The recent shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille has given us cause to revisit the commentary on racism and police brutality towards the African American community. Many of us are trying to parse through feelings of rage, helplessness, and apathy while we are subconsciously still being rocked by the images we are seeing. As a pastor serving in a primarily white church context, I am wrestling with my responsibilities of graceful shepherding while struggling for words to articulate the echoes of generational oppression.
Here’s my thing: I don’t expect white people to truly understand the depth of these sentiments. I don’t believe most white people have the capacity to apply genuine empathy to scenarios and experiences they are generally removed from. I believe it is unrealistic and unhelpful to try to force eye-level compassion from someone who, without choice of their own, will reap the benefits of social privilege in this country.
I can appreciate those white folks who mourn with us, or those who are lauded as #woke to the things going on, and even those who seek deeper relationship with blacks and other minorities. No matter the attempt, however, a white person in this country will never know the full scope of what it means to be black in America. This isn’t meant to sound apathetic, I’m just trying to set a baseline expectation here. We should strive to understand one another, but I believe we also should acknowledge the disconnects as often as possible to provide context for our different perspectives.
Cross- Racial Adoption
All this being said, I think there is a pseudo-entry point to common ground. The more time I’ve spent building relationships within the white evangelical community, the more I’ve noticed a heightened focus and engagement with the subject of adoption. I’ve seen many white, middle class Christian families opening their homes to children of different ethnicities—many of them black children. There are mixed feelings in the black community about this practice, but in most cases what cannot be disputed is these children are given a loving, grace-filled home they otherwise may not have had.
There is a bold, beautiful display of the gospel when people invite a child born of isolation, poverty, and sorrow into a new family full of sincere love, rich fellowship, and wholistic provision. Parents treat these children as their own, no matter where they come from and what they look like. We should all praise God for such Holy Spirit fruit that moves into the hearts of families who take this action.
Where there is a necessary praise however, there is also a necessary prayer. There is a difficult challenge ahead for these families when confronted with the sinful, racist stains of our country. While many white middle class people will never understand what it is to be black in America, they are often adopting children who cannot escape this experience. Amidst the sincere love and protection these families offer, the world around them isn’t so easily convinced of the hope this represents.
For many, the color of someone’s skin is an indictment on the content of their character. Society doesn’t often celebrate the gospel witness. Even those who are driven by community service and acts of social benevolence view cross-racial adoption with a cautious tone. Even the extended family response can be one of trepidation and awkwardness. This child will forever stand out in family photos. This child will forever be a surprising anecdote during initial introductions. This child will forever be associated with cultural dissonance. The family will feel the tension of these realities while trying to balance their child’s past identities with their present one.
The Rest Is History
Considering this dynamic, I believe it is the responsibility of white families to introduce their black adopted children to their side of history. While the middle class white reality is their home environment , they will not be able to hide what they look like. All it takes is a cruel kid in middle school, a misplaced comment at a family gathering, a viral internet video showing a violent act against a black person, or a litany of other examples to launch white parents into an intense conversation about history and racial discord in this country.
This added layer of complexity can tangibly offer whites a bridge to racial sympathy. Many whites who argue that racist sentiments are overblown in our society are often without a close relationship with a black person. When you have adopted a black person into your family, the polar opposite has happened—you are now indefinitely invested.
Sadly, some white people choose to ignore this opportunity and raise their black children within the white suburban bubble without consideration of these factors. Since they lack the ability to convey the African American experience, they simply choose to teach majority culture assimilation. What they miss out on is the opportunity to truly connect with the burden of black people in America.
When your child is under attack by a societal perception that devalues his personhood, the response is no longer a passive one. Once you realize that the person for whom you’ve poured out your love and affection is afflicted in some way, there is a love-saturated cause to stand for them. This isn’t just an impersonal response to the monolithic cause of a people group; this is real compassion for your son or daughter. This affects you personally. This drives you to speak up and speak out.
As we champion the cause of adoption, we should also see a resurgence of advocacy among the white middle class with black children. Our gospel witness is on brighter display when we defend our own with a fierce love that can not stand idly by. With your children at stake, there is nowhere left to hide.
I encourage white families to study black history, educate your children about their heritage, and prepare them for how society will treat them. It is not enough that you “saved” them from harmful circumstances, not when you can also show them that the same love that caused you to act equips them them to stand against the sin in our surrounding world.
You may be the parent explaining to your son and daughter their slave heritage and how it affects them. You may be the parent explaining the nuances of the Black Lives Matter movement. You may be the parent explaining the significance of a black president in this country. I implore you to be ready with full hearts and courageous intentionality. Their hope in the gospel may depend on it.