From Southern Racist to Adoptive Dad
I was born and raised in the South. The roots I have in the state of Tennessee run deep. I firmly believe that in Heaven my granny’s syrupy sweet tea will be served with lunch on Sundays. I still love the same kind of country music our local station played through the static on my great grandmother’s cheap kitchen radio.
With much pride, I embrace my southern heritage. And yet, there is one connection with my past for which I am abundantly ashamed.
I was a racist!
It turns my stomach but I cannot deny that racism was a part of the way I was raised. Now, it wasn’t the sort of violent racism of the 50s and 60s. I wasn’t scandalized that black people drank from the same water fountains I did. We attended the same schools, played on the same sports teams, and it all seemed right.
It wasn’t until we gathered for dinner on Sundays that the racist residue of our past could be smelled. It was in the secret of heated church business meetings that our prejudices were defended as even being biblical.
For reasons unknown to me at the time, we still had to protect our families and churches from becoming ‘mixed.’ After all we were told, “Birds of a feather flock together.” And even, Moses was forbidden to intermarry. (Numbers 12:1)
Such thinking didn’t stop us from praying for the lost in Africa during our prayer meetings. We even held backyard bible clubs in predominantly black areas in nearby inner cities. We had no problem going to them. We just didn’t want them ever coming to us.
The subtly of the sin I willingly embraced was just as loud as the color of orange I still wear as loyal Tennessee Vol fan. Its hard to believe I didn’t see it just as clearly.
As a young Bible college student I began to see that God’s family, the church, is designed to be a mixed with more than just different skin tones. His plan is to adopt people from every race and culture into one family. (Revelation 5:9) I came to see that using, ‘ya’ll’ when talking about the church is more than acceptable. And yet, Jesus’ bride isn’t just white with a southern accent.
This new way of thinking led to some heated debates with a few relatives. It also led my wife and I to adopt two boys from Ethiopia. It was on July 13, 2009, that these abstract theological concepts of race and adoption became a living, breathing rebuke to all I use to think and believe.
The racism I formerly embraced now followed me to the grocery store. I began to notice second glances from others upon seeing a white dad with two black sons. My prejudices cornered me when people would ask me, “Why black kids?” The sins of my past haunted me when I heard folks begin their sentences with, “I’m not racist but…”
For some time I found myself constantly irritated with the racist tendencies of others. Then I realized why. The reason I know what’s behind their stares and comments, is because the same foolishness was once in me. No longer was my anger directed solely toward relatives who still use the ‘N’ word. My indignation toward racism had to first be stared down in the mirror.
Through the process of adoption that God has thoroughly transformed my thoughts about race. He is also changing many in my family through two black boys who now share the same heritage and last name as their white grandparents, aunts, and uncles.
And yet this is the same story Jesus is telling over and over in the world. As He builds his church, racists from Tennessee to Zimbabwe are to take notice of the many shades and colors of Jesus’ brothers and sisters. Our prayer should be that they not only hear us sing, “Jesus loves the little children. All the children of the world.” But that they will come to know its true and begin to sing with us, “Red, yellow, black and white, and even former racist like me.”
Awkward silence ensues
Ever since we brought Isaac and Jonah home from Ethiopia, this sort of interaction has been common for my wife around their sporting events. Parents trying to match each player up with their appropriate family, begin to realize the colors don’t exactly coordinate with all the kids on the team.
To break the silence we usually say something like, “I can’t believe you didn’t notice the family resemblance?” And in no way do we begrudge these moments. We have actually become very thankful for the opportunities they provide to talk about adoption and the gospel.
Much of our kid’s sports activities have centered around baseball. Right now, we have 4 boys playing in 4 different leagues, all at the same park. One benefit to spending so much time at the same ballpark is that everyone knows our family. They have also come to know that the Haskins’ kids come in all kinds of shapes, shades, and sizes. And yet, there is one thing they all share in common. On the diamond, they all wear #44.
When my oldest son Titus began playing t-ball, we decided he would wear #44. We are big Atlanta Braves fans. And while Chipper Jones will always be our favorite Brave, we thought the history that Hank Aaron represented was important for our family to remember and champion.
I do not agree with everything Aaron has ever said or done. However, I do respect the price he paid to play in the Majors. Jackie Robinson was responsible for breaking the color barrier in baseball. But for men like Aaron, who began his career by playing primarily in the South, there were still many horrible obstacles to endure. I wanted my kids to know this about the ‘real’ HR king and appreciate it.
To begin with the #44 was just a unique tool to teach our kids about racism. Honestly, for me, it was more about Braves folklore than anything else. However, now seeing this number underneath my last name on my son’s jerseys causes me to reflect more on my own story than anyone else’s.
I remember standing in line at the post office with the first gift I would ever give my two new sons, who were still in an orphanage in Ethiopia. As I prepared to send two Atlanta Braves hats to them, I realized one day these boys would also wear #44. I began to daydream about two little boys, once orphaned in Africa, running onto a little league diamond with my last name across their backs. I began to tear up right there in the post office thinking about how amazing this would be to see.
As much as I hate to admit it, racism was a part of life in the small rural town in Tennessee where I was raised. Compared to the violence of the 50s and 60s it could have been considered a quiet racism. But it’s underlying wickedness was just as loud as the Tennessee orange we wore every Saturday to cheer on our beloved Vols!
The residue of such awful days gone by could still be heard in words used around our dinner tables and in our churches on Sunday. In these private and still very segregated settings, words were spoken and jokes were told that would have started riots in our desegregated lunchrooms on Monday. My stomach still turns to think about the sort of racist hypocrisy that even I was guilty of behind the closed doors of my home and church.
That’s why the first time I actually saw all four of my sons, two white and two black, standing with my last name and #44 across their backs this number was more than just neat baseball history for me. For me, it represented a redemptive moment for my whole family. It represented a transformation that I have seen even among members of my extended family as they all have embraced my two newest sons.
Haskins #44 constantly calls my attention to these kind of stories that I thank God my family is experiencing. Haskins #44 also reminds me that if the Father is ever asked, “Which one is yours?” He will not be ashamed to say, “That one right there. Haskins the former racist!”
To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. – ephesians 3:8-10
On Sunday Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church in Kentucky voted to deny the gospel of Jesus Christ. And it has nothing to do with their doctrinal statements about eternal security. It has to do with their decision to deny interracial couples membership and participation in their congregation.
In Ephesians 3:10, Paul declares that diversity in the body declares the triumph of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This 9-6 vote on Sunday declares the opposite for this church. It proclaims the triumph of the forces of darkness who delight in such racism.
This is not just backwood’s tradition. Its a satanic denial of the gospel. Its a rejection of Jesus Christ whose glory is made know through the acceptance of people from every, tribe, tongue, and nation into his family and delights in their participation in His worship services.
Here is the proposal
“That the Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church does not condone interracial marriage. Parties of such marriages will not be received as members, nor will they they be used in worship services and other church functions, with the exception being funerals. All are welcome to our public worship services. This recommendation is not intended to judge the salvation of anyone, but is intended to promote greater unity among the church body and the community we serve.” Submitted to the church business committee November 9, 2011 for their consideration by Melvin Thompson, member, Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church.
Right now, I’m in the process of writing a magazine article addressing the issue of racism based on another article I previously wrote, “Confessions of a former racist dad.” As I work through these issues and deal with my own sin, I am being helped and convicted by excerpts from John Piper’s new book Bloodlines. I’m also looking forward to reading the whole book and watching this documentary on racism
This year M.L.K. day provided a significant moment for me as a dad. As I threw baseball with three of my four sons, I stopped for a moment to consider with amazement the scene before me. There stood three boys, two white and one black, and they all with equal rights share my last name.
I have often thought like Brad Paisley, “If I could write a letter to me back when I was seventeen…” If possible, the first thing I would do is rebuke every bit of the residue of racism that was alive in my life at that time.
I grew up in the rural south and as a teenager racism was still very much ingrained in my culture. It was subtle, selective, and for the most part behind the scenes. However, when it reared its head it often directed its venom at two things that I now value most in life, family and missions. It was a racism that allowed us to distinguish between those we claimed to love and pray for in Africa and those we neglected in our neighborhoods.
It breaks my heart to say that for sometime ‘the way I was raised’ trumped the gospel on certain issues of race. I’m very proud of where I am from, but this is one root I’ve had to rip up, burn, and destroy. In doing so, I’ve realized that racism isn’t just cultural it’s satanic.
As I watched my oldest son teach his little brother the right way to hold his glove when fielding a ground ball, I was brought to tears. I immediately thanked God that I was literally seeing the sin of their father pass over them. I praised him for the way my family is a repudiation of the anti-Jesus prejudices I once subtly embraced.
The truth is at seventeen I already had a letter that had been written to me. I held in my lap every Sunday morning. I just wasn’t really paying much attention to it. If I had, maybe I would have repented of my sin of racism, understanding that, “He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth having determined their allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling places.” (Acts 17:27)