When it comes to conversations on race, our level of offendability often reveals the level of our maturity. If we can’t overcome offense in the moment, we are not going to get very far. Reconciliation requires us to listen deeply to one another.”
— Pastor Rich Villodas
As part of its support for Open Bible Churches’ Unity Commission’s passion for Open Bible people to be bridge builders between races, which must begin with a sincere commitment to listen to and understand each other, the Message requested a godly Black mother to let us see through the eyes of her experience and to share with us about what is known as the “Black Family Talk.” The request for this article extends back months, long before the George Floyd trial and subsequent debate about shootings of Black people by law enforcement. Dyrie Francis is a credentialed Open Bible minister. She and her husband, Karl, pastor one of Open Bible’s largest and most vibrant churches in the USA. A registered nurse who holds master’s degrees in nursing and Christian leadership and is pursuing a PhD in Biblical Studies, Dyrie is not given to emotional hyperbole. She carefully and skillfully crafts what she wants to say with loving respect and sensitivity toward the reader. She believes in the importance of law enforcement. She does not seek to offend; however, she is a truth teller. She vulnerably and passionately responded to our request rather than demanding that her voice be heard. Elements of the “Black Family Talk” obviously transcend race; counsel regarding how to respect and respond to law enforcement is sound instruction for all youth. However, please listen deeply as you read Dyrie’s account. Listen to the heart of a mother of young Black men. If you are not a person of color, then seek to learn about and feel what Dyrie shares. Please note Dyrie’s Steps to Racial Reconciliation. There is an ongoing divide between Black and White in America. As Christ’s followers, we must lead the way in reaching beyond racial walls to pursue reconciliation.
Thank you, Dyrie, for trusting our readers to listen to your heart.
— President Randall A. Bach
The Black Family Talk
By Dyrie Francis
I write because my heart is bleeding. It seems the seeping of blood and pain is unceasing. Every unwarranted act of violence or aggression against an African American opens the wound of racial discrimination and injustice perpetuated for centuries. The bleeding intensifies with each new report. I cannot be indifferent. I am black and have felt the pain of the families I serve and others far removed.
I have two sons, and as early as when they were two years old it was necessary to speak to them in a manner I never dreamed would be necessary in contemporary society. We live on an oversized corner lot with no fences between our lateral neighbors. The neighbors’ children and dogs race across my yard without permission, and it is ok by me because I want to be neighborly. But the reverse is not true with my children. I always instructed my young children never to cross the boundary line to my neighbor’s property. They should play only in their own yard. The reason I cautioned them this way was my fear that someone would harm them or that false accusations of misconduct would be made against them. As they grew older and could be left home alone while I did errands, I firmly instructed them never to go outside to play in our absence. They are two of perhaps five African American children in the neighborhood. I am more than aware of police harassment of one Black child on my street and my goal is to shield my children from such negative experiences.
My husband and I instructed our sons to respect authority and especially law enforcement officers who already demonstrated bias towards people of color. As my sons grew older, the conversation became increasingly more challenging. My children are schooled in the Scriptures and are also honor roll students. They would refer to their teachings in civics classes and what they learned of God’s justice. For them, it was unimaginable that a good and loving God would tolerate the level of abuse and injustice apparent in our society. They would share their understanding of “liberty and justice for all.” I would insist that their job was to do the right thing, go the extra mile, always address police officers as “sir” or “ma’am,” never argue their point even though they may be right – all in order to reduce any risk of violence against them. It was necessary to emphasize that all we can do with a dead child is to bury him! It was heart-rending to have these kinds of conversations in a country professing the rights of all people!
Most of all, I pray the day will dawn when the heart of God’s people, His church, will cease their silence and their heart will break over what breaks His heart.“
A new level of anxiety arose after our sons received their driver’s licenses. Both are over six feet in height and built well. I feared some officer may be intimidated by their size and see them as a threat requiring “force.” We advised them to keep their focus when being followed and not be intimidated, to follow the road signs and speed limit, to count to eight or even ten before making a turn at a stop sign (to prove they really stopped), always wear their seat belt, and keep their music at a low volume so as to not attract the attention of the police.
Yet one afternoon my son came home very distraught. He was ten minutes away from home when two police officers started to follow him. They pulled him over and began their “taunting,” positioning themselves one on either side of his car. He received three citations (along with a fine of $392) from the smirking officers who told him, “You shifted lanes without indication, you failed to stop at a red light, and you have a tint on your car.” My son had been returning home from college in the middle of the afternoon. He knew he was being followed. No one in their right mind would run a red light with a police car behind them! The tint on his car met the legal standard (we had made sure of that). The only possible infraction could have been changing lanes without indication in his effort to get out of the way of the “trailing” police. I was very thankful he held his tongue or God knows what kind of news my family might have received about my son.
It is no secret that violence against African Americans leading to death has proliferated without much recourse or punishment for the perpetrators. The reality that one or both of my sons could become victims for even a minor traffic violation is unnerving and a daily source of stress. I am a prayer warrior and I believe God will take care of them, but the recurrent pictures of harm and unwarranted death for petty crimes or misdemeanors remains a painful reminder to a mother’s heart.
Although my sons are now adults, I still make frequent calls and always include the reminders of earlier instructions to ensure their personal safety. I pray the day will come when all people are treated equally regardless of skin color and people will grasp that we are part of the community of humanity. Most of all, I pray the day will dawn when the heart of God’s people, His church, will cease their silence and their heart will break over what breaks His heart. The Scriptures are replete with God’s condemnation of any form of injustice and oppression of others. I believe His heart is bleeding heavily over racial injustice, violence, and oppression against black people.
Root of Injustice
I am not naive about the nature of evil in the world which began with the disobedience of the first couple in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:3), who later parented all nations on earth. I am aware of the strife of nations, racial disharmony, and the challenges that are associated with the joys of raising children. I write from a mother’s heart. All mothers’ hearts thump with similar rhythm – joy and pain, fears and pride, hope and disappointment as they journey with their children from birth to adulthood. These emotions are color blind. As a hen protects her chickens, mothers (parents) universally seek the well-being of their children. They desire to protect, to nurture, to educate and lead to maturity children that are Christ lovers and productive members of society.
An amazing piece of information that emerged from the interviews was the level of compassion these families expressed for the fearful situations that many law
enforcement personnel encounter.”
Permit me to pause and ask the question, how in the name of God did some children gain a greater right to healthy existence while others daily wrestle with the fear of harm? I have searched the Scriptures for clues that clarify or cancel a belief system that is ill-founded, at times legally supported but morally out of alignment with Scriptures. The word of God declares, “Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him. Children born to a young man are like arrows in a warrior’s hands. How joyful is the man whose quiver is full of them” (Psalm 127:3-5).
The culture of our nation casts a dark shadow over the course of the Black family and impairs the joy that God declared would be a part of the journey of parenting. I recognize the vast gulf between the experiences of the majority culture in raising their children and that of the Black family. My hope is for the majority culture to understand that that gulf does exist. The fact is that racism and racial profiling look at one factor – the color of a person’s skin. There is no regard for character, education, religion, or family structure. In fact, racism even persecutes the minority family for living in a “decent” neighborhood. Case in point: another family from our church lives on the same side of the street as I do. We joke that we are the Christian flag poles since we are at both ends of the street. One day when their 12-year-old son was playing at our house after school, I invited him to join us for a spaghetti dinner. He went home to ask permission from his parents, but when he returned about an hour later, he was very upset. I questioned his delay and why he was so upset. He related that while walking to my house, a police squad stopped him and questioned him about his presence in the neighborhood. They informed him that a neighbor called the police because she saw a “Black boy on the street.”
A Parent’s Fear
In preparation for writing this article, I interviewed a number of Black parents from a variety of backgrounds – two-parent families, single-parent families, a bi-racial family, families of professional and trade occupations. All these families are Christ followers. Their “Black family talks” have a common thread – acute fear of harm to their children from law enforcement and through education and employment systems. By far, the greatest concern is from law enforcement due to racial profiling. All of these parents, regardless of education or occupation, placed emphasis on respect for authority, especially in any confrontation with law enforcement personnel. It is a daily reminder to address the law enforcement personnel appropriately, make eye contact, and use a calm voice. This is good counsel from parents for all children.
Do I consider all law enforcement guilty of such targeting? I cannot.“
However, imagine how hard it would be for an already anxious teen or young adult being pulled over for no obvious violation to stay calm and do all the “right” things when adults themselves are violating the very rights they are employed to enforce. Black parents constantly remind their children that officers may be tense about the situation and appear harsh. Still, they have a weapon that kills. Therefore, parents plead with their children to make every effort to de-escalate the tension by remaining still – not shifting, placing their hands visibly on the steering wheel, and being polite despite provocation. Although these instructions seem logical and basic, often they are not enough to protect them from taunts, insults, and questionable traffic tickets. Black children are schooled in the reality that failure to practice these simple but important behaviors may lead to personal harm, including death. A harsh reality for a young teen and a staggering daily source of anxiety for parents! But it is the reality of the experience of the Black family.
The mother of the bi-racial family I interviewed, a Caucasian, had an interesting addition to the “Black family talk.” She rejoiced that her son was “light-skinned enough to pass as a tanned surfer.” But she held him responsible to politely defend his Black friends in case of racial profiling from law enforcement. An amazing piece of information that emerged from the interviews was the level of compassion these families expressed for the fearful situations that many law enforcement personnel encounter. That’s why they emphasize in their Black family talk to remain calm and de-escalate tensions that may lead to harmful ends.
What Is the Church Doing?
There are young Blacks who are overwhelmed by the disparity and blatant injustice, and yes, some are guilty of crimes. Black families make it a practice to instruct their children on consequences that accompany poor choices and the negative impact on their future. On the other hand, it is no secret that the scales of justice are not balanced for the same crime for all races. I cannot be more emphatic here. A few years ago, a major local newspaper’s center pages were devoted to exposing the disparity in judgments and sentences served in the same court for similar crimes committed by Blacks and Whites. The statistics were alarming! This increases the pain of the Black family, and even more significant, it displeases God as well.
The Black family talks often become tense! How many times do you repeat the same line, “Life is not fair”? “Keep doing the right thing; others have suffered too. You will overcome.” Great words which challenge the nation’s pledge, “one nation under God with liberty and justice for all!” How long do parents have to pacify the anger over ill treatment and blatant discrimination and calm the fears of harm induced by the color of their children’s skin? The Black talk has left the threshold of family homes and entered the Church. I have worked with youth for many years and continue to mentor some. Repeatedly they ask, “What is the Church doing about racial injustice?” Every questionable death of a Black youth increases the anxiety level of both parents and children and the thought arises, “Could my child be next?”
Our problem is largely spiritual and not political.“
Further insult is added to the injury of injustice through racial profiling when people of the majority race assume that Black youth must have done wrong and deserve the poor treatment heaped on them. These majority people consider it incredulous that law enforcement would target a group because of the color of their skin. Do I consider all law enforcement guilty of such targeting? I cannot. However, the pervasiveness of such attitudes and conduct among law enforcement is a reality that Black families understand and experience. The fact is, people of all races commit crimes and should be judged with the same measure for the same crime. The Scriptures base judgment and assign punishment for offenses based on the gravity of the offense and not on a person’s skin color or status. In fact, the Bible calls out rulers and judges for ignoring or supporting injustice and oppression, for failure to relieve the oppressed, the widow, the orphan and the foreigner (Psalm 82:3; Isaiah 11:4; Jeremiah 21:12; and Zechariah 7:9-10). The apostle James makes the point that favoring one group of people and showing partiality is committing sin (James 2:8-10).
What then is the role of the Church, the people of God, regarding this bleeding wound in the Church and the nation’s body? How can our brothers and sisters smile indifferently when a part of Christ’s body is bleeding? How will Christ followers explain their silence, and for some, their practice of racism with subtle or blatant discrimination against a part of Christ’s body?
Steps to Racial Reconciliation
Here are some suggested first steps to understanding racial inequality and seeking a resolution:
- Be willing to acknowledge the problem exists. A most hurtful aspect of racial discrimination is denial of its existence or minimizing its effect on the Black family. Please permit the Holy Spirit to tenderize your heart about the reality of racial discrimination.
- Be a part of the solution. Encourage dialogue between the Black and majority culture. It is strongly believed that prejudice is learned. Learned behaviors can be unlearned where there is willingness to change. This responsibility is applicable to the Black family as well. Romans 12:1-2 (ESV) admonishes, I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
- Persevere in spite of painful realities that will surface. Often good people avoid attempting to deal with the issue because it is messy and painful. In addition, the problem can seem to deteriorate rather than improve. As a result, some people of influence may be unwilling to initiate steps for reconciliation in their circle. Yet, Galatians 6:9 exhorts believers to persevere: And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap if we do not give up.
- Pray and seek God’s direction to be a bridge builder. This must be a God-directed action. Bridges are “stomped” on and may experience rejection, hurt, and brokenness initially. Remember Jesus’ words, Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. (Matthew 5:9).
- Help dispel the myths your circle may uphold. Truth in love should underline our conversation and interactions. Paul said it well in Ephesians 4:15: Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.
- Get the facts before making broad judgments based on racial profiling. Things are not always the way they first appear. Often we blunder because the side that is first heard sounds firm and truthful. In fact, the writer of Proverbs warns, The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him. (Proverbs 18:17). A wise practice is to get the whole story before casting judgment!
- Pray fervently for healing and progress in the path of unity. Talking is a great start but talking alone will not heal. Only God the Spirit can transform hearts that are willing and yielded to Him. Prayer combined with the word of God changes the spiritual atmosphere and allows the Spirit of God to speak His truth into our hearts and minds. A good practice is to include praying for God’s healing of the racial divide and for the unity of the nation. There is no group more equipped to tackle this giant than the Church, the body of Christ. For Jesus made it a point to pray for the unity of His church (John 17:20-21). By demonstrating unity and love, the world will know we are His followers (John 13:34-35).
I am grateful for the courageous leadership of Open Bible that will no longer sweep our pain under the rug but is willing to initiate conversation with the members of Christ’s Body of varying colors. Our problem is largely spiritual and not political. Search the Scripture, for in it lies the truth. Therefore, I invite Christ followers of all races and colors to unite in bringing glory to God by resolving to initiate steps to racial reconciliation. One tiny spark sets an entire forest ablaze. How much more with God’s help can His church accomplish in racial reconciliation?
Parts of what I have written may seem objectionable to some readers, and this is okay. The purpose of writing is to shed light from a mother’s hurting heart on what it is like on the other side of the wall in the Black family. I pray you will be open to what the Holy Spirit will impress on you. For most of us there is no bitterness, instead sadness, and greater still, hope because of Jesus Christ and His promises. We need your prayers as we are forced to continue the Black family talk daily. We need to know your care as we care for you of the majority culture. We are brothers and sisters through faith in the one Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. For “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
About the Author
Dyrie Francis serves as the associate pastor of Living Word Open Bible Church in Cooper City, Florida, and as Open Bible Southeast Region’s prayer coordinator. Dyrie and her husband, Karl, pioneered Living Word Open Bible Church, which is comprised of believers from 22 countries. The church celebrates unity in diversity and eagerly pursues the fulfillment of the Great Commission regardless of race or color. God and family are central to Dyrie’s life and ministry paradigm. Underlying her calling to service is a deep and inescapable awareness and sensitivity to God’s heart on justice and the plight of the oppressed. She serves as a bridge to many and will continue by the grace of God.