Racism and the times we are living in
It seems like the world is on fire right now.
As a leader in the church I always struggle with how much to let the news determine what I say. To some degree I think I should just let the Gospel speak and the implications can be made regarding how to apply it. The world is always dealing with some kind of mess, and the themes of the Gospel are always getting to the heart of whatever particular mess we are dealing with, even if those specific manifestations aren't named specifically.
For those who care, here are a few thoughts on the particular and complex mess we are faced with now:
First, I think it is incredibly sad that I am expected to explicitly say that I am against racism, rather than it being assumed.
Unfortunately, I think racism and all kinds of prejudice are natural to fallen and broken human beings. We are lazy and we try to put people into categories to make it easier to make assumptions about who we are dealing with. We do this with skin colour. We do this with the types of clothes people wear (compare a fur coat and a pearl necklace vs jogging pants and sweats). We do it with the cars people drive (a new Mercedes-Benz vs a 1987 Oldsmobile, or a Harley Davidson Motorcycle), and the neighbourhood they live in (Lower Fairview (Or, it's new name, Riverside Meadows) vs Timberstone). We do it with religion (Muslim vs Buddhist). And we do it with ethnicity and skin colour.
As a white man, I have only felt hints of prejudice.
Once was as a teenager, I got into the punk scene and dyed my hair and styled it into a green mohawk. I dressed the punk part. It was a choice based on the music I liked. It expressed some of the angst I felt about not fitting into the crowd and not wanting what I felt people wanted for me. I was amazed by how I was treated by some. I particularly remember the look of disgust on the face of a 50ish year old woman as I was walking into the mall. To some degree I know my dress was looking for a reaction, but this threw me a bit. This person knew nothing about me, but she was disgusted by me. All I had to do to change that reaction was change my hair and clothes to fit in a bit more. That's not so easy when the disgusted reaction comes from someone's reaction to the colour of your skin.
The other experience that comes to mind was something that happened to me as a priest. I have had many times where people have looked at me strangely in my "priest clothes" in public. Perhaps thinking I am a pedophile, based on what the news was reporting at the time. Once I was wearing my priest collar while helping someone at the courthouse. While I was waiting, a young woman (maybe 19) came up to me and started screaming and swearing at me- "#**$# YOU AND YOUR RELIGION!" She didn't know me. She pre-judged who I am on the basis of the group I belong to. She may have even been mistaken about which group I belong to. But again, to avoid that reaction all I have to do is not wear my collar in public. It is a relatively simple thing for me to do and I suspect quite a few clergy don't wear their collars in public to avoid these kinds of interactions, even though they are pretty rare. They can still be pretty traumatizing. I know a female priest who was spit on, for example.
What makes racism particularly vicious is that most other types of prejudice at least have some kind of choice involved. You choose what kind of car you drive. If you choose to drive a Hummer people might think you are a rich snob who enjoys showing off their wealth, but you can always not drive a Hummer. I can shave off the mohawk. It's not so easy to not look poor, I suppose. The wealthy have more options.
These prejudices can arise from a number of places-
Ideology (A Marxist view of the wealthy.)
Media (Muslims consistently portrayed as terrorists)
Social group or generation (Women might be seen as not able to fill certain roles traditionally filled by men)
Traumatic experiences (When I was 19 I was beat up by a group of 10 young men at a gas station one night. I had a severe concussion and could have died. As part of my PTSD I developed a prejudice against young men who dressed they way they did). (I also know a young man who was severely bullied as a teenager by a group of boys who happened to be of Lebanese descent. Unfortunately, this was one of the factors that drew him into Neo-Naziism)
History (The ways ethnic groups have interacted over time- Settlers' mistreatment of Aboriginal people in Canada. The history of Slavery and segregation in the United States),
Personal experiences (I know someone who moved to Lethbridge where most of the people living on the streets are Blackfoot in origin, and this person started to associate the issues of living on the street with aboriginal people in general),
Human beings categorize people on the basis of personal experiences, the shaping effects of media and social groups, and ideology (I'm sure there are a bunch of other factors). It is lazy, but it seems to be the mind trying to find patterns.
So if fallen/broken human beings are naturally inclined towards prejudice, then what can be used to fight against that? If we are naturally inclined towards prejudice of some kind, then how do we undo that, why should we even?
As a Christian these are the resources I draw from:
Genesis 1:27- "So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them."
All human beings are made in the Image of God and, according to the Biblical story, we all share the same parents. If I claim to love God, then I cannot disgrace God's image. If I love my mother, I cannot purposefully tear up her picture. To mistreat the image is to disrespect who is imaged.
The biblical story also encourages me to consider other human beings as distant family members.You might also want to reflect on Mitochondrial Eve.
Matthew 5:43-48- 43 "‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."
Say I erroneously came to hold a racist belief. If I have come to believe that someone is a kind of enemy because of the colour of their skin then Jesus still commands me to love them. I am not permitted to mistreat someone, even if I consider them my enemy. To do so would violate my discipleship to Christ.
Gal 3:26-28- "In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus."
Christianity was somewhat unusual in the ancient world in that it transcended tribes. It was to be available for all people. No one was to be kept out on the basis of their ethnicity (Jew or Gentile (non-Jew)), or economic status (slave or free), or gender (male or female), etc. The invitation of Christ was to transcend these divisions. (I invite you to consider my blog on Pentecost where the Holy Spirit transcends boundaries between people.)
There are many other places we could look in Scripture, but these are the main places I go to. I know Christians haven't always done this well, but I do think these teachings are at the heart of what Jesus was teaching. To avoid them and maintain racist views as a Christian would require incredible avoidance and denial.
Racism is not a logical position, especially for Christians. We must fight against it- first, internally. As Leo Tolstoy said, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
But even as we turn to fight it outwardly we should be careful to protest in a way that reflects the world we are trying to create (A beautiful teaching I heard from Deacon Sean Krausert). To protest in anger, hate, and violence is to create a angry, hateful, and violent world.
“In spite of temporary victories, violence never brings permanent peace.” Martin Luther King, Jr.