Sep 17, 2018


Teach Your Students About Racism

Andy Cimbala provides a simple approach to learning about racism and teaching your students what the Bible says about it.

Charlottesville. Ferguson. Black Lives Matter. White Nationalism. Police brutality. Mass Incarceration. Philly Starbucks. If you’ve paid attention to the news at all the last few years, you can’t help but see there is racial injustice in our country. It is a recurring headline, a national conversation, a historic and current reality for all Americans and our campuses as displayed by this recent incident at Yale. Racism is real. This matters to God, and this must also matter to us as college ministry leaders. We cannot be silent and ignore this all around us. How do we respond? First, let’s establish the biblical grounding for why this matters.

God reveals His heart for justice in society in Jeremiah 22:1-5, specifically in verse 3, “Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place” and then God adds this extreme threat in verse 5, “But if you will not obey these words, I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that this house shall become a desolation.” Wow! God is willing to destroy His own city over this issue of social justice. Does this shock you? Does this start to change your perspective? Why does God care about this so much? Consider this foundational truth: We know from Genesis 1:27 that God created humans in His image. This gives all people equal dignity, value, and worth. Racism denigrates that value, and denies that image. Racism debases that which God has placed supreme value upon. Because of this intrinsic value, when injustice and unrighteousness occurs, God is offended, because it is His image that is being violated. God cares about racism, and so must we. If we ignore this issue, what are we saying to our students about our fellow image-bearers? How can we not respond with love and compassion towards those being sinned against?

I recognize that the majority of college ministry leaders in Collegiate Collective are white. And I assume that the majority of students in our ministries are white. I am white. This means that for most of our white staff and students, we don’t sense we NEED to engage on this issue of racism. Honestly, it’s just not a felt need. Sure it’s a theologically abstract issue that we agree is wrong in theory, but it’s not daily reality for us. It’s just a news item, and perhaps a confusing one. For most white folks, they haven’t experienced this kind of racism, they don’t have to learn this history, it’s not required by their course curriculum, it’s not a topic of conversation in their families OR their churches. Not so for the person of color, who is confronted by these injustices throughout their lives. They cannot ignore it. They don’t have that privilege. So if white students are going to learn it, I think we as college ministry leaders have a big part to play. We should educate our students about racism, because this matters to God. But first we need to educate ourselves. By this article, I’m trying to recognize my own privilege, and use my voice to help shine light on this topic. I have the “privilege” to ignore it and remain silent. But the gospel compels me to love and care! (2 Corinthians 5:14f) We must recognize our privilege, but also our blindness. We must make the choice to care about this issue. We must see that God cares about racial injustice, and that we are called by God to act as ministers of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-21). God cares, and God calls us to act. Therefore we must care, and we must act. I think the first step is that we must learn.

There is a danger in moving to action too quickly. Proverbs 18:13 says, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” We must first learn. Education is the first step. This can happen through conversation, relationships, reading books, watching documentaries, participating in discussions, attending lectures, visiting museums. This slow reveal process of education has been likened to an awakening, becoming “woke”. It is a long process, one that I myself am still progressing through. I have not arrived. I’m still learning and increasing in understanding. Gleaning from the books I read and the experiences I hear from my black friends, I always want to be discovering and growing.

What specifically should we teach? To answer that, I’m drawing on content that I’ve co-created with my staff teammates Bria Griffin, Sarah Evans, Becky Miller, and Kaylah Olshefsky for a breakout session at an upcoming student conference. We encourage college ministry leaders to educate your students on racism in 3 areas: Biblically, Historically, and Personally.

  • Biblically: What does the Bible have to say about racism and injustice? First we must understand from Genesis 1:26-28 that all humans are equally made in God’s image. This forms the foundation for why we can speak to injustice. When we devalue another because of their skin color or ethnicity, we are devaluing that which is supremely valuable. We are defacing the image of God. The Bible speaks repeatedly to the sin of oppression and injustice (Isaiah 58, Jeremiah 22:1-5, Zechariah 7:8-14). Jesus calls us to make disciples of ALL nations (Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:8). And we know that heaven will be a place of ethnic diversity (Revelation 7:9-10).
  • Historically: Racism has a long and sordid history. In the context of blacks in America, we trace the story through the African slave trade, the rise of Jim Crow, the experience of vagrancy laws, redlining, mass incarceration, voter disenfranchisement, police brutality and violence, and the wealth gap. Racism is not merely individual prejudice and white-hooded figures. It also appears in systems and institutions that reinforce racial divides and inequalities, that are deeply rooted in our shared history.
  • Personally: Do your white students have friends that are persons of color? If so, do they know what their experiences have been like regarding racism? How have they been affected? This whole topic changes form when it moves from a headline to a friendship. When the experience becomes personal, then our hearts are engaged. If it remains just a news item, we can more easily dismiss it. Honestly, I grew up in a very white space, and I still exist in a very white space, so this is one of the areas I need to grow in the most. I need to hear the stories of my black friends and see the pain in their eyes. I need to see that racism isn’t just a documentary or a book or a statistic, but a personal experience. I need my heart to respond with compassion toward the person across the table from me.

What you can do today:

  • Educate yourself: I think it starts with YOU. Will you take the time to educate yourself? It will take time, and it will be at times uncomfortable. But how can you teach others what you do not understand yourself? Pray for God to give you insight. Read books. Watch documentaries. Befriend black students. Listen and learn.
  • Educate your staff: Has God blessed you with being part of a staff team in your campus ministry? What a fantastic opportunity for group learning! Even if you’re not the team leader, you have incredible influence. Suggest your staff read a book together. Suggest watching a documentary together and discuss it afterwards. Read together this article by Rashard Barnes.
  • Educate your students: Pass this information on to your students. Perhaps start with your student leaders. You could gather after a national incident and lead the students in prayer. You could host a watching of a documentary to understand racism historically and currently. You can lead a Bible study in Acts 10. You could watch this sermon by David Platt from Together for the Gospel. You could watch this interview with Pastor Curtis Dunlap.

Friends, we have an opportunity to let the gospel SHINE on our campuses. The heart of the gospel is all about reconciliation! God wants to reconcile to His estranged people and bring lasting justice and righteousness to the world through His kingdom. There’s so much we can do as Christian leaders on our campuses to incarnate the gospel. But first we must educate ourselves, our staff, and our students. I pray the Lord prompts and empowers new movements for racial reconciliation on our college campuses, and through the gospel brings new healing to our country.

about the author

Andy Cimbala

Andy Cimbala and his wife Melissa have a passion to make disciples of college students. They work with DiscipleMakers at Shippensburg University, leading Bible studies and mentoring leaders. Andy has written a book called The Relentless Fight.