Parenting Point: Reaching Across Prejudice

I was taught the Golden Rule early in life. I learned it from my teachers and my Girl Scout leader. When I was a guest at a Vacation Bible School and I learned the song, “Jesus Loves the Little Children, All the Children of the World,” I accepted it without reservation. The simple concept that Jesus loves everyone made perfect sense to me. I was seven.

As I got older I became confused.  My grandmother, whom I adored, told me not to touch a friend because her skin was a different color.  I can’t imagine that my parents would have approved if I had made friends with people who had tattoos or piercings. My family members had their own set of prejudices that they were only too happy to pass on to me. I began to think that perhaps the Golden Rule had changed, that maybe the song didn’t really mean all the children of the world.

Yet, I wondered. In Luke 15, Jesus tells us the parable of the “Lost Sheep” and the “Prodigal Son”.  In these parables, I found clarity. God wants all to be saved including the wandering, disobedient sheep and the wayward, foolish son.  Jesus says that there is celebrating in Heaven when one sinner is brought to faith.  It became obvious to me through Scripture that Jesus does indeed love all the children of the world and that He wants each generation to teach the next generation to show His love through its witness.

That idea seems simple enough. We tell our children that God wants us to love all people; that involves trust. But the world is full of untrustworthy people, and parents feel compelled to raise their children with a fearfulness to connect with strangers. So, how do we instill a sense of caution and distrust in our children and teach them to love others as God has loved them?

The first thing we must do is to help our children see the portrait of God’s people as He paints it.  This portrait includes all the people of the world; it does not exclude anyone. The portrait includes teenagers covered in tattoos and piercings. The portrait includes teenagers who smell funny or who don’t understand social etiquette. The portrait includes people we like and people we don’t like.  Each person in God’s family portrait is God’s own unique creation. He doesn’t want any one person in the portrait to be erased.

Before we can teach our children how to view God’s family portrait we have to see the beauty in it ourselves.  Parents who want their children to see people of the world as God’s precious children must check their own prejudices at the door.  When we preach that we are to love all God’s people, we better be authentic. Young people can smell hypocrisy immediately.

If we want our children to be outreach oriented, we have to adjust our human thinking. We love uniformity but God loves diversity, and God sees all His people through the lens of the cross.  Parents can teach this truth to even very young children by going to a garden and pointing out that God provides different plants to add beauty to a garden just as He creates unique people to beautify His world.

Once parents have convinced their children that God wants all His creation to be saved they can prepare them for service as witnesses. Parents should instill in their children a sense of honor and humility regarding their call to be Christ’s witnesses, communicating that it is a good thing to possess Christ’s Gospel and an honor to pass it on.  Parents should further communicate that Christians accept this honor with great humility, understanding that we, too, are sinners and that we have been given greatly undeserved grace.  It is essential when we talk to others about our faith that we do not demonstrate a haughty, proud demeanor.  The most effective Christian faith witnesses come from the most humble of God’s people.

Like most adults, some teenagers are afraid to witness their faith. Sometimes, their witness is right on the tip of their tongues but they cannot spit it out.  This is the time to share Acts 1:8 where Jesus says, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”.  There doesn’t seem to be much compromise here.  Jesus says “You will,” but he also promises to give the power to do it.

Parents of Christian teenagers should point out that the decisions teenagers make and the way teenagers accept and love others may truly be the most effective witness of faith.  When non-Christian teens feel accepted and loved they are more open to hear a Christian witness. The way that young people conduct their lives and the way they show their love is often the most powerful witness of all.  In Bill Hybels and Mark Mittelberg’s book, Becoming a Contagious Christian we are invited to, “Think about it; how we conduct our lives has implications that reach all the way to eternity”.  That is powerful witnessing!

There is one caution that parents must give their young people.  In Luke 6:39, Jesus asks, “Can a blind man lead a blind man?  Will they not both fall into a pit?”  It is essential that our young people be securely grounded in their faith and in their ability to share their experiences and emotions with parents or other trusted adults.  The devil is anxious to derail Christian teens in their attempt to share their faith. After all, he even tried to tempt Jesus.  He relishes the idea of using an unbelieving teen to pull a Christian teen into the pit.  Therefore, constant Bible study and prayer is a must.

Like all Christians, teenagers can become discouraged when it doesn’t appear that their witness is having much of an effect.  This is the time to affirm their efforts and to remind them that we are only the planters; God is the gardener.  The Holy Spirit will produce the fruit.

In Matthew 28, Jesus gives us His Great Commission.  He commands us to go and make disciples of all nations and He promises to be with us when we do.  The Great Commission is a privilege that parents must pass on to their children.  It is an honor to be selected to spread the Gospel.  It is a legacy of love love for our Father in Heaven and love for one another.

Published May 1, 2004

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