About 7 years ago I was assigned to teach a middle school age Sunday school class for a quarter. I actually enjoy teaching that age group. And this group was particularly lively and engaging. One Sunday I was discussing the conversation that Jesus had with a woman from Samaria. I pointed out the cultural norms of that day that he plowed over. And during the course of the conversation, I made some applications to racism in more recent years.
I asked the students if they had studied the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist church in Birmingham, AL that took place in 1963. I thought perhaps that had been a part of some of their history course curriculum. But they looked at me like I had flown straight in from Mars.
I told the story…Four young girls approximately their age had been killed. They were mesmerized. While I had their undivided attention I proceeded to tell them about my mother’s experience of growing up in the Deep South during a time of serious segregation. They had not heard of “colored water fountains” or “colored restrooms.” The idea of people of a different race not being allowed to eat at a lunch counter with white people was truly shocking to these young teens. The next week I brought pictures with me of the four young victims of the church bombing. It was a somber moment in Sunday school.
It was the teachable moment on that Sunday. But I made a grievous mistake. I implied to the students that we are living in a different time. Schools are no longer purposely segregated. “Colored” restrooms and water fountains are the subject of history books. I actually think I told them that we are “not like that anymore.” I was implying that racism was a thing of the past. I was clearly wrong. I misled those students.
When I heard the news of that occurred in Charleston this week, my mind raced back to that Sunday school class 7 years ago. I realize now what I should have said to them is this: Hate will always exist. Always. Racism will never be fully eradicated.
Every generation has a responsibility to do their part to promote peace. Foolish pride and out of control arrogance will always be destructive. And it also occurred to me that the individual accused of instigating this horrific crime in Charleston is the same age as those students I taught 7 years ago….I pray that people of all races will come together and serve the families of the 9 victims in a spirit of genuine love and respect. I am convicted. I will not mislead a group of students in that manner again.