It is hard not to be disturbed by the events that are happening in Ferguson, Mo. My family watched with particular concern because our third oldest son attends a university in St. Louis not far from Ferguson.
With his three younger siblings still at home, there has been much conversation around this situation and other recent incidents in which the media has largely grouped together as similar.
Faith and Family
As Catholic parents, we certainly have an obligation to use these events as opportunities to teach our children a Catholic worldview on difficult racial situations. This past month I spent much time reflecting on what I thought my children should know or what they should take away from these trying times in history.
First and foremost I want my children to know that issues like those in Ferguson and other places happen because there is sin. We are fallen, and it is our fallen nature which keeps us from peace and an ability to treat others with perfect dignity.
It is sin that makes us register skin color instead of the content of someone’s character. It is sin that propels us to pick sides and to make assumptions. It is sin that prevents us from listening and from opening ourselves to differences. It is sin that shuts us down and puts people on the defense. It is sin that prevents us from understanding others and manifesting an authentic empathy. It is sin that escalates situations to the point of injury and harm.
Acknowledging that there is sin also directs us to the truth of the demonic. Incidents like those in Ferguson and other places are reminders that the devil still is of this world and actively pursuing the destruction of our holiness. Despite recent cultural efforts to avoid any acknowledgment of the devil, incidents like Ferguson should prove his existence.
A trademark of the demonic is division and disunity. Pitting the human family against each other based on skin color ought to be considered right out of Lucifer’s playbook. What could be more offensive to God than having his children, whom he created in his image and likeness, using attributes that he created as a way of celebrating our uniqueness as means to create separation and detachment?
I want my children to recognize that the temptation to choose disunity will always redirect us away from God the Father, whose Son’s whole life was about union — communion — with each other and with our heavenly Father. I want my children to see that as soon as they see division and disunity, they need to recognize that the demonic is present, providing a temptation for us, one that is sadly appealing to our fallen nature.
I want my children to know that they do not need to search out the details of what happened in Ferguson, because what matters will not be found in the details. What is obvious and uncontested is that there is pain and suffering in the entirety of the situation in Ferguson and in other like incidents.
As Catholics, that suffering is our wake-up call to care and to acknowledge that members of our human family are not sensing they are loved. With so many people claiming to be Christians in this country, how is it that loving thy neighbor has been so neglected?
Additionally I want my children to know Catholics can positively impact the situation in Ferguson and elsewhere by simply applying an active love of neighbor in their own community. My children are capable of this by reaching out to those who feel marginalized, which at one time or another is everyone, and supporting those who daily put their lives on the line for our freedom and safety.
I want my children to know about hope, the hope that comes with Christ the Savior.
I want my children to know that Christ has a playbook too, and that is the Gospel, with teachings and tradition that flow from his Word, entrusted to the church. That Word points us away from sin that leads to disunity.
I want them to know that the Good News masterfully articulates how to love and how that love gives others’ dignity.
I want my children to know that Christ’s sacrifice was intended to give us confidence that we can overcome the desires of our fallen nature and avoid the sin that divides us from each other.
I want my children to know avoiding a repeat of the situation in Ferguson is not about believing in a particular ideology or redrafting laws, it is about engaging acts of dignity to all we encounter without judgment. Overcoming those perspectives of feeling minimized can be accomplished if we know that sin is at the core of what is motivating people and choose differently.
I want them to know that when we engage in sincere dialogue with all parties and listen to their stories, we can treat each other with equal dignity.
Ending the divisive language can occur if all sides disengage the need to be right and rather seek to foster a sense of understanding of the other’s perspective. Hopefully my children will understand that respectful dialogue can be one of simplest (yet most rarely used) tools to bring unity between parties.
Although situations like Ferguson may seem overwhelming, a solution is possible if there is willingness to submit to each other. Conversations which are solution-minded and keep dignity at the forefront need to take place in our Catholic families so that our children understand that the motivation behind finding a loving solution is centered on doing our Father’s will.
Christ came as masterful leader pointing us in an order that, when lived, can eliminate behaviors and attitudes of distrust and disrespect. When we abolish these desires we will not only be walking with Christ, we will be in union with each other.
This union is an important lesson, Catholic parents, a lesson which teaches our children about what it means to be a follower of Christ.
Betsy Kneepkens is director of marriage and family life for the Diocese of Duluth.