What is Racism and What Can Christians Do About It?

At this point in history, it is universally recognized inside and even outside the church that racism is a sin. This is a good thing, but it is sadly not the end of the issue. There are now two definitions of racism, one of which is Biblically sound, while the other is a dangerous lie.

The first, classical, definition of racism is hatred or prejudice towards someone, based on their ethnicity. It’s easy to establish that racism is a sin using this definition; the Bible clearly says that hating people is a sin (1 John 3:15), no matter why you hate them.

There is another definition of racism, however, that has been gaining credence in the culture; that racism is prejudice plus power. By this definition, hating someone based on their ethnicity is only wrong if the hateful person has power. In the worldview of those who espouse this definition, it should be noted, only members of ethnic majorities have power, and they always have this power, regardless of their actual circumstances. This idea of sins that can only be committed by the powerful is completely alien to Scripture. What is sin for the powerful is sin for the powerless as well. What is sin for someone in the majority is sin for someone in the minority as well (Romans 2:9-11). This definition is nothing but partiality, because it holds people to different standards based on their ethnicity. For that reason, this definition is sinful (James 2:9).

Only the classical definition of racism fits with scripture. Hating someone for any reason is sin, whether you have power or not. The minute you start making excuses for hatred, you are sinning against both the person being hated and the one doing the hating. You sin against the one being hated, by being partial against him and you sin against the person doing the hating by not calling him to repentance. 

Now that we know what racism is, biblically speaking, what do we do about it?

First, we should call it what it is: hatred. The label of racism is too vague to be of help today; one definition is fine, but the other is very wrong. If we need to be more specific we can call it ethnic hatred, but we must keep in mind that the ethnic element is not what makes it sinful; the hatred is.

Second, we must preach the Gospel. Hatred, like any sin, begins in the heart. Because of this, no law can eradicate it. That much should be uncontroversial; murder is illegal, but people still do it. Likewise, social activism isn’t up to the task of changing hearts either. No amount of browbeating and denunciation will change a sinful heart. The best that either legislation or social activism can hope to achieve is the suppression of some of the actions that flow from a sinful, hating heart. Only God can change a sinful heart and take out the hatred and replace it with love. The Apostles did not approach Roman brutality with social activism, but with love and the message of repentance. We must do the same.

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