Racism and the national response to it is back in the news. In one sense, it’s hard to say it’s back in the news because it never left. Racism is a cultural cancer that seems to defy eradication. Don’t expect it to disappear in any of our lifetimes. That’s because it runs deeper than political correctness or even a quirk of American history. Racism runs as deep as our broken humanity itself.
It might be a news flash to some that racism also exists outside of the United States. In fact, discrimination against ethnic and cultural groups exists nearly everywhere that human beings exist. You don’t truly understand a culture or group until you learn the people that they dislike. This is what humans do. And the only truly transformative answer is Scripture.
So where does Scripture forbid racism?
Some of the most obvious questions are also the most difficult to answer because we’ve never bothered to think about them. How would you respond to someone (even a professing Christian) who denied that Scripture forbids racism? It’s not enough to simply offer horrified looks or reference general cultural ideas like diversity, equality or toleration. It’s not even enough to cite verses like Galatians 3:28 (“there is neither Jew nor Greek…”)—these verses clearly describe the redeemed, whom most humanity would prefer not to join.
But Scripture certainly does speak to racism, even if not in those exact terms. I would suggest that the simplest, clearest biblical answer to racism is in the great commandment—”love your neighbor as yourself.” Racism is nothing more than a group expression of pride and selfishness. It’s the supposition that my type of people (whatever that means) is superior, deserves more, has a right to do things other kinds of people don’t get to do, or ought to be treated in a special way.
The basic problem is obvious. No one wants to be treated that way by others. Special treatment for my type of people requires that your type doesn’t get the same. To say it differently, racism is the decision to not do for others what you want them to do for you. It’s the decision to not love your neighbor as yourself.
This illuminates all kinds of things. Racism begets more racism because like two children fighting, groups entrench to protect the resources or honor they want for themselves. It also explains why discrimination is a worldwide and deeply human phenomenon. Relationships between different groups are corrupted because people themselves are. Discrimination will exist as long as human selfishness does.
More importantly, it exposes how fundamentally inept secularism is to answer these evils. You can’t compensate for one group’s selfishness by trying to tip the scales the other way. Nor does it ultimately work for all groups to simply scream their viewpoints louder and louder. The chaos, the polarization, the demonization of opponents and lawlessness that dominates the current news are the unpaid bills of a society that rejects the lawgiver. This is what happens when people choose to not love their neighbor as themselves.
So what to do?
Like it or not, we live in a broken world, and our response has to be more than condemning that brokenness and hoping for a change. How should Christians respond in this morass of selfishness at war? Our society’s solution will be a mountain of rage, political posturing, monuments torn down, more rallies, and yes, way too many blog posts. But those responses are not enough.
I, of course, have no simple solutions to solve the race wars. No one does. Sadly, our most natural response is often to do whatever is culturally in vogue or follow the direction the wind is currently blowing. Following simple cultural scripts is too easy, carried along with the crowd out of a desire to fit into our preferred group. But in what way, then, has our Christianity transformed our response? In such a response, are we first cultural participators and then, only secondarily, Christians? Have we no distinctively Christian responses?
Or we could love our neighbors as ourselves. The truly Christian response is rightly counter-cultural because it cuts so deeply against the bent of our human natures. It is both strikingly simple, yet equally impossible without divine help. Christians ought to decry racism or group-selfishness in all of its forms by exercising it’s true opposite.
If you truly hate racism (and you should), I have a simple challenge for you. Instead of fulminating in an endless quagmire of rage and fear, go and do something about it. Love somebody. Go love somebody of your own race; go love somebody of another race. Strike a dagger in the heart of hatred, racism and a culture that left off any real solutions for life a long time ago. Go love your neighbor as yourself.