Being white, I have no comprehension of what it must be to be black, Asian, or Jewish. The closest I’ve come is as the only white man in a Native American village where I was called names and made to feel very unwelcome. I remember the feeling of fear that welled up in me. That was an isolated incident, not an ongoing occurrence as is true for many blacks, Asians, and Jews.
As a follower of Jesus, what does He have to say about racism? What does Scripture have to communicate that might help me (us)?
Let’s start at the end. In the book of Revelation, John describes the following: “After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands.” (7:9) In paradise, the new heaven and the new earth, all are equally valued. I believe there will be people from all cultures there, and their cultures will enhance my ability to worship the King.
From the end, let’s go back to the beginning. Moses records, ““Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.” (Genesis 1:26) God created mankind in His own image. This was an intentional act, and we all still bear the image of God today although defaced by sin. Any and every form of racism is a rejection of an individual or group who are made in God’s image.
Also, from Genesis, we all descend from the same set of parents. “Then the man—Adam—named his wife Eve, because she would be the mother of all who live.” (3:20) This idea is reinforced during the time of the founding of the church. In Acts, Paul tells the Athenians, “From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth.” (17:26a)
Staying with Paul for a moment, he tells the Galatians, “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (3:28) This was a radical concept. Historically there had been enmity (prejudice) between Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews) for centuries. Within Paul’s world, slavery was common and slaves and free were not expected to run in the same circles. The same was true for women in his day. To the men, a wife was for procreation, a concubine was for show, and a prostitute was for pleasure. The expectation of a man’s wife was not to be seen. Paul’s statement was radical. We, as followers of Christ, have no basis for discriminating. None!
“In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.” Colossians 3:11
The Apostle Peter struggled with racism. When he finally came to realize that he was wrong, he stated, “I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism.” (Acts 10:34)
It’s nice to say that we are all equal, but God didn’t stop there. His love, shown through salvation, is available to everyone. “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” (Romans 5:8)
“The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.” (2 Peter 3:9)
Paul says, “Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him.” (Romans 10: 12).
Scripture is explicit that salvation is available to ALL (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:14; 1 Corinthians 12:13; 1 John 2:2; Acts 15:9; and, Matthew 28:19 where “nations” translates ethnos meaning people groups.).
With that said, what are we to do as Christ-followers? James is blunt in what he says, “But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law.” (2:9) “Favor” or “partiality” as some translations use, is the Greek word prosopolempsia, meaning to show favoritism or prejudice, or to treat one person inherently better than another. Prejudice IS sin.
So, how should I respond as a Christ-follower? Prejudice and racism occur when I look down on someone in order to make myself look better. I need to examine my own life, words, and heart to see if there is anything in my life that has a hint of bigotry. “If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realize that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.” (C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity) Father, I confess my pride.
But I need to go beyond introspection, I need to take initiative. “The only way to change bias is to change culture. You have to change what is acceptable in society. People today complain about politically correct culture, but what that does is provide a check on people’s outward attitude, which in turn influences how we think about ourselves internally. Everything we’re exposed to gives us messages about who is good and bad.” (Jennifer Richeson) Any time I see, hear, experience, or think that someone is less than me because of their color, ethnicity, or race, I must confess, confront, or expose the prejudice. Teach equality to the young, model it to all people, support every initiative that is Christ-honoring.
Additionally, I must be the church. We live in a broken world that only the love and acceptance of a good God will change. The church has the message, so it must be in the forefront of changing cultures and attitudes. There must not be a “hint” of prejudice found in the church, and I must do everything I can to see that there is no “hint.”
To my brothers and sisters who have felt the sting of prejudice from the church, I ask for your forgiveness. I ask for your help in exposing and correcting the sin. To my brothers and sisters who live in a world filled with hate, violence, neglect, and affronts to your humanity, I ask for your help so that we can walk shoulder to shoulder to expose and eradicate the sin. May it never be said of the church or of me that I am part of the problem, not part of the solution.