Some Thoughts on Racism

Racism hasn’t gone away like many people thought it had. Race hatred seems to be worse now than it was when I was growing up. Or maybe I just didn’t hear about it then, and it has always been this bad. Or, the powers that be have stoked the fires of race baiting. Whatever your explanation of how it has gotten to be this bad, it’s pretty bad right now. There is a list of things that black people can’t do with zero fear and white people can. There are the Native Americans who always seem to get ignored in the discussion. There is Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd and many, many others. There’s a lot of outrage. And there are plenty of people who think that the outrage should not only continue, but should escalate until “things change.” Given that there are reams of books written on the subject, I do not pretend either to be an expert, or to have the answers in any kind of fulsome way. This post is not intended even to be comprehensive in what it addresses, let alone be adequate to the subject matter. It is just a few thoughts on racism.

First things first, then, there is still racism out there. It doesn’t do us any good to deny it. One does not have to engage in “guiltier than thou” hand-wringing to acknowledge this. While we should be cautious in jumping to conclusions on any particular case, there is still racial hatred out there. And this racial hatred is not all unidirectional. There is plenty of racial hatred of whites by blacks, too. Many people would seek to justify this part of the equation by saying that it is payback. Since when is revenge a healthy, godly thing? The Count of Monte Cristo ought to have taught us better than that. All racially motivated hatred is evil. Period. It doesn’t matter which race is hating which other race for being different, that is wrong. But on what basis is it wrong? Here I want to discuss where I think the beginnings of the solution lie. This is important: the basis for claiming that all racially-based hatred is evil has to be part of the solution to that same hatred. Or, to put it another way, I believe that proper theology (in the broader sense, which would include anthropology) has the beginnings of the solution.

So how can we say that all racially-based hatred is evil? A study of Genesis 1-11 reveals that all human beings come from Adam and Eve, and all human beings come from Noah and his wife. That is the plain intent of the text. Ultimately, there is only the human race. I have been using “race” in the more popular sense in this post up to this point, because it is familiar, but here I have to raise a big caveat to such usage. Most discussions I have seen that come from the critical race theory (CRT) standpoint completely ignore the unity of the human race. The differences are the more important consideration. In contrast to this usage, I use the phrase “human race” to emphasize that all humans have far more in common with each other than we have differences. This is plainly seen when contrasting the human race with, say, snakes (not an animal I chose accidentally). So, one of the global questions in the discussion is this: are the differences or similarities more important when dealing with questions of ethnicity (and here I now substitute my preferred term, instead of “race”)? The Bible suggests that it is the similarities that are more important. Here is the second vitally important point I wish to make: the biological unity of the human race is true even apart from salvation in Christ Jesus! Now, ethnic backgrounds of Jew versus Gentile were a big deal in the Bible. Ethnic mixing of Jew and Gentile was forbidden in the Old Testament, though not for the reason of ethnicity by itself. The mixing was forbidden because of faith reasons: Gentiles were pagans. It wasn’t simply because they were Gentiles that they were rejected. After all, several books of the Old Testament tell us of Gentiles who became Jews (e.g., Ruth). As Paul would say, Jews were so internally, not externally.

If creation and the unity of the human race give us one huge reason to condemn ethnic hatred, the gospel gives us the other. The gospel is not itself the solving of the ethnic question. The gospel is what Jesus did so that sinners might be forgiven, and brought into a right relationship with God. It is first and foremost a vertical story. It is not directly about ethnic questions, but one does not have to go far into the New Testament to realize just how whopping the implications are for the ethnic question. Ephesians comes to mind, particularly. The Jew-Gentile barrier, which was the fundamental ethnic barrier the Bible addresses, is eliminated by the gospel. In Christ, the ethnic barriers are, in principle, removed. When people are brought close to God, they are simultaneously brought close together.

Conversion and regeneration, however, do not eliminate all sin. We still tend to have thoughts of the other as being alien to us. What we need is to focus on, expound, and preach from all the Scriptures the creation, fall, redemption, and glorification narrative of Scripture as it culminates in the person and work of Jesus Christ. This is the larger story that can engulf and drown ethnically based hatreds in its own baptism by immersion.

There will be those who think that this analysis is hopelessly naive and simplistic. I would counter: I believe the Bible says it is supposed to be just this simple. If we are making it so much more complicated (a good example is the whole discussion about micro-aggressions), then that is our problem, not the Scripture’s. It is human beings who are making the issues so complicated that good old fashioned Matthew 18 reconciliation is no longer possible.

What about justice? What is justice, who decides, and what should it look like? Justice, by its very nature, must always be incomplete in this life. We are not omniscient. We do not know the motivations of the human heart. We may think we do, but we don’t. It is time we acknowledged this in the ethnically charged environment of today. It is time to stop making assumptions about each other. It is time to recognize the image of God in every human being, and treat that image with respect. It is time to follow the rule of law and hold criminals accountable for crime (whether citizen or police officer), and not create lynch mobs to attack people not responsible. It is time to recognize that there is no earthly way that justice can be completed in this life. God will have to be the one to make all things right, and He will. This fact should not be an excuse to prevent us from doing all we can to accomplish justice in this life. But it should prevent us from becoming so frothed at the mouth with outrage that we can no longer listen to reason and wisdom. God will make sure that all wrongs are righted. Surely every Christian must, at this point, cry out, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus!”

What about systemic racism? That is one of the most burning questions of the hour. Is there a system in place to keep minorities “in their place?” That is disputed, even among black people. If we look at the Native American, it would seem to me that reservations are one huge system to keep Native Americans “in their place.” Why have we quarantined them for so many decades? It has not done them many favors, as far as I can see. I do not claim any expertise on this question, but that is what I see at the moment. In some contexts, I see that blacks cannot do certain things without fear that whites can do. In certain other contexts, the reverse is true. In some white communities, blacks don’t feel welcome. In some black communities, whites are not welcome. In colleges and hiring practices, there are many quota-based systems. In such a scenario, a black may be hired because he or she is black, and not because they are qualified (many blacks are perfectly qualified, by the way). Does it really help the black person to hire them because they are black and not because they are qualified? This has always bothered me. Doesn’t it put them in a situation that may make them miserable just so the consciences of the employer/recruiter can be salved? Couldn’t this be seen as using the black person for the sake of image?