Sunday, July 15, 2012

Christians and Racism

Racism is generally defined as:
rac•ism \ˈrā-ˌsi-zəm also -ˌshi-\ noun
19331    : a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race
2    : racial prejudice or discrimination — rac•ist \-sist also -shist\ noun or adjective[1]
 That means that to apply certain characteristics (good or bad) to a person based on their race or ethnicity in order to explain success or failure, superiority or inferiority, or any other such comparison or to discriminate against a person based on those assumptions is racism. Racism goes far beyond black and white, racial discrimination or personal conflict with a person of another race or ethnicity. It is an attitude. More importantly, it is an unchristian and unbiblical attitude.

The Apostle Paul spends a great amount of time and effort calling out those who are guilty of ethnic prejudices and racism.  While the ethnic rivalry in his time and place was Jew vs. Gentile, the heart of the matter was the same as that we see today in regards to white vs. black or white vs. Hispanic or Hispanic vs. Asian (it changes from community to community in the US, but is primarily the first.)  One group of people (the Jews) were treating another group (the Gentiles) as inferior because of their race. In regards to this practice, Paul says:
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. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. [2]
Jesus Himself addressed racial and ethnic prejudice and bigotry on several occasions, as there was much animosity in His time between Jews and Samaritans: the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37), the woman at the well (John 4:4) and the thankful leper (Luke 17:7–19).

Christians are called to reflect Christ and to reflect His Kingdom while we are here on Earth.  The Kingdom of God includes people of all nations and ethnicities worshipping and working together. 
29 And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. 30 And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” [3]
This idea of a diverse Kingdom of God is also found in Revelation 5.

The New Testament frequently refers to the importance of the Gospel being for ALL people under ALL circumstances. John 3:16 says that Jesus was sent for the WORLD, not certain people of certain race, country or social status. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus states this same idea in His own words:
45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. [4]
This is further exemplified in Hebrews 2:9 and Revelation 14:6. If Jesus was sent for the whole world, it follows that God views all people as equally worthy of His salvation, love and grace.  We are all equal in God’s eyes and should not pride ourselves to try to argue that we are better than any other person or group of people.
Paul says that “26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. [5]”  Again in Ephesians 2:11-22 he addresses the issue of unity in Christ, regardless of race. Colossians 3:11 is another expression of Paul’s conviction that Jesus asks His followers to treat one another as an equally valuable member of the Kingdom.
In Romans 2:11, Paul says that “God shows no partiality.” Ephesians 6:9 reiterates that God shows no partiality. All people are on equal footing in His eyes.  God sees people not as black, white, male, female, old, young, rich or poor, but only as followers of Christ or not. If a Christian is to truly reflect Christ and see the world through His eyes, it is with this same impartiality that those around them must be seen and treated and talked about. In fact, James 2:1 says exactly that: “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.[6]

We are all God’s children deserving of the same opportunities and respect. We are asked to treat all Christians, regardless of their ethnic background, as brothers and sisters in Christ and to reach out with love and Gospel to those who have not yet received Jesus as head of their lives.  This does not just include what we say to a person’s face, but how we treat them in our heart of hearts.  It is a heart and soul issue, not just a matter of manners or social conduct. 1 John 4:20 shares some very strong words about how a Christian should love all those around them.

When a Christian person speaks or acts out in bias, partiality or resentment about another person for any reason, it is a poor reflection of Christ and can even prevent non-believers from wanting to have anything to do with Jesus and His followers.
Racism, or for that matter, prejudice of any kind, is totally inappropriate for God’s children. Here is a quote from Henlee Barnette, who spoke at a forum at Glorieta, New Mexico for the Christian Life Commission in 1964.“Racism is heretical because it is unbiblical and unchristian, not to mention unscientific.”This problem gives Christians the opportunity to show their Christlike love, forgiveness and understanding to a lost world. Christian refusal in this area shows immaturity and is an opportunity for the evil one to retard the believer’s faith, assurance, and growth. It will also act as a barrier to lost people coming to Christ.[7]
How have you seen racism and diversity handled well or poorly in your church or neighborhood? How do non-Christians perceive the way Christians handle issues of ethnicity? Have you been turned off from the church because of issues of racism or other intolerance (real or perceived)? When have you been a victim of racism? Have you been confronted with racism of your own? I want to hear your stories and thoughts on this.  

[1] Merriam-Webster, I. (2003). Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary. (Eleventh ed.). Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc.
[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Ga 3:28–29). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Lk 13:29–30). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Lk 24:45–47). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Ga 3:26). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Jas 2:1). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[7] Utley, R. J. (2001). Vol. Vol. 1A: How it All Began: Genesis 1–11. Study Guide Commentary Series (113–114). Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International.

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