1. Racism is not a social problem with sin implications, it is a sin issue with social implications.
2. Racism is rooted in all attempts to consider another individual or group inferior to ourselves (whatever the reason, race is only one feature which may be utilized)) that we might consider ourselves superior in some way.
3. Racism then is ultimately just one manifestation of pride.
4. A profound example in Scripture is in Matthew 18:1–14 (ESV) — 1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
NOTE: The issue here was the seeking of greatness (superiority) over others, who by default must be considered inferior. Whether the inferiority rests in race, ability, gifting, intellect, etc., it all springs from the same mechanism. So we will see it raise its head again when the mother of James and John seeks position for them at Jesus’ right hand. The rest are upset because it raises the inferiority/superiority dynamic.
So how does Jesus address this?
2 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3 and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus completely changes the category of what constitutes greatness. And it has nothing to do with superiority or inferiority in terms of comparison one to another. His use of a child in this case is very important.
Children manifest their sin in all sorts of ways from the get-go. But there is one area they do not venture into until they get older and observe others: While they will crave and seek for attention and love, they are not mindful that they somehow DESERVE that love or attention as opposed to anyone else. They may be jealous that someone else has the love and attention (or whatever else it is they desire) instead of themselves, but they have no sense that they deserve it because they are superior to an inferior. This is what Jesus is driving at. It grows out of the Apostles’ arguing among themselves.
What about these children? A. Being great in the Kingdom isn’t even on their radar screen. And neither ought it to be on ours. B. The child was set in their midst by another, not by himself. C. The child is humble. Not assuming he or she has anything to add, but looking to be added to.
1. Greatness in the kingdom is irrelevant, when entrance into the kingdom is still in question. Unless we are humbled to the point of absolute dependence, we will not even be IN the kingdom. So, wrong question.
2. In fact, greatness in the kingdom is a matter of one’s realization of need of grace. Those are greatest in God’s eyes, (not man’s) who know their need the most, and look only to Him.
Apart from a concept of grace and undeservedness, racism and all forms of the superiority/inferiority dynamic will be present.
It was this way even in the Garden. Confronted with his sin, Adam immediately blameshifts to Eve, implying her inferiority as the cause of his error. Sexism. Eve in turn see the serpent as the inferior and more to blame – (angelic speciesism?) And so we still look to some inferior as the cause of our woes, in order to protect our self-image of superiority.
I recently watched a series of interviews with men on death row for all kinds of heinous crimes. But each referred to others who were inferior to them, and cemented their superiority. So a multiple murderer says “at least I’m not a pedophile.” And a man who freely admitted he murdered his cell-mate in order to get on death row because he would have a private cell and better food, declared – “but I’m no liar.”
Now so wicked is this impulse that Jesus then goes on to say: 5 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.
In other words, Jesus considers this superior/inferior dynamic so wicked, that to incite that way of thinking into children would result in that it would be better never to have been born. Any foray into this line of thinking is not just wrong, it is a gross abomination. Hence: Romans 12:3 (ESV) — 3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
So you have “giftism” in 1 Corinthians. Classism in James. “Positionsim” in the Apostles. Doctrinism, Denominationalism (not mere denominations), Politicism (the Left see the Right as inferior and vice versa), Opinionism (anyone proffering a different point of view is inferior), Racism in Acts 7, and so on and so on.
None of this is to say that some ideas and understandings, etc. are superior not to others. Not all views or statements or beliefs are equally viable, valuable or true. We do not throw away those right and proper distinctions. Some things are wrong. Untrue. And some people are wrong about them. Ignorant, deceived, confused or simply in error.
But it is to say that when we move from debate about ideas, truth, beliefs, etc., to making another person somehow less valuable as a human being because of those very real differences – this is where our particular “ism” raises its ugly head. And so Politicism, those on the right actually denigrate the humanity of those on the Left and vice versa. It is the denigration of their humanity so that we make them somehow less human or a lesser human that we are – where this all comes together. Ethnicity and color is just one manifestation of the same mechanism.
No portion of Scripture treats this problem more fully and precisely than does the book of James. If you can read that letter and come away looking at anyone as less than yourself for any reason – you are still lost in the gall of iniquity. The moment we cross over into pronouncing other as fundamentally less – we tread into dangerous territory for our souls.
And how grievously evident this has become even in Christian discourse in our day. If any who profess Christ, see nothing of this root of pride from which the racist branch grows in ourselves – we are at best self-deceived, and at worst – and more likely – liars.
If everything is not of grace, and I deserve anything as opposed to anyone else – I will gravitate toward my superiority and their inferiority and latch on to whatever is easiest to identify them as inferior. And my inferiors then become the scapegoat for all of my ills. Not my fallenness in Adam.
Racism is the laziest of the manifestations of the wickedness of this pride. It has no basis at all, other than I rise to the level of considering myself the norm by which all others must be judged, rather than Jesus being the norm by which I am judged.
In short – Racism is one of the primary ways we choose most to avoid our own guilt and sinfulness and taking full blame for it upon ourselves. And thus it could not possibly be any more antithetical to the Gospel. It is the crudest form of self-justification.
There is no curing of racism apart from the curing of pride.
And there is no curing of pride without the following elements:
1. Humble acknowledgment of my personal utter ruin, guilt and sin before God.
2. Humble submission to God’s sole means of righteousness, the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ by faith.
3. Humble submission to the truth of God’s Word concerning our common origin and corruption in Adam, and common salvation in Christ alone.
4. The total repudiation of all personal merit before God, and all imagined superiority over others dissolved in the revelation of each human being as an image bearer of our creating God.
5. Absolute acknowledgment that sin is such, that the same substitutionary death of Jesus on the cross was necessary for me, if I alone were to be saved, and necessary and sufficient for all who would be saved. No more and no less for one, any or all.
6. A constant spirit of repentance from the adoption of superiority or inferiority paradigms in my view of and interaction with all other human beings.
7. Realization that the standard for determining the norm for humanity is not comparison with one another – least of all myself – but Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God.
8. A settled conviction that I will one day stand before the Living God to give an answer for myself in respect to these realities.