Irony is not nearly as ironic without an impeccable sense of timing. Such was the case when two days ago, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I have a dream” speech, my nine-year-old came home from school and declared that “All black people are stupid.”
Yep. You read that right. The preacher’s kid is a racist. Alarmed that such a statement would come out of the mouth of one of our kids, my wife and I set out to get to the bottom of this disturbing proclamation. All household activity came to a screeching halt while we focused on rewiring whatever went wrong in the heart of my beautiful child. A child who played sports with kids from various ethnic backgrounds. A child who goes to school where nearly half the students are black. A child who has witnessed her parents and her home church strive to extend a welcoming hand to people of all races when they come to church. As we would do when trying to correct erroneous thinking from anyone we launched probing questions like torpedoes, forcing Savannah to come to grips with what she said. My wife, who missed her calling as an interrogator, led with the opening volley of questions,
- What makes you say that? Some kids at school said all white people are stupid.
- Just because they said it, does it make it true? No.
- How did you feel when they said it? I got angry. REAL angry.
- What did you say to them? Nothing. We had to go back inside.
- Did you tell a teacher? No.
- Are there smart white people? Yeah! There was Benjamin Franklin and Einstein and the guy who invented the light-bulb!
- Okay, are there smart black people? (begrudgingly) Yes. George Washington Carver invented peanut butter and we learned today about Martin Luther King.
- So, it’s not fair to say that all of any type of people is stupid is it? No. (complete with a shoulder shrug).
This was followed by a heart to heart talk about turning the other cheek and loving those who hate us and that just because someone said something hurtful and untrue to us does not give us the right to say something hurtful and untrue about them. Now it was time for round two. My partner tagged me and I entered the ring against the specter of hate that loomed in my precious daughter’s heart. I would take no prisoners.
- Who made people? God.
- Did God make all people? Yes.
- So, you’re telling me one God was smart enough to make white people and black people and Asian people and all other people too? Yes! God’s smart enough to do anything!
- Does God make junk? Huh?
- Does God make stuff that’s worthless? No.
- So, everything He made is special and valuable? Yep.
- Do you think God loves the people He made? Yeah.
- Does God love all of them or just some of them? All of them.
- So he doesn’t just love white people? No.
- Do you get upset when someone picks on your little sister? Yes. I don’t let anyone pick on Charley.
- Do you think God gets upset when we pick on the special and valuable people He made and loves?
To be honest, the nine-year-old is stubborn. She sat in silence with that last question. It’s not that she didn’t know the answer. She just hates to admit when she’s wrong. So I did what every parent has done for centuries with an obstinate child. I sent her to her room with instructions to think about what I had said and asked.
A few minutes (which is eternity in child’s time) passed. Out from her room trudged the defendant. She was ready with an answer, and her answer was a doozy,
“God doesn’t like it when we pick on other people because they are made in His image and when we pick on them it’s like we are picking on Him.”
Out of the mouths of children! We followed this up with a long talk about how Jesus was picked on, made fun of and crucified all for us. We also talked about how He died for all people, not just one race of people. And how when God looks at people He sees us all the same: as people in need of His grace.
That night, while I tucked Savannah into bed she asked me a question that nearly brought tears to my eyes. “Can I pray for the girls who said white people are stupid? Maybe if they meet Jesus they’ll see how much God loves all people.” I did it! I taught my child to love people like God loves people and to see people the way God sees them. I could almost hear angels singing a song of victory over my glorious parenting skills. And now for the cherry on top, I would tie evangelism into this superlative life lesson.
Choking back tears, I replied, “That would be great. God would like that very much. Who do you suppose should tell them about Jesus’ love for everybody?”
That’s when she hit me with it. The spunky grin that is uniquely hers. It conveys mischief, fearlessness and audacity, and once I saw it, I knew I was not as successful as I had thought. “Oh, I’m gonna tell them. And I’m gonna invite them to church too so they can hear my daddy preach, because my daddy’s not stupid! Then they’ll know that they were wrong.”
Palm, meet forehead. Groan.
So we talked. Again.
And we prayed. Again.
I made sure she understood that this was about love and forgiveness, not about proving who’s right. She promised me she understood. I kissed her good night and left the room.
As I closed the door behind me I heard the impish-whisper, “But God knows I’m right.”
Sigh. I’m not raising a racist; let’s hope I’m not raising a Pharisee.