This article is probably going to be the first in a short series on Racism in the church. I live and work in the Deep South, and racism is alive and well in the hearts of men and many churches. I have had the unfortunate opportunity to serve at a church where the issue has arisen and I have had to try to call the people to repentance. It is costing me my job as pastor here, but I have a great peace about this. God is good.
What is Racism?
In John Piper’s book Bloodlines he quotes this definition for racism:
“An explicit or implicit belief or practice that qualitatively distinguishes or values one race over other races”
This definition is simple, yet robust, and is what I will work from for the this article. Racism is a sin that manifests itself in different ways. These “explicit or implicit” beliefs or practices can work themselves in the lives and attitudes of people in countless ways. Some are easier to shepherd than others. While explicit racism can be more prominent in people’s lives, it is the job of the shepherd to pay attention to the implicit tones and attitudes of racism in his sheep as well.
Explicit racism will manifest itself in directly racist comments and actions. You won’t have to read between the lines to figure out the heart of your people who are explicitly racist. Some of these explicit forms of racism include:
- Regular Stereotypes
This person never has anything good to say about people of another race. They will refer to them as “those kind of people,” and use phrases like “you know how they are” because they assume everyone else thinks the same way they do. They may use racial slurs. They believe that other races pose a threat to their very way of life, and so they should be avoided. Any complement about a race or a person of another race has to be conditioned by “for a black person” or “for an white person.”
- Segregation in Relationships
This person has few or no meaningful relationships with people of other races. If they do have a relationship with someone of another race it is almost always forced upon them by some uncontrollable circumstance; like having to work together, or cooperating for business purposes. Other relationships they have with other races are going to be servantile in nature. They might have someone who cleans their house, or mows their grass, or does maintenance for them regularly and they refer to them as a “friend.” But in reality, if the person they call a friend was not working under them, then they would never have a relationship with them.
- Segregation in Society
This person believes that social organizations and gatherings should be segregated. This comes out in the mentality that certain churches are “black churches” and others are “white churches.” There will be places in the community where people congregate and spend time together. The explicit racist will not hesitate to tell you “this is where the whites come,” or “the blacks all meet over there.” This person will think that other races being in a place cheapen the experience, or make it trashy. If a beloved hangout has an influx of mixed races this person will talk about how it has “really gone down.”
Implicit racism can be picked up on in little comments here and there, or assumptions made by people. These tendencies aren’t as outgoing or abrasive as explicit racism, but they spew forth from the same sinful motivations and desires. So here are a couple types of implicit racism:
- Exclusive Assumptions
This person may not think that people of other races shouldn’t be included in social life or an organization, but they just assume that they will not want to. “I don’t think black people would want to come to our church if they have their own to go to.” This person may not intentionally exclude other races out of hatred or vile, but an assumption that people would rather be with their own race.
- Racial Blindness
This manifests itself in an inability to perceive the presence and need of other races. This person will genuinely not realize their racism until it is pointed out. Even then they will not believe it is racism, but it will make them uncomfortable. One example of this blindness is when someone insists, “There aren’t any children in this neighborhood.” When in reality there are a number of children of different races. What the person really means is, “There aren’t any (white/black) children in this neighborhood.” This person will be quick to identify needs of people of their own race and seek to meet those needs, but will be blind to the needs of other races.
The Importance of Identifying and Challenging Racism
It is important to realize racism when you see it. Racism is a cancer that festers in the hearts of men and corrodes society. If it is not challenged at every point, then it will continue to thrive. Racism is an assault on the dignity of creatures made in the Imago Dei (Image of God).
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
God created all people as image bearers. Yes, in our fallen sinful state that image is marred or poorly reflected. Racism denies the dignity of the image bearer. Racism is a slight against a holy God who created man and called His creation “Good.” And lastly, Racism is an hindrance to the gospel. When we view entire ethnicities as beneath us, we begin to consciously and unconsciously withhold the gospel from them. We deny them opportunities to hear the gospel, and we are unable to see them as worthy recipients. As a shepherd of God’s people it is a disqualifying offense to hold to racism and allow it to flourish in your flock. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said:
Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.
Look out for my next article in this series where I will discuss two main motivations that fuel racism. Until then…
Soli Deo Gloria