February 9 – Racism

February 9 – Racism

Galatians 5:14

“For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14)

Pride is a root cause of racism. And such a foolish pride, based on physical characteristics for which one has no responsibility. Probably pride of race, however, is based on cultural differences more than on the purely physical differences. We generalize from the very real, profound, and wide-ranging differences in culture to assume that the highly visible physical differences are an indispensable part of the group’s distinctives. Since people naturally prefer to associate with those whom they understand and with whom they agree, segregation in one form or another seems inevitable. Which natural affinity grouping may be legitimate and which is sinful thus becomes an abiding dilemma. It is the task of the Christian and the church to work at solving this dilemma with wisdom, compassion, and courage. Pride says, “Our way is the best way,” and then concludes that all other ways are inferior.

Ignorance extends this judgment to identify cultural patterns with skin color, and the observed behavior of some is generalized to characterize all in the group. “All Indians march in single file . . . at least the one I saw did.” So pride and the ignorance of faulty logic combine to divide and hurt.

In addition to pride and ignorant generalizing, fear is a major cause of racial and class strife, fear of the unknown. Patterns of segregation increase the ignorance of what the other group is really like, and the prior decision to view whatever it is like as inferior to “our way” creates an atmosphere of fear in which imagination has more influence than reality. Another fear is that of being hurt by “the enemy,” either through his deliberate antagonism or through being deprived of some real or potential benefit because of him. When one’s person, possessions, or position is put in jeopardy by someone else, fear, whether reasonable or not, begins to determine behavior. Fear can cause a member of a powerless minority to be just as racist in attitudes and actions as those who have the power to impose injustice. Thus pride and fear often combine with ignorance to produce the full range of attitudes and actions of racism, from inadequate love, through hatred and violence, to structured injustice and killing.

Some, like the late Tom Skinner, former leading black evangelical spokesman, say American racial problems are a white problem. There are at least two differing emphases among those who hold this view. Some hold that black and white are today reaping the whirlwind from the winds generated by America’s slaveholding forefathers. White attitudes and black behavior patterns, both destructive to the black, were created during 250 years of American slavery.

Later studies discount this and point to present social structures and personal attitudes as the problem.[3] This view sees high potential in African Americans but a potential from which most African-Americans are permanently barred by a tightly woven social fabric that begins with poverty and poor education leading to unemployment, low-paying jobs, and crime.

The conclusion reached by most American academic, media, and political leaders is that society, particularly white majority society, is responsible to change the environment. But another conclusion from the same theory of social conditioning holds the black person primarily responsible for his own deliverance; at least deliverance cannot be won without his participation. Charles Silberman, a strong advocate of black causes, holds this position: “The Negro will be unable to compete on equal terms until he has been able to purge from his mind all sense of white superiority and black inferiority—until he really believes, with all his being, that he is a free man, and acts accordingly. In this sense, therefore, only the Negro can solve the Negro problem. . . . If all discrimination were to end immediately, that alone would not materially improve the Negro’s position. The unpleasant fact is that too many Negroes are unable—and unwilling—to compete in an integrated society.”[4]

Whatever the perceptions and misperceptions, how did we get into the terrible impasse of blacks locked into ghettos of poverty, crime, unemployment, and disintegrating families, while white Christians don’t consider it a major problem? White Americans rated racism thirty-first among the problems facing the nation. . . . Yet blacks, in the same survey, said racism was the number one problem facing America.[5]

These grave black problems will not be fully solved by human wisdom and political actions, not only because of their vast complexity, but because the root problem is sin. Therefore, the church alone holds the solution, but the church has failed.

Note that we have dealt with America’s most severe racial problem, but that the principles involved apply equally to Jews, Native Americans, Hispanics, and all other ethnic groups who have been wrongly discriminated against. We must, however, work aggressively for unity in the body of Christ and labor together for the advance of Christ’s kingdom in which there is no barrier between white and black, high class and low class, male and female, rich and poor. Another evidence of racism in the church was the paternalistic, if not colonialist attitudes and relationships of many missionaries in the past. This has been replaced, in some instances, by a new racism, a nationalism that has given birth to antiwhite attitudes among some church leaders in non-Western nations. Either type of racism is unworthy of those who are called Christian.

The principles enunciated for racism in the American church apply just as much to the far more common worldwide problem of classism or making unchristian discrimination on the basis of a person’s social status. Tribal warfare across the continent of Africa, for example, and the caste system, which holds hundreds of millions of Indians in abject bondage, make the evil of racism in North America pale by comparison. Yet we are responsible, not for the sins of others, but for our own. And measured by the pain inflicted, racism in the United States is a grievous personal and social ill. [6] What can you do to love better?

[3] See Herbert G. Gutman, The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, 1750 to 1925 (New York: Pantheon, 1979) and Alex Haley, Roots: The Saga of an American Family (New York: Doubleday, 1979).

[4] Charles E. Silberman, Crisis in Black and White (New York: Random House, 1964), 12, 70.

[5] Mark Olson, “White Follies, Black Shackles,” The Other Side, June 1979, 16.

[6] Introduction to Biblical Ethics (IBE), Robertson McQuilkin, (2014), Inter-Varsity Press, 358-359.

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