Is racism really a sin? The question is unassuming of a uniform answer in practice. Many brothers and sisters in Christ maintain a general idea of the correct answer, but we fail to fully grasp the specific implications of it.
We know that racism is direct or indirect prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism against someone of a different race – based on conscious, or subconscious, beliefs that one’s own race is superior. We also know this is prideful and a direct contrast to a belief in the imago dei (Genesis 1:26–27).
But the recent controversies at the Southern Baptist Conventionindicate our lack of understanding when exploring the specific implications of racism.
If this comes across sharply, it is not the intention to condemn. The intention is, however, to be straightforward for the sake of brevity and challenging ambiguous thinking.
There is no desire to make any brothers or sisters feel weighted by guilt and shame. We serve a God who is forgiving and has removed all shame by the sacrifice of his son Jesus.
Treating It With Invisibility
I’m sure you have been part of many Bible studies, men’s 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 are putting the Bible down when dealing with racism. In fact, many don’t even deal with it. We act as if it doesn’t exist. We are instead 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 news stations, columnists, and pop stars first. Then we begin inserting Bible verses or speaking broadly about it with “Christianized” verbiage – 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 numbs many Christians. Instead of entering spaces of vulnerability for the sake of growing a relationship, we avoid and neglect deep relationships. 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 Anyiwable 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 says,
“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.”
The anecdote for fear of offending is the gospel. The anecdote 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 (Isaiah 53:5).
Ethnicity Is Not Ultimate
Part of getting over our fear to offend is celebrating, realizing, and respecting our identities. Our ethnicity is just as much a part of our identity as our eye color, hair texture, and height – we do cannot take it off. We should enjoy and celebrate each other’s differences while remembering that ethnicity is not ultimate.
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 a failing to understand the implications of the gospel.
Preference Over Corporate Worship
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 (Ephesians 2:14–16).
Some Christians that are black don’t want to go to “white” churches only because of difference in style. Christians that are white don’t want to go to specific churches mainly because the lack of programs. Many white brothers and sisters gladly welcome Christians that are black into their congregation, but have no interest in stepping foot in a primarily “black” congregation.
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 (Philippians 2:2–3). In future glory we will be praising God in unison with people of all colors, styles, and cultural backgrounds (1 Timothy 2:4; Revelation 7:9–10).
Would you walk out of worship service in the presence of the beautiful Almighty because there were too many people that didn’t look like you there?
Would you reject worshipping God face to face because you didn’t like the style of music played in his presence?
Would you reject his command and invitation to rest in him because there are no programs that fulfill your preferences?
Do you believe God is bigger and better than your preferences?
Some may seem 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. A little progress and 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.
But distancing ourselves from the broad and specific issues of racism because we see things as better now than the 1960s is contrary to what is true. Racism, especially here in America, is still an issue. There may be biases towards people we were raised with and are unaware of that are racist and sinful.
So instead of minimizing or trembling in fear over it, we should always be fighting sin – no matter what it looks like – including racism.