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Tom Fuerst ~ One Thing White Evangelical Parents Can Do

For many white people, and clearly about 80% of white Evangelical Christians, the election of Donald Trump feels like a high moment in our nation’s history. I’ve heard Evangelical Christians refer to his election as everything from a Cyrus-like moment to a downright deified development. For many Evangelicals, this moment represents making America great again – a return to a pre-women’s liberation, pre-Affirmative Action, pre-Roe vs. Wade, pre-pluralistic, and fully Christianized America. Some Evangelicals lament Trump’s individual morality but laud his pro-life judiciary possibilities. For many, they just did not want Hillary as president.

But the fact is, what seems like victory for many white Evangelicals creates fear in the hearts of those who feel marginalized by Trump’s rhetoric. From promises to send immigrants back to Mexico, to his threats to profile Muslims and forbid them entry into the country, to his dehumanizing imitations of persons with disabilities, to his business track record of taking advantage of small companies, to his sexual assault allegations, and to his clearly perverted antics, many non-male, non-white, non-Evangelical persons feel threatened by his presidency. And not just ideologically threatened – they literally fear for their safety and the safety of their families.

Now, you may say that the fear is unjustified. You may disregard it as the product of liberals telling people they’re oppressed when they’re not. You may think it’s the over-emotional reaction of a thin-skinned generation. Or you may try to qualify or justify his statements and attitude.

I disagree with you. But my point here is bigger than whether we agree or disagree.

Just think about someone else’s experience for just a second: Can you imagine what it must have been like for a Latino family to send their child to school on Wednesday morning knowing the kinds of things they might hear on the school bus? Can you imagine the things Muslim kids had to hear in the halls? Can you imagine the fear many of these children had when they sat down at lunch surrounded by white faces? Can you imagine the fear the parents of gay or transgendered kids felt as they released their kids to school? Can you imagine the thoughts of young girls who know their country just elected a president who has a self-admitted history of using his power to be sexually aggressive toward women?

Now, listen, you don’t have to agree with someone ideologically, politically, or religiously in order to appreciate that their fear is real. No child should have to worry about what will be said to them when they go to school the day after an election.

Yet we also know that kids are cruel. Most of you can remember a moment of racism, classism, sexism, or religious discrimination from your childhood. You can remember, even if you didn’t participate, seeing someone else socially ostracized because of the color of their skin.

In the last 48 hours, I’ve heard (firsthand) and read (on social media) numerous stories from minority parents and teachers saying that their kids are being bullied at school by other children. Latino children are being told by white children that President Trump is going to send them back to Mexico. One African American child was worried because a white kid told him President Trump was going to take his house from his parents.

No kid should have to live with this.

So, instead of just lamenting the problem, here is my proposal. Here is something you can do as white, Evangelical parents to make your world a better, safer place. Here is a way you can love your neighbor as yourself: Tonight at the dinner table, have a very serious conversation with your children about these things. Tell the truth about Trump’s rhetoric, do not justify it, do not excuse it, do not minimize it. Tell the truth about it.

Then, tell them two things very clearly.

  • Tell them in no uncertain terms that bullying is not acceptable. They need to hear you tell them that snide remarks, off-hand comments about race and gender, or downright aggression are not acceptable practices.
  • Tell them in no uncertain terms that if they see something, they should say something. They should say something to a teacher or school administrator. Or if none of them are around, give them permission to confront the bully.

I know these two things are universally valuable no matter the president or children involved. Bullying is always wrong. Yet the nature of our President-Elect’s rhetoric over the last year (and longer) suggests that this time is at least unique in its intensity.

To that end, two nights ago, my wife and I did just this. We told our kids that Mr. Trump has said really mean things over the last year and that some of their friends at school might feel afraid. We told them other kids at school might even be mean to kids who have disabilities or have a different color skin. We told them we want them to be on the lookout for this.

Fortunately, our kids hadn’t seen anything happening at their school, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going on. We don’t often see what we’re not taught to see. So by telling our children to be on the lookout for such behavior, we were helping attune them to the fears and experiences of others. We were teaching them they don’t have to just accept the injustices of the world as normal. We were teaching them the moral example of the leader of the free world should neither be emulated nor normalized.

Granted, you may think this is not a conversation you need to have with your children. Fine. I understand that. I tend to think my children are pretty good kids who would never bully someone over skin color. And I like to think if they saw something they’d say something.

But teaching our kids the habits of observing injustice and fear is not a passive act. We need to establish habits in our children of intentional observation. White Evangelical kids, who grow up in a segment of society powerful enough to almost single-handedly elect the President of the United States, can be blinded by that privilege. By establishing the habits of observing other people’s sufferings, of taking time to notice the pain and fear around them, we teach our children a genuinely Christian ethic. And in this, my hope is that they become adults who care about justice and equality for everyone. My hope in conversations like this is to sensitize my children to the lived experiences of others. My hope is that our children grow up able to hear, rather than disregard, the fears of others.

The fact is, Donald Trump is our new president. But even if you think his economic policies, foreign relations, social agendas, and Supreme Court appointments make it worth it, the fact is, his moral compass is not something we should want our children emulating. And in so far as we normalize – and do not discuss these things in our homes – we allow our children to think this behavior is acceptable.

You and I may agree or disagree with someone’s religion, politics, sexual ethics, or anything else. But what we cannot do is normalize any behavior that belittles someone for their difference. That is neither an act of love toward God nor neighbor.

So white parents, my call to you today is to talk to your kids at dinner tonight. Begin helping them observe the world around them. Empower them to act. They don’t have to be passive recipients of the way things are. You model this by taking the initiative in this conversation. You model this by refusing to participate in bullying behavior. You model this by silently standing by while you see others harassed at work or in public. It turns out, your children will follow your example more closely than the president’s.

Make it a good one.