I’m one of those people who takes the Bible seriously. Every word. I believe that I’m made of flesh and bone and sin, saved and redeemed by grace through faith.
When I attended a racial reconciliation forum in college, I wasn’t offended when Black students talked about white people’s racial bias. I was confused, because I hadn’t noticed any racism on campus, and I certainly believed that all people should be treated equally. But I didn’t argue my innocence, either, even internally.
Apparently racism is like every other sin—sneakier and more prevalent than I’d thought! From what I understood about sin, I was probably guilty one way or another.
I’d never even kissed a boy, but lust makes me an adulterer. It doesn’t make me like an adulterer–Jesus says it actually makes me guilty of adultery. I’d never punched anyone (little brothers obviously don’t count), but my anger and spite make me a murderer.
Some people think this is too extreme and will tell me to go to therapy. But it’s actually pretty freeing–my identity in Christ doesn’t falter in the face of my worst imperfections.
Anyways, if I’m already a murderer and adulterer, being racist isn’t much of a stretch. In fact, it fits perfectly with what I already know about my sinful self. “The heart is deceitful above all things,” so it was a safe bet that I was missing something. More importantly, a lot of my Black classmates were hurting, and I wanted to love them better. So I got to work.
A lifetime of Sunday school lessons, sermons, and Bible studies gave me a head-start on prayer, sexual purity, and the perils of secular worldviews. But I couldn’t remember a single sermon or study focused on racial reconciliation. (Vague allusions to loving and respecting all people weren’t specific enough to be helpful). I had to start with the basics.
To learn about godly dating, I listened to older Christian women and read a few books. To learn about racial justice, I listen to Black people (and others who are committed to racial reconciliation!) and read lots of articles and books. There are so many resources! Tons of Christian pastors are at the forefront of racial justice teaching and organizing. In fact, the entire concept of “racial reconciliation” is unapologetically centered on Christ.
Learning about racism is hard and uncomfortable, but it gets easier the more you do it. And good theology is very practical here. I won’t be hurt or angry if someone calls me “racist,” because what am I defending? My own self-righteousness?
Since Christ smashed my shame into smithereens, I’m not afraid of “saying the wrong thing” and making people angry at me. I know I’m going to “say the wrong thing” eventually, but I’m accustomed to asking for forgiveness and repenting. After all, I’m a Christian–I do that everyday already! I apologize, listen, and lean into my identity in Christ. I throw off shame and try to honor and learn from Black friends, writers, and speakers.
Do you believe Jesus’ assessment of your heart? Do you really believe you’re a sinner? If so, why do you think you’re completely free of racial bias? Racial reconciliation is love and justice–are you perfect in both?
Start listening, reading and studying, as you would with other sins and harmful cultural norms. Combatting racism and pursuing reconciliation is lifelong work–just like every other spiritual battle.
Pastors, Bible study leaders, parents–why aren’t you studying racial reconciliation with the souls entrusted to your care? I know from experience that the n-word is whispered in the halls of local Christian schools as students of color walk by. Racism is in our communities. Nobody likes talking plainly about greed, lust, or selfishness, either–but we do it. If we love people, we must talk about racism and how to turn towards love and justice together. Obedience to Christ requires it.
Ready to get started? Order Beyond Racial Gridlock by George A. Yancy and read the online article “The Sin of Racism” by Tim Keller.