Racism: Towards a Biblical Response
The video of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery being gunned down while running on a quiet Georgia road is sickening—the 36-second video made me want to vomit. After a few minutes, the wave of nausea passed but the empty feeling in my stomach and heart lingered. And still lingers. It should trouble all of us that a young man, out for a run and who committed no crime, was murdered in broad daylight by two men who assumed the worst. For those who say, “Well, we don’t know all the facts”—spare me, especially if you consider yourself a Christian.
Like other issues, most people will fall on one side or the other, each launching verbal grenades over the line, hoping to convince another of their position. That is a best-case scenario. The reality is far uglier than most are willing to admit—we are deeply selfish people who care more about our opinions than our brothers and sisters. And, instead of owning up to this, we veil our selfishness under the guise of convictions and principles. So, by the time we interact with someone else, we typically are more resolute in our opinions and less likely to listen intently and discuss critically. From there, the line between civility and cruelty is razor thin.
By God’s grace, I have been in pastoral ministry for almost 10 years. In that time, I have preached and taught hundreds of times, and had countless conversations with a diverse group of people. Political science is not my area of expertise, and while I have opinions on a variety of issues, I typically avoid sharing them. And, to be honest, I am still figuring out if that is more helpful or harmful. As a pastor my job is to preach God’s Word, speak the truth in love, equip the saints for ministry, and love God’s people in word and deed. You do not need my opinions—there are plenty of those! But you do need the truth of God’s Word, and there are times when a shepherd must speak out against issues that threaten the sheep.
The murder of Armaud Arbery will reignite the debate about racism, and the subsequent responses will stoke the flames of division. For God’s people, we have a unique opportunity to both condemn injustice and be peacemakers—our response is a “both/and”, not an “either/or”.
Hear me well: racism is not just a political issue; it is also a spiritual one.
Hear me well, again: racism of any kind (spoken, written, joked about, etc.) stands opposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and is incompatible with Christianity.
In its simplest definition, racism can be understood as prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism against a person (or group of people) based on the underlying belief that one’s own race is superior. The expression of racism may be explicit and public, or it may be subtle and private—both are equally condemnable and have no place in the life of the Christian or the church. Here’s why (this list is not exhaustive):
1. God created ALL human beings in His image (Genesis 1:26-27; Proverbs 22:2; James 3:9)
a. Racism tragically disparages the image of God in another person. You, me, and everyone else are God’s handiwork—every person, regardless of their skin color, heritage, or ethnicity, were uniquely and intimately formed by God. Each person has inherent value and is a reflection of God.
b. Because all human beings are created in God’s image, we have a responsibility to respect all human life. Being pro-life is not just about defending the rights of the pre-born; rather, it is defending the rights of ALL human beings. We need to uphold the sanctity of human life—abortion is murder but so is the unjust killing of another human being. Brothers and sisters in Christ, we can (and should) condemn both in equal measure.
2. God judges ALL human beings without partiality (Jeremiah 9:25-26; Acts 10:34; Romans 2:1-16; Romans 3:21-23; Colossians 3:25)
a. The tragedy of racism, in part, is that it elevates one group of people at the expense of another. The Scriptures remind us that all humans are deeply flawed and sinful—there is not a person, apart from Jesus Christ, who can claim to be better than another. The irony, of course, is that the One who could make this claim, didn’t; instead, He laid down His life for flawed, sinful people (you and me). None of us have a claim to superiority—to a person, we all need intervention to fix our situation.
b. Make no mistake, sin will be judged once and for all—a time is coming when the Lord will judge righteously. Until then, it is not our responsibility to put ourselves in the place of God. We have the privilege of preserving life, not the right to take it arbitrarily. We are heralds of the Gospels to the ends of the earth—not judge, jury, and executioner of justice however we see fit.
3. God offers salvation to ALL human beings without partiality (Genesis 13:14-18; Jonah 1-4; Matthew 28:16-20; John 3-1-21; John 4; Acts 1:1-10; Romans 10:5-16; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, Ephesians 2:1-22)
a. Our spiritual condition is such that God sent His Son—a much-needed Savior—to secure salvation for otherwise helpless sinners. This gift is available to ALL who turn from their sin and trust in Christ. The tragedy of racism is, at its core, works-righteousness—a belief that salvation can be secured through our own doing. In this case, “our own doing” is skin color. As Christians, we are saved by God’s grace—that is it! Even the faith required for salvation is a gift of God (see Ephesians 2:1-10). Racism is not just a denial of the image of God, it is also a tacit disregard for the Gospel itself.
b. Because salvation is extended to all, the Great Commission comes into much clearer focus. The instruction to make disciples is given to all Christ-followers, and frankly is directly incompatible with racism—we cannot go to all the nations if we despise them. Our primary citizenship is in God’s Kingdom and our primary allegiance is to King Jesus (see Philippians 1:27-28), and these truths bring freedom and hope. King Jesus does not discriminate—He welcomes all of us to repent of our sin and trust in His work.
We all need time for self-examination and reflection, asking the Lord to search our heart for sinful areas. Racism cannot be negotiated or reasoned with. Confess. Repent. Trust. Go and sin no more (consider 1 John 1:9-10).