If you don't believe in God, racism is not a problem for you. If there is no god, racism is the extension of Darwin's theory of natural selection: The superior rises to supplant the inferior. Therefore, it is only natural that whatever race adapts to changing conditions will thrive, and other races will decline.
Most religions in the history of mankind were nationalistic, with implied racism. Each nation had its god or gods. A nation's gods were thought to favor them and stand against the enemies of the nation. War was a contest to see whose god was greater and thus whose race was superior. If you conquered a nation, you felt the freedom to enslave that nation because your god favored your race.
The first hint in human history that this was not right was a promise given to a man named Abraham. His God told him he would bless him and that all nations on Earth would be blessed by him. This was radical. A nation would not fight to prove the power of its god but would seek to bless other people, other races as a way to worship its God.
The nation that sprang from Abraham never fully embraced this. It was easier to be like every other nation and enslave the nations it conquered. The people Israel conquered were objects to be killed or property to be taken, as slaves. God tried to warn them this was a perversion of justice, but they would not listen. In God's ironic judgment, Israel was conquered and enslaved. But this did not break their ethnic pride. Jews were still referred to by people of other races as "dogs." You can figure out the modern slang equivalent.
Then came Jesus. He healed Jew and non-Jew alike. He did not advocate a violent rebellion against the hated Roman conquerors who occupied Palestine. He dared to say, "Love your enemies, do good to those who persecute you." He was the first person in history to say something that courageous, that radical.
Jesus made it clear that everyone, no matter his or her race, had the same problem: sin. Sin could not fix itself, so he would die on a cross and be raised from the dead to break the power of sin and bring us to new life, eternal life. To his followers, this meant they could never claim superiority over any other race, because everyone needed Jesus.
After Jesus ascended into heaven, it took a while for his followers to get how radical Jesus' kingdom was to be. They first told the good news to people just like them. Then the good news spread to Samaritans, who they despised. The good news broke out to people of different cultures, races, and by 60 AD, there were hundreds of small communities of Jesus followers who ate together, worshiped together and served together. They had different racial backgrounds, but they had one thing in common: They had all experienced the amazing grace of Jesus.
So why is racism a sin for Christians? Racism is the belief that I am better than you because I am a different race than you. This is a direct contradiction of the gospel. I cannot see myself as better than you because I am a sinner in need of grace like you. Even if you are different than me, believe different than me, hold values different than me, I am commanded by my Savior to love you. Last time I checked, refusing to do what God wants me to do is a sin. That sin must be confessed and forgiven.
The challenge of racism in our era is its cleverness. Sure, we have made progress. Schools are integrated, and there are no more signs over bathrooms and water fountains saying, "Whites only." But racism still lives in the dark corner of our souls when we see a person of another race and make a judgment about him or her based on the color of his or her skin. I must ask myself, "If a black man jogs by my house, do I feel threatened? If I do, what does that say about me?"
Racism only dies when people are willing to do the hard work of examining their own hearts. "Search me, O God, and know my heart See if there is any offensive way in me . (Psalm 139:23-24)." If God told you there was racism in your heart, would you listen? Would you confess it and ask for forgiveness?
Given the state of our nation, what would happen if all of us were brave enough to pray, "God, see if there is any offensive way in me." Only then would racism die. And it needs to die. In you. In me. Let it die.
The Rev. Dr. Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter.
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