had a birthday last spring, in the depths of COVID quarantine. A group of dear friends graciously decided to celebrate my birthday with a drive-by greeting as my family and I ate dinner in the front yard. My friends gathered a block away so they could arrive together and surprise me. I found out later that one of my friends, an educator like me, arrived at the gathering point first. And yet, rather than parking, sitting in his car and waiting for the rest of the team, he had to drive around the block and keep moving until others arrived. This was so because he is a Black male, and he intuitively knows that to sit in a parked car in a predominantly-White neighborhood by himself is to invite police scrutiny.
I am a 54-year-old White male, and my friend’s reality is not mine. None of these thoughts even cross my mind as I sit in a parked car, in daylight, waiting or using my phone. Yet, they are a part of my friend’s daily reality, second nature, something he would never do. Why is that? The quick and easy answer is, “that’s just the way things are.” I totally agree. But, why are they that way?
As the Lord has been working on my heart, I realize the answer to this question is a spiritual stronghold, one none of us personally wanted or created, but one which exists nonetheless. It has become the air we breathe, and the water we swim in, something many of us never really notice. From a biblical standpoint, I would say the problem is racial or ethnic relational brokenness resulting from living in a world marred by sin.
As a head of a Christian school, one that has as its mission training up young people to influence the world for Christ, I believe we have to be more effective in educating our kids, not just about individual prejudice and hatred of all kinds, but especially based in ethnicity. Specifically, we have to be able to show them how ethnically-derived prejudice and hatred, like all sin, impacts institutions, governments and economic systems, and even our schools, churches, and families.
As Christian schools, many, if not all of us, teach or purport to teach from a biblical worldview. The underlying foundation of that framework is the great story of Scripture: God created man in His image, to glorify and enjoy Him forever, and to fill the earth and subdue it as God’s grateful steward; man rebelled against God, and through that disobedience and sin, everything, and all creation, became broken and distorted; God sent His holy and perfect Son, the second being of the Godhead, to become a man and live among us, so that He could be the perfect atonement for our sin through His shed blood on the cross, proving His victory through His resurrection, and sealing His people with His Holy Spirit-His people who would be sealed by His blood, made right with God, and who would be Christ’s hands and feet in the world as His Church to draw others to Him and serve as His redeemed stewards again; and, Christ will one day come again to judge the earth, to make all things new, and that everything broken and distorted in creation will be restored to its fully revealed and perfect form forever.
In the second part of that great story, the fall of man, we know that people are broken and distorted by sin. In their fallen form, they are fully depraved, separate and apart from God. As redeemed followers of Christ, they are a new creation, reconciled to God. Until Christ’s return, however, disciples of Christ are still subject to sin, albeit inclined toward repentance and restoration for that sin through the grace of God. We also know that all organizations and institutions, whether establishments of man, or (in the case of the Church) of God but inhabited by fallible man, are also broken and distorted. Every American can insert his favorite comment about the failings of the U.S, government; every soldier his favorite quip about the Army; every Christian about the Church; and, schools are no different, including Christian schools. Part of this brokenness, even in Christian schools, deals with the ways we create insular cultures, those that are homogeneous or intentionally or unintentionally walled off from the world around them.
Some Christian schools have a historical legacy of intentional homogeneity and segregation. Others, however, developed homogeneity and insularity through (mostly benign) neglect, a lack of intentionality toward pursuing diversity, a paucity of vision for mirroring the Revelation 7 church within our schools.
Regardless of the cause, however, as children of the Light, sons and daughters of the living God, we have to do something about that. As N.T. Wright says, our role as disciples of Jesus Christ is to be “signposts of righteousness,” by the power of the Holy Spirit, to point to the way things once were and will one day be again. We are called by our Father to be light to the world, to see that which is not as it should be and seek to bridge the gap between what is and what could be. And, as leaders of Christian schools, our calling is to prepare the next generation of Jesus’ Church to be His hands and feet in doing the same, hopefully better.
As Christian schools, what can we do about ethnic relational brokenness, insularity, and homogeneity in our schools and, by extension, in our culture at large? I think there are at least several things we can do. First, we should pray. I’ve been reading Quiet Talks on Prayer by S.D. Gordon. Gordon reminds us that “the leaders for God have always been men of prayer above everything else. They are men of power in other ways, preachers, men of action, with power to sway others, but above all else men of prayer. They give prayer first place.” Prayer is to God, but it is also against Satan, against his strongholds and work in the world. Our prayers should be not only that God would prevail in breaking down these strongholds in our schools through Christ’s victory on the cross, but that Satan and his demons would be driven back in their attempts to undermine our work.
Second, we should engage with our faculty, staff, students, and families in healthy dialogue around race, ethnic relational brokenness, and how we can promote and bring healing, greater awareness of insularity and resulting openness, and, eventually, ethnic relational redemption within our schools. Such dialogue is difficult at first. With any kind of brokenness, the hardest part is admitting these elements exist, and developing the vulnerability and transparency to have the difficult discussions.
And, this is where I found Walter Strickland’s presentation on “Insular Culture” such a valuable resource. Dr. Strickland is an educator and a kind, Christian man, with a disarming and affirming approach to beginning dialogue within one’s school over where and how one’s school culture may be unintentionally undermining an ethos of biblical hospitality toward others not of the school’s majority culture. Dr. Strickland asks schools to consider what are the characteristics of an inward-facing school culture, one that is building walls from, rather than bridges to, the community around it? Who are the culture-shapers within the school, and what kind of culture, intentional and unintentional, may be promoted? What physical spaces within one’s school actually reflects an insular culture, one that is not inviting, and how can these spaces be addressed programmatically? Dr. Strickland and the UnifiEd team is a valuable resource in assisting schools navigate the difficult process of examining our own practices and bringing about school culture change.
Turning the lens on our school culture and engaging in healthy and healing dialogue may entail embracing the hard work of negotiating misunderstanding, misattribution, and misconceptions about what the school is up to, why we’re doing this now, and how it differs from perhaps similar-looking initiatives with completely different motivations in other, secular contexts. Because we’re working against hundreds of years of the effect of sin in America and thousands of years of human history, it is simply difficult; but so is every endeavor to push back the tide of human brokenness with the life-giving power of Jesus Christ. Yet, we have the power that created the universe and that raised Jesus from the dead at our disposal, for the asking. The next generation of Christ’s Church compels us to try.