Race and Racism Reflection
“Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’” Acts 17:21-28
When we begin with God, the only conclusion that we can come to is all people, everywhere, in all times, are equally and deeply loved by God as His creation; that before God there is no hierarchy of persons; and that any other presentation of personhood is opposed to God’s truth. Simply put, there is only the human race. Yes, there are distinctions between persons and people, but we are all human together.
Yet, this hierarchy of persons has deeply woven its way throughout human history. The conversation around race and racism begins there. European colonization and exploration created the framework for race and division of persons. Race, in short, is a social construct, not a biological distinction nor is race a biblical principal. We have hyper-authorized the social construct of race to divide persons over truth.
Even how we approach race and racism has changed over time. There were days when racism focused on the abolition of slavery. Other seasons in history, race was about integration in schools and equality of opportunity. Interestingly enough, people who identify as white and people of color differ about how race and racism are approached.
Much of the conversation today surrounding race and racism is phrased as systemic or systematic racism. Yet, for as many people who say there are systems of racial oppression in the United States there are loud voices that deny such systems to be true.
With such fluctuation, how do we deal with race and racism? We must re-center on what is true: God, God’s word, and God’s way for the world. When we do that, we see that racism is destructive to the witness of God in the world.
First, racism hurts our relationship with God. When we hold onto our racial identity as “the thing” that most defines us, we are idolaters. Idolatry puts anything else before God—my hobby, my preference, my nationality, my culture—anything else that defines you before you identify as following Jesus is an idol to you. God tells us to put nothing before Him in order of importance and significance.
Second, racism estranges the household of God. Jesus describes the Church as being a family. When we allow racism to direct our way, whether individually or systemically, we operate the church as broken and estranged family. Jesus says it is our unity and love for one another that will tell the world we are his followers. Racism breaks the family of God.
Third, racism deforms your spiritual growth. You may have a lot figured out in the way of Jesus, but when you see yourself or your race as better than another’s race or personhood, we are not living with the mind of Christ, which Paul describes in Philippians 2 as the way we “consider others more highly than we consider ourselves.”
Finally, racism kills the church’s witness in the world. In “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. writes, “But the judgement of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.”
Those words are striking and hard to hear. However, some 50 years since his assignation, King’s words seem to have been incredibly prophetic for our day and age as the church’s witness in the world becomes less and less.
Here is a helpful tool of reflection that I came across a few months back from Dr. David Campt. Dr. Campt uses the acronym R.A.C.E. to help people process through what each is learning in the conversation:
- How do you understand race?
- How did you come to this conclusion? What stories or experiences shaped your thinking?
- Do you agree or disagree with Jeremy’s reflection on race? Why or why not?
- Which is harder to process: personal racism or systemic racism?
- What kind of challenges do each present?
- Which do you think more difficult to solve?
- How has racism affected you personally?
- Who in your life has experienced racism from a systemic position?
- Why is it important to place people we know and care about into the conversation?
- What idea from this week’s message most challenges you?
- How do you see this challenge helping you to love God better?
- How does this challenge help you see and love other people better?
Systemic racism seems harder to solve. I often see people who don't understand each other, and so both sides get insulted easily. This seems to widen the gap between people. Unfortunately there is no simple answer. Mending these walls takes forgiveness and perseverance, and a decrease in assumptions and stereotyping.