Is racism a sin?

There is so much talk about racism but is racism a sin? A friend suggested that it is.

But what does the Bible have to say about that?

I do not aim to be politically correct in this article and will discuss openly about the issues of race. There are three incidents I can recall that may demonstrate some degree of controversies about racism as seen in the Bible:

  • A Canaanite woman approached Jesus because her daughter was severely oppressed by a demon. His disciples suggested to Jesus to send her away. Jesus then explained to her that he was ‘sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’. But instead, she knelt down in desperation and pleaded with Jesus. Jesus’ next remark would have made headlines today – He practically equated the Canaanites as ‘dogs’ when he said ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs’ (Matt 15:26).

It is true that during that time, Jews considered themselves as the ‘chosen ones’ or the special children of God and all others (that is, non Jews) as ‘dogs’. And Jesus’ reply was challenging her faith rather being ‘racist’. Jesus was, as the late American theologian Albert Barnes wrote, in effect saying, “You are a Gentile; I am a Jew. The Jews call themselves children of God. You they vilify and abuse, calling you a dog. Are you willing to receive of a Jew, then, a favor? Are you willing to submit to these appellations to receive a favor of one of that nation, and to acknowledge your dependence on a people that so despise you?”

But the matter is still the same, Jesus addressed the Canaanites as dogs and in our current culture, that is a taboo.

  • Peter arrived early at the church of Galatia. He was initially eating comfortably with a group of Gentiles. But when other Jewish Christians arrived from Jerusalem, Peter decided to segregate himself, fearing what how the new arrivals would react. It took the confrontation of the Apostle Paul to straighten up the affairs (Gal 2:11-14). Was the Apostle Peter a racist in the context of this struggle? Remember, this was the same Peter that could not bring himself to eating ‘unclean’ food. In Acts 10:14, Peter explained, ‘No Lord, I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.’
  • There is yet a third reference. A Cretan prophet had called out his own people with these unpleasant and sharp words of rebuke, addressing them as ‘liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.’ Paul’s comments? ‘This testimony is true. Therefore, rebuke them sharply that they may be sound in the faith ….’ (Titus 1:12-13). Paul did not politely skirt the comments with positive affirming languages but went to the heart of the matter. There was no PCness in his speech.

What do you think will happen if one of the prophets of our days was to stand up and rebuke a certain race for being ‘good at speech but weak in practice’? How would the press react? What would our wokes be telling us?

Yet, heaven as we know it, is for people of all races, ethnicities, and languages. Rev 7:9 reads, ‘After this I looked and behold a great multitude that no one could number, from EVERY NATION, from ALL TRIBES and PEOPLES, and LANGUAGES, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands.’

Heaven belongs to ALL races. And Paul did say in Rom 10:12 that ‘there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.’ In Gal 3:26, Paul explained that ‘in Christ Jesus you are ALL sons of God through faith.’

Why does racism take place? Because, according to Frederic Christie, we all have an inherent need to belong and to be tribal. Hence, we form tribes of finite sizes, whether it be ethno-racial, national, economic-socio strata, religious, gangs or even gender orientation. Of course, we can be in several of these groups at any one time.

These groups provide us psychological benefits to define who we are and what we value as a people. It simplifies our lives.

The other thing that we have is that our brains seek out differences, and race allows us to draw simple stereotypes; like ‘Asians are bad drivers’,‘Blacks are good at basketball’ or ‘Maoris have a warrior spirit.’

The downside of tribalism, of which racism is a subset, is that it can bring about arrogance and an unwillingness to see the good in other people who are different. Like the way that Americans think democracy is the best thing after sliced bread and should be adopted by all nations of the free world to the extent that they consider it an affront for people who challenge that concept; Americans even went to war to propagate their values.

Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan is an amazing response to tribalism and racism. We read in Luke 10:29-37 the following:

  • A Jewish man, let us called him Yoel, was going from Jerusalem to Jericho,
  • Yoel was robbed, stripped and beaten to the point that he was half dead,
  • A priest (Jewish religious person of the highest order) saw him but decided to pass him by ON THE OTHER SIDE (How easy it is to ignore the problem that is in front of us).
  • A Levite (a religious person not in the same vein as the priest) did exactly the same – he went to the OTHER SIDE as well (in other words, he saw it but it was too troublesome to assist),
  • Finally, a Samaritan (a race which is hugely despised by the Jews.), rose above hatred, bigotry and prejudices and instead chose mercy and compassion for the badly injured Yoel and ‘bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.’ And then he went beyond just bandaging him up …. He took him to a safe place, gave the innkeeper a substantial amount paid and asked him to take good care of Yoel, promising the innkeeper that there was insufficient money, he would top that up on his return. The Samaritan did not even justify his action; he just went about carrying out his tasks even though it was way beyond the expectations of anyone.

Countering tribalism and racism is not a matter of words and even marches. These are actions that we can all take in our personal capacity.

It means going out of our way to meet the needs of people who may be diametrically different from us – whether it be ethno-racial, national, economic-socio strata, religious, gangs or even gender orientation.

Is it a sin? James 2:9 did say that ‘If you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.’ Of course, the context that James highlighted was around the issue of wealth (paying attention to someone who wears fine clothing). So, by inference based on ‘partiality’, the implied answer is yes.

Is rebuking of a race or a people incorrect? It does not seem so. The Bible is not politically correct and challenges our woke and easily offended culture. We should all be less wokish when dealing with innocuous truthful racist statements.

Is it something we can do? Yes absolutely, because Jesus said in Luke 10:37 – ‘You go, and do likewise.’

PS: Writing this article obviously challenges even my own mindset. I must remember NOT TO WALK ON THE OTHER SIDE in order to skirt the issue. A problem that I can resolve and which appears in front of my eyes must be addressed by me personally.. I don’t have much excuses.

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