By Timothy Thomas
We’re quick to call racism a sin, but we tend to treat it differently than other sin. Instead of dismissing, minimizing or trembling in fear over racism, we should fight to kill it like we do all sin.
It is commonplace for Christians to agree that racism is a sin. Regardless of your race, denomination or background, you will probably agree with this idea in theory.
We can define racism. We know that it is direct or indirect prejudice, discrimination or antagonism against someone of a different race. We know it is based on conscious, or subconscious, beliefs that one’s own race is superior. And we can say this is prideful, contrasting a belief in the imago dei (Gen. 1:26–27).
Yet recent behavior from Christians communicates otherwise. The recent controversies at the Southern Baptist Convention, the responses to the Philando Castile outcry and the insensitive comments people make about these situations, regardless of where you land on the matter, makes you wonder if we really do believe racism is a sin.
We’re quick to call it a sin, but we tend to treat it differently than other sin. It seems we often view it as a lesser sin, put it in its own category of sin or treat it like a nuclear substance and stay away from it at all costs. All these responses are wrong.
Treating It With Invisibility
I’m sure that many of you have been part of many Bible studies, community groups and discipleship programs that do not include racism as part of the routine assessment of sin.
Other sins are mentioned and explored in detail: pride, greed, slothfulness, temptation, lust, marital infidelity, anger, self-righteousness. Racism, however, is hardly—if ever—included in the regular inventory of sin.
Modern American churches put the Bible down when dealing with racism. In fact, many don’t even deal with it. We act as if it doesn’t exist. Some of us end up conceding to mainstream culture and government to lead the way.
And when we are forced to acknowledge it, it’s usually brought to our attention by social media, news stations, columnists and pop stars first. Then we begin inserting random Bible verses or speaking broadly about it—if we speak about it all.
Afraid to Offend
We avoid talking about the sinful issue of racism because we are deathly afraid of conflict. Encountering conflict intimidates many Christians. Since our vertical relationship with God and our horizontal relationships with one another are fractured and damaged because of the Fall, we tend to avoid and neglect deep relationships instead of entering spaces of vulnerability for the sake of relational and personal growth. We are afraid we might be wrong or offensive.
So, instead of regularly addressing racism as a sin, we completely avoid the discussion to maintain a sense of “normalcy.”
Thabiti Anyabwile essentially said one of the reasons we find it difficult to address racism is the over-sanitization of the topic. The fact that people recoil from wanting to be called a racist is a sign of God’s grace where it used to be respectable. He also said, “Along the way many Christians have been so afraid of the label (of racist)…and the implications, they don’t want to have the conversation. But the gospel frees us to joyfully admit our sins…to tell the truth about our hearts…because that’s when we find help.”
We should enjoy and celebrate each other’s differences while remembering that ethnicity is not ultimate.
The antidote for fear of offending is the gospel. The antidote for fear of having a negative label attached to our names is the good news that “by Jesus’ stripes we are healed” and stripped of our negative labels (Isa. 53:5).
Ethnicity Is Not Ultimate
Part of getting over our fear to offend is celebrating, realizing and respecting our ethnicities. Ethnicity is just as much a part of who we are as our eye color, hair texture and height—we cannot take it off. We should enjoy and celebrate each other’s differences while remembering that ethnicity is not ultimate. After all, this is the picture we see in Revelation 7:9, where people of every tribe, tongue and nation are worshiping the Lord together forever and ever.
However, if we prefer to be with or only listen to people who look like us to avoid discomfort more than we seek unity in the gospel, we are failing to understand the implications of the gospel. As we see in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
The Pridefulness of Progress
Some may be tempted to think this discussion is useless because of all the “progress” we’ve made. Progress has been achieved, but it is not the destination. It is—progress.
Be encouraged and do not mask your discomforts in the pridefulness of “progress.” Pride is suppressing our sin and boosting our successes. It fuels the lie that our sin is small enough to handle and that we are the reason for our successes. It leverages our progress enough to deceive us that sin is absent.
Sin, however, is always lurking around the corner of progress. Sometimes it is the cause of it. After a little progress, we are tempted to kick up our feet, trust in ourselves and forget there is a battle still raging in our hearts and in our communities.
It is a tragedy to believe that since things are better than they were 50 years ago, we should distance ourselves from the pervasive issues of racism. Racism, especially here in America, is still an issue, whether it’s explicit or subtle biases and opinions we may have toward certain races. Until Christ comes back to make all things new, there will always be systematic and individual racism given the presence of sin in our hearts and in our world.
Giving Up Preference for Unity
The gospel implies that we set aside our preferences for the sake of unity. But preference seems to be the church’s modern-day dividing wall of hostility (Eph. 2:14–16).
Some Christians who are black don’t want to go to “white” churches only because of difference in style. Christians who are white don’t want to go to specific churches mainly because the lack of programs. Many white brothers and sisters gladly welcome Christians who are black into their congregation but have no interest in stepping foot in a primarily “black” congregation.
While being called a racist can be offensive and scary because we know the beastly ugliness it is associated with, it’s not the worst thing that can be said about you.
Because we may be a minority, or a church may not fit our preferences, we must not run from one another. Our pursuit of unity is a pursuit of the kingdom of heaven (Phil. 2:2–3). In future glory, we will be praising God in unison with people of all colors, styles and cultural backgrounds (1 Tim. 2:4; Rev. 7:9–10).
When we were saved by grace through faith, we were saved from all our sin—even the parts we were unaware of. We were also saved from the scary parts of our hearts. While being called a racist can be offensive and scary because we know the beastly ugliness it is associated with, it’s not the worst thing that can be said about you. The worst thing that could be said to you is, “depart from me,” from the lips of Jesus (Matt. 7:23).
And since we don’t have to be fearful, we can also let go of preferences and stop elevating the color of our skin, types of churches and subtle biases we feel most comfortable associating with. God is the creator of diversity. We are free to celebrate it.
So instead of dismissing, minimizing or trembling in fear over racism, let’s fight it. Let’s fight to kill racism as if our lives depended on it. Fight to kill it like we do all sin (Rom. 8:13).