Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What Our Kids Read In Church

I was surprised and frankly discouraged yesterday when my daughter, chattering away in the car as we traveled to-and-from soccer practice, said confidently that she imagines God to be a white man in his early 20s. The "early 20s" part of that image intrigues me, but the "white" and the "male" parts tell me that I still have a lot of work to do as a parent and a pastor!

For an 8-year-old to say that God is a white man says to me -- at best -- that my daughter has seen many images of a
white Jesus and has concluded, rather logically, that the Father of white Jesus must also be white. At worst, it suggests that she associates -- albeit, probably unconsciously so -- God with "normalcy" and normalcy with whiteness, ergo, God is white.

As a parent, I intentionally buy children's books and encourage my kids to read books that feature non-white protagonists and/or non-white-American-culture settings. It's hard to find a mainstream children's television program in which the non-white character (almost always a supporting or sidekick role) does not function as the comic relief element of the show. And I'm raising my kids in a predominantly white school district. No props there.

As a pastor, I work at a church that -- surprisingly, among white Protestant churches -- has very few images of white Jesus on display throughout the building. No gentle white Jesus knocking at the door. No white shepherd Jesus smiling at the children. There are two stained glass windows with Jesus, remnants of the original church building, and a supply of children's Bibles with a whole lot of old white guys in robes parting seas and giving speeches and sharing food. Only a few images, but it's clearly enough: Jes
us and God are white men.

So here's a challenge to myse
lf, to my church, our conference, and all of us in predominantly white congregations who think that we're doing well with 1.5% non-white membership and with our mastery of politically correct language about race: there are many starting points to enter into a conversation on race in our churches . . . how about starting with our children's images of God, and purposefully -- and habitually -- using artwork and books in church that show a God who is not recreated in the white image?


  1. Love this...Had a conversation with my 6 yr old the other day about this...and skin color never entered into it. He imagines God as a grandpa. And I tried to start the Grandma thought...and he said "a grandMA with a beard?" So the beard is ingrained too.

  2. How about working for a church that's more non-White than New Hampshire? You could choose to actually work and live in a place more vibrant than cream cheese-try "Celebrating our diversity!" in Gary, Indiana or Detroit.