are more likely to be passionate about these issues than previous generations, and have different viewpoints because of the major world events they’ve lived through. Are you prepared for your teen to express a different viewpoint from yours and come to a different conclusion on this issue?

Our purpose as caring adults is to bring the truth of God and His Word into this conversation, not to prove that we’re right, or to try and change our kids’ viewpoints. Disagreeing on major issues can feel scary, but it’s important to foster an open environment for our kids to discuss their viewpoints, even if it means ending on different sides of the spectrum. Taking the time to ask questions, listen, and understand their perspective will provide the kind of safe environment we hope for. 

What can my family do?

Sometimes, it can seem there’s nothing we can do to help those who are hurting. If we’re part of a majority culture with a stable lifestyle, it can be tough to even understand what’s going on in minority culture, let alone know how to help. If you’re looking for ways to learn more about this issue, here are a few great places to start.

1. Reexamine American history.

Winston Churchill is attributed with saying, “History is written by the victors.” Since the inception of the United States, white people have dominated minority groups, whether through African slave trade, or displacing Native American Indians. One of the most important things we can do in the pursuit of justice, truth, and racial reconciliation, is to reexamine American history. 

  • Watch:
    • 13th documentary (some language), by Netflix. This documentary explores the history of racial inequality in the United States, focusing on the fact that the nation's prisons are disproportionately filled with African-Americans.
    • The Dangers of Whitewashing Black History,” by David Ikard. This Ted Talk discusses a black man’s realization that his daughter was being taught a distorted version of history.
    • Selma, directed by Ava DuVernay. This movie is about Martin Luther King Jr.'s campaign to secure equal voting rights in a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965. (some language).
  • Read:
    • The Color of Compromise, by Jamar Tisby. A narrative of how people of faith have historically—up to the present day—worked against racial justice, and a call for urgent action by all Christians today in response. 
    • Lies My Teacher Told Me, by James W. Loewen. This is a good one for high school students. The book reveals the difficult truths of America’s history, exploring how myths continue to be perpetrated, and discussing how whitewashing history and omitting our flaws is harmful.

2. Discover art and other resources that can spark conversation.

Art has a way of penetrating and engaging the heart in profound ways. You may consider exploring a few of these resources as a family.

  • Music:
    • Welcome to America,” by Lecrae. In this song, Christian rapper Lecrae addresses the disparity he sees in America.
    • ICPTSD,” a song by Christian rapper and theologian Propaganda. The name stands for “Inner City PTSD,” discussing inner city trauma, and how wealthy people may judge people in poverty, but don’t really know what it’s like.
    • It’s Not Working (The Truth),” by Propaganda. In this song, he describes everything that black people have tried to do to create change, but how it hasn't worked. He ends the song with a Gospel message, saying that even if we could accomplish change, it wouldn't solve our biggest need: a Savior.
  • Movies:
    • Fences, a period drama film starring, produced and directed by Denzel Washington (moderate language). The movie is about a working-class African-American father who tries to raise his family in the 1950s, while coming to terms with the events of his life.
    • Remember the Titans, the true story of a newly appointed African-American coach and his high school team on their first season as a racially integrated unit (mild language).
    • Hidden Figures, the story of a team of female African-American mathematicians who served a vital role in NASA during the early years of the U.S. space program (mild language).
    • Just Mercy, The story of a world-renowned civil rights defense attorney Bryan Stevenson, who works to free a wrongly condemned black death row prisoner (some language).
  • Other videos:
    • How should Christians respond to systemic issues?,” By musician, theologian, and activist Sho Baraka. In this YouTube video, he describes some of America’s systematic issues, and how Christians can respond.
    • A Class Divided,” An experiment that a white teacher ran after Martin Luther King Jr. died that demonstrated what it feels like to be discriminated against.

3. Search the Bible’s teaching on injustice.

The best place we can go with questions is scripture. Read passages of the Bible that talk about justice, then discuss them as a family. How did Jesus handle discrimination? What does God think about the diversity in His creation? How are we to love those who think, act, and look different from us? What is God’s heart for justice and righteousness? Here are a few passages you can start with:

We cannot overcome oppression by silencing the voices of those being oppressed. In the same manner, we also can’t overcome it by silencing our own voices when we need to speak up. Jesus says, "The world will know you are my disciples because of your love for one another." Right now if feels like we are a long way from that reality. Now is a time for Christians to love their neighbors with more devotion and care than ever before, because many of our neighbors are suffering deeply. It’s the time to show the world what Christ's love looks like by mourning with our brothers and sisters, standing shoulder to shoulder, listening and understanding their pain, and then working together to see a new way forward. To one day see a world free of violence, hatred, racism, malice, and injustice. To see His kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

This is an extremely important topic to be discussing as Christians and caring adults. We acknowledge that this conversation is not an easy one, but we have full faith and trust in God to guide us, teach us, and embolden us all to speak truth into this broken world. Be encouraged today, pray for strength, wisdom, and discernment in when and how to begin this discussion with your teen, and start talking about it.

Additional resources

  1. Talking with Your Children About Protests and Racism
  2. A Collection of Resources for Teaching Social Justice
  3. How White Parents Can Talk to Their Kids About Race
  4. Racism and Violence: How to Help Kids Handle the News
  5. It’s Never Too Early to Talk About Race

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