Sociologist (social inequalities, child development, and religious education)
Instructor at University of KY and Asbury University
In each edition of IG Mix, we ask a guest writer two questions about serving in ministry.
What keeps me up at night?
There is so much more to children and family ministry than “just teaching the Bible.” Don’t get me wrong; teaching the Bible is what we do in ministry, and the Bible is what we are supposed to be teaching. What we neglect to realize and account for is that most of us uncritically teach the Bible through our particular set of cultural lenses. As a consequence, we mistakenly assume that what we teach about the Bible is objective and comprehensive and devoid of historical and cultural influences. This is simply not true. We are products of the cultures we have grown up in and live in; these influence our understanding of the world around us – including the Bible. What we leave out is just as (if not sometimes more important than) what we emphasize. What we leave out becomes part of what Elliot Eisner calls “the null curriculum” in The Educational Imagination. When it comes to much of children and family ministry, there is a null curriculum around racism and sexism. We implicitly communicate to our children and families that the Church, the Bible, and God have nothing to say about these issues. Further, we do not offer a God-Kingdom counternarrative that is explicitly anti-racist and anti-sexist. If we believe in the vision of a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-gendered Kingdom of God set forth in Revelation 7:9-12, then we need to move racism and sexism out of the null curriculum and into the explicit curriculum of our ministries to children and families.
What gets me up in the morning?
While my research has uncovered an overwhelming silence on racism and sexism in children’s ministry, I have seen glimmers of hope that the Church can do and be better. Over the past year, the injustices and inequities in our society have risen to the surface in a way that is hard to ignore or deny. More people are noticing and realizing that our social systems are flawed and broken and need to be fixed. As a result, I’m beginning to see church ministry leaders toddling their way into engaging issues of racial justice and gender equity; they are beginning the work of developing a posture of cultural humility and discipleship around anti-racism and anti-sexism. My hope is that these leaders—especially white leaders—expand their tables and take their lead from historically marginalized leaders in the church. Further, my hope is that the church intentionally offers our children and families a robust narrative and vision of what it really means to have diversity in unity and unity in diversity that finds its source in the triune God we worship.
Dr. Henry Zonio is passionate about the church more intentionally being the light Christ calls it to be rather than contributing to the darkness.
Henry is a sociologist and expert on how children’s religious education contributes to race and gender inequities in society. His research focuses on children, families, social inequalities, and religion. Henry brings 25+ years of practical children’s ministry to his research. He also is a frequent writer for Children’s Ministry Magazine and has authored book chapters on child research methodology and children’s spirituality. In addition to writing and speaking on issues of diversity in the church, Henry teaches sociology at the University of Kentucky and Asbury University.