Diversity in the Christian School: Why Diversity Matters to a White Person

Dan PanettiDiversity in the Christian School, The CACE Roundtable5 Comments

Diverse students in a Christian School

Most people would consider me a white guy. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find mostly Italian heritage, probably with some other European ancestry mixed in. But yes, I check “White” on the census. So why would issues of diversity, ethnicity, and race be of importance to me?

Let’s be honest: I could easily choose to ignore these difficult conversations. But I am compelled to enter into this dialogue, this journey of greater awareness, understanding, and appreciation, and I would encourage everyone to do the same.

Before we discuss why you should enter diversity conversations, let me address the reasons I suspect many do not enter.

First, these engagements can portray the perspective of a white person, especially a white male, as irrelevant (at best) or outright racist. Entering the dialogue to even listen and learn is sometimes met with ridicule, shame and outright defiance. Sometimes the criticism comes from other white Christians who don’t see social justice as central to the Gospel.

My response: welcome to the club. When real work needs to be done (and racial reconciliation is real work that needs to be done), it isn’t for the faint of heart. This work calls for people ready and willing to roll up their proverbial sleeves and get their hands dirty. Think of how the Old Testament prophets were treated by their own for speaking uncomfortable truth. Jesus said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18).

Many men and women faced extreme criticism for doing what now appears to be the right thing. Winston Churchill was branded a warmonger and forced out of office after he helped saved his country from the devastation of Hitler’s Third Reich. Martin Luther King, Jr. was viewed by some as an instigator of racial unrest and violence. Rosa Parks was charged with a crime for refusing to give up her seat on the bus. And don’t get me started about the Hebrews 12 “of whom the world was not worthy” group–all heroes of the faith!

Yes, you may face opposition in standing for justice, you might experience discomfort in speaking out for truth, you might be misunderstood by friends and family for seeking to learn about things that don’t directly concern you. As the Italians would say, “Forget about it.” Or in the famous words of Theodore Roosevelt, “It is not the critic who counts. . . . The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena . . . because there is no effort without error and shortcoming.”

Secondly, there are others who are hesitant to enter this dialogue because they simply feel awkward, undereducated, or out of place. They are afraid of being uncomfortable. Let me encourage you to lean into the learning. By showing up and showing interest, you demonstrate that the concerns of those who are marginalized are important and need to be understood. In Isaiah 59:14-16, the prophet calls on God’s people to “intercede”:

Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter. Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede.

We know that Christ was and is our intercessory and substitution: He laid down His life for us, paying the price that we owed. Whatever you have been given in terms of your time, your treasures, and your talents has been given to you for His glory and to be a blessing to others. And “to whom much is given, much more is required” (Luke 12:48). Don’t hold back by looking at what you don’t have or don’t understand. Consider what you have been given and move forward to be more informed, more involved, and more influential in moving toward reconciliation.

In Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” he wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” That concept reminds me of my Biblical obligation to fight against injustice not because it affects me personally, but because it breaks the heart of my loving and just Father. As a Christian, I am compelled by the Gospel to be an ambassador of God’s redemptive grace, His restorative justice, and His reconciling Spirit. I cannot choose to ignore what God hates just because I am uncomfortable navigating the waters of racial reconciliation. Like Peter, I believe we must step out of the boat, keep our eyes on Jesus, and trust that He will be the solid foundation upon which we journey in this endeavor.

Why does diversity matter to a white person? For the same reason it matters to God. He designed a fabulously diverse world, He created it, and He reveals Himself through it. If you want to draw closer to God, to know Him more and make Him known, then enter into this enriching and lively conversation of diversity and see what you can learn through the process. Stop complaining about what others are doing wrong, stop contemplating what you ought to do, and start doing it.


This article is part of a series on diversity in the Christian school.

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5 Comments on “Diversity in the Christian School: Why Diversity Matters to a White Person”

  1. Dan,

    I am so heartened to read this post especially in light of yesterday’s events in Kentucky. We need more Christian educators to step up – it is “our Biblical obligation”, we are “compelled by the Gospel”, and we “cannot choose to ignore”. If we are silent on this issue in Christian schools, we are complicit – and our students are clearly seeing our hypocrisy. If you are reading this and haven’t read Jemar Tisby’s The Color of Compromise, that would be a good first step to further educate yourself. And then your challenge to us hangs in the air – what will we do to be more like Christ in these matters?

    1. Dan Beerens, thank you for the kind and thoughtful comments and the echo of the challenge to step up as Christians and engage in meaningful, biblically-sound dialogue on the important issues of our day – we must not be tossed to and fro by the proverbial winds of our day nor can we lie on the beach sunning ourselves while real work needs to be done in our culture. We must “run with the horses” and “manage by the thickets of the Jordan” (Jeremiah 12:5) – which in our present day terms means we need to roll up our sleeves and get busy about listening to each other, learning more about these issues, and leaning into the meaningful discussions and actions that will change our culture for the better.

  2. This is so very important. Teaching in Nashville in 1959 at the time of the sit-ins changed me. Teaching in the Roseland area of South Chicago changed me. What I learned from the kids and families around me changed me forever.

  3. Gloria, thank you for investment into the lives of so many (looks like you’ve been teaching for quite a long time) – the role of a teacher is so undervalued in our culture today, but if we are really honest, we all can point to a few great men and women who positively marked our lives with their love for learning, their passion for others, and their hearts to help those in need. I pray for our teachers today that they value each child as an image bearer of God and that they equip them to stand strong in this world for the cause of Christ! Blessings to you for the work and influence you had as a teacher – I can only imagine how those experiences you shared helped shape you into a better person and how you were able to pass that education along to your students.

  4. Hello Dan, as an African I appreciate the insights provided within your article. I have read about your legal background training and I would like to discuss more with you on critical Christian thinking in relation to teaching of the law (legal practice) & public policy. How we can aid our law and public policy faculty infuse such thinking especially one that translates to evident social justice in practice. I believe this helps we Christians to be more relevant in the society around us.
    I work with Uganda Christian University as the Manager of the Institute for Faith Learning and Service.

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