ReVision

Racism

It's been around for a long time.

Fleshly Winds (6)

Then the Jews answered and said to Him, “Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?” Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon; but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me.”
John 8.48, 49

A tenacious root
The 1949 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific, loosely-based on a novel by James A. Michener, was widely acclaimed when it was made into a film in 1958. Here was everything a post-war generation could like in a film. A love story unfolding around World War II heroism, set in an exotic south seas location, packed with likeable characters, and carried along by some of the finest music and lyrics ever. It appealed to Americans from Princeton, NJ, to Little Rock, ARK (as the postal code was at that time). It made you laugh, cry, and hope all at the same time.

But it made some people very angry because of its stance on racial equality.

In the story, a young lieutenant falls in love with a Polynesian woman. He knows this will go nowhere because his family in New Jersey is racially prejudiced. He is friends with a young nurse, who is also falling in love with a local French widower. But he has two Polynesian children from his first marriage, and the young nurse, from Little Rock, has a hard time coming to grips with this – much to the Frenchman’s disappointment and rage.

The lieutenant, Joe Cable, sings his anger and frustration in a song entitled, “You’ve Got to Be Taught.” He warns that racism is not something that arises naturally from within us; instead, he insists, we must be taught, carefully taught, to hate people simply because of the color of their skin or the shape of their eyes.

But once racial prejudice becomes planted in the soul, it can be difficult to eradicate. In times of rage or fear or self-righteousness, it will burst to the surface, like the mob that accused Jesus of being a “Samaritan.” Racism is among the ugliest, most dangerous, and most deadly ill winds; and it can easily find its way into the sails of our soul, if we are not careful to guard against it.

Racism defined
We hardly need a lesson on racism. Racism is not just an American problem. It has existed in every culture, among a wide variety of populations, and for political, cultural, social, and religious reasons for as long as anyone can remember. Racism is perhaps the most un-Godlike of ill winds, since it functions as the precise contradiction of how God describes Himself: “But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart’” (1 Sam. 16.7).

Racism is a particularly heinous ill wind, because it infects the soul in so many ways, creating suspicion, fear, hatred, self-justification, oppression, violence, and many other dangerous tendencies. It also becomes a convenient tool for denouncing and attacking one’s enemies. When the Jews of Jesus’ day sought to brand Him as a Samaritan, they were using racial categories to try to undermine His credibility and incite the people against Him. But those who tried to play the “race card” against Jesus only demonstrated their own inward wickedness, just as those today who loudly denounce their opponents as racists indicate the presence of such ill winds in the sails of their own souls.

Racism can become systemic in societies and cultures, such that institutions, laws, and social protocols reflect discriminatory and oppressive practices enforced by the status quo. We recall that the apostle Paul was seized, beaten, and arrested because he was alleged to have brought a Gentile into the temple court, thus showing how prejudiced and corrupt the practice of Hebrew religion had become in that day (Acts 21.26-31).

But racism is above all an ill wind in the soul. If people did not unfurl the sails of their soul into racist breezes, racism would quickly subside. But it is precisely because people prefer to look on the color of skin, the shape of eyes, and other ethnic markers to celebrate their own superiority at the expense of others that racism persists, and racist storms continue to wreak such havoc in cultures all over the world.

Problems with racism
For the Christian, racism impedes our calling to love God and our neighbors, and does so in four ways.

First, those who harbor racist sentiments show that they despise the image of God in their fellow human beings. God is so great and glorious, so vast and complex, so beautiful and awesome in His being and attributes, that it takes people of all races and both sexes to even begin to approximate the glories of His image. All people are made in the image of God, and are therefore deserving of respect and deference because of their potential in becoming more like Him. Racism blinds us to the image of God in our neighbors, and thus prevents us from loving Him and them.

Second, as previously noted, racism defeats the practice of looking on the heart of people, to appreciate their inherent worth and to affirm and encourage them from within. If we can’t get past the outward appearance of people, we’ll never be able to see into their eternal souls; and we won’t be much inclined to spend or be spent for their souls, either (2 Cor. 12.15).

Third, it’s clear that racism is a primary reason why there is such a shortage of neighbor love in our day. Racism causes us to look down on others with disdain, or at best, indifference. We’re forever crossing over to the other side of the road when the needs of people not like us are obvious on every hand. We end up despising those whom God has placed before us, that His love might reach to and heal.

Finally, racism contributes to the tribalization of Christianity, hiding behind the mask of denominationalism to conceal ungodly bias between Christians of different races.

Past generations – including Christians – have promoted racist views and justifications for injustice and oppression, and not just in the practice of slavery. European imperialism, contempt for immigrants, the ghettoizing of whole populations, and the denial of rights and liberties to select racial groups have all, at one time or another, been justified and vigorously defended by specious arguments from Scripture and natural law. Sadly, the Church has often led in promoting racist views, so let us make it our business to drive the ill wind of racism from the sails of our soul, and pursue the peace of Jesus with all peoples.

For reflection
1. Why is racism the most un-Godlike of ill winds?

2. How can you tell when racism is finding its way into the sails of your soul?
  
3. What practical steps can you as a believer take to combat the ill wind of racism?

Next steps – Preparation: Pray that God will show you what you can do to keep racism from blowing you off course with the Lord.

T. M. Moore

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
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