- Keith Harris
Overcoming the Sin of Racism
The word “racist” certainly carries with it a negative connotation. Hatred and intolerance from one race toward another is not anything new to our society and culture. Since our country’s founding, there have been racial issues. Individuals, even groups of people, have believed that inherent differences between the races necessarily brings them to the conclusion that their own race is somehow superior to others. From this conclusion, movements toward control and domination over these perceived inferior races arise, leaving room for great conflict and strife for many people. And sadly, racism has been a part of many churches over the past century and a half.
Even in the early days of the ministry of Jesus, Nathaniel asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” A possible hint of racism? Maybe. But most all people agree that prejudice and racism are wrong, and for one reason: It is fueled by pride. C. S. Lewis said, “the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.” Pride deludes people into believing that they are superior to their fellow man. Why do we allow these thoughts and attitudes to enter our minds?
What is the danger in having a superiority complex? Are there subtle areas where we struggle being completely accepting and loving?
While these questions are difficult, we would do well to realize they must be addressed. Our world leads us to believe that everything revolves around us. As individuals, we are told we must look out for #1. But the heart of the New Testament message is the surrender of self, understanding that to be Christ-like is to be humble. Paul would say, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). Paul bases this exhortation upon the fact that Christ has set an example of humble servanthood for us. This is not an option for those claiming to be followers of Jesus. Note these familiar passages:
“…for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 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” (Galatians 3:26-28).
“What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one’” (Romans 3:9-12).
“So Peter opened his mouth and said: ‘Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him’” (Acts 10:34-35).
How do we respond? Clearly, the Bible teaches that we are all in the same boat. No person is any better, or more important, than another in the sight of God. All have been created in God’s image and are loved so much that God allowed his only son to die for them. Think about the imagery of Revelation 7:9-10, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” Does this encourage you? I hope it does. But it also ought to open our eyes to the reality that we are called to love not only God, but others also…all others, no matter the nation from which they come. Some may ask, “Should we fight against prejudice and racism in our social lives?” Perhaps. But not to the detriment of our witness.
So, what can we do to battle prejudice and racism? We need to understand that God is all loving. He loves us more than we can possibly imagine. He loves all others just as much as he loves us. And he calls us to love others as well. Jesus taught that loving God and loving others are the two commands from God upon which all the Law and Prophets hang. We need to see people through God’s eyes. When we see others through the eyes of God it allows us to understand just how precious they are. And we need to make a conscious effort to treat everyone equally. This can be quite a challenge. We often gravitate toward people that are just like us. This very real aspect of human nature contributes to our treating people differently. But if we are going to follow in the steps of Jesus, we must be diligent to treat everyone equally. The battle to overcome prejudice and racism is real. We must strive to be the salt and light we have been called to be. Jesus taught that if we are who we have been called to be, then others “will see [our] good works and give glory to [our] Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).