What Does the Bible Say About Racism?

By S. Michael Houdmann, Got Questions Ministries

The recent death of Trayvon Martin has definitely reinvigorated racism as a topic of national discussion. Sadly, and stupidly, many people have waded into the debate without knowing any of the details. George Zimmerman, the shooter, was labeled a racist from the moment it was reported that an African American teenage boy was killed by a half-Hispanic/half-Caucasian man. Somehow, the people making these accusations do not recognize how hypocritical they are being. If Trayvon Martin had been killed by another African American, it would simply be another tragic death of a young African American. But, since the shooter was not African American, it instantly became a racial issue. This is just as racist and prejudiced an action as what they are accusing George Zimmerman of. What is racism? Treating a person poorly due solely to the color of his/her skin. That is precisely what these people are doing to George Zimmerman. They are pre-judging him based solely on his ethnicity.

It is not my place to attempt to determine whether George Zimmerman’s actions were appropriate. As more details are released, it is becoming increasingly clear that neither Martin or Zimmerman were angels. Both have criminal records. Did Zimmerman racially profile Martin? Possibly. At the same time, it has been reported that Zimmerman, in his role as a neighborhood watchman, had called 9-1-1 countless times reporting suspicious individuals. None of those other incidents resulted in a confrontation. What I am getting at is this – we should never be quick to judge and condemn. We should never assume intentionally malicious actions. “Innocent until proven guilty” is a hallmark of our justice system. James 1:19 instructs us, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” Jesus strongly rebukes hypocritical judging in Matthew 7:1-5.

Why has racism been a problem throughout human history? The answer is simple – sin. We harbor evil thoughts about other people and commit evil acts against other people because of sin (Romans 3:10-23). Sin appears to make us innately suspicious of people who look differently from us. Only through the transformative power of salvation in Jesus Christ can racism be overcome (2 Corinthians 5:17). Only through seeing all other people as being created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26) can we rid ourselves of racial prejudices.

But, that brings up an interesting question. Is it always wrong to be prejudiced? For example, if a convenience store owner was repeatedly robbed by bald Azerbaijanis wearing blue t-shirts, would it be wrong for him to be prejudiced against the next bald Azerbaijani who is wearing a blue t-shirt that comes into his store? Would it be wrong for him to take precautions to prevent himself from being robbed again? Now, of course, I am not saying he should prevent bald Azerbaijanis from entering his store or automatically assume that all bald Azerbaijanis are criminals. But, if you are repeatedly harassed by someone with a certain appearance, is it wrong to then be “prejudiced” against people with that appearance? I am not entirely sure. Is it understandable? Definitely, yes.

A similar question was raised in response to the September 11 attacks. Can special attention be given towards people of Middle Eastern descent in regards to security screenings before being allowed to board a plane? Is racial profiling always a bad thing? It seems immensely logical for more attention to be given to 20 year old Saudi Arabian males than to 75 year old Caucasian grandmothers. But, the screams against the tyranny of racism prevailed, and race is therefore not allowed to be factored into who is screened more closely. This seems incredible and ridiculous to me…but I imagine I would feel differently if I was a 20 year old Saudi Arabian male repeatedly being frisked at airports.

Racism is clearly, biblically speaking, evil (Ephesians 2:14; James 2:8). At the same time, I cannot find a biblical injunction against being wary of a particular type of person if you have repeatedly been wronged by that particular type of person. But, whatever the case, we should never judge an entire ethnicity based on the evil actions of one member of that ethnicity, or many members of a particular ethnicity for that matter. Martin Luther King’s dream was of a nation where people are not “judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” But, how do you evaluate the content of a person’s character when you only have a split second to evaluate a situation and react?

I am not defending the actions of George Zimmerman. He very well may have been horribly wrong in the decisions he made. At the same time, we should all give George Zimmerman the benefit of the doubt that he may have failed to give to Trayvon Martin.

What is the end of the matter? Victims of racism, you need to forgive. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). Perpetuators of racism, you need to repent. “Turn now, each of you, from your evil ways and your evil practices” (Jeremiah 25:5).

P.S. I mean no disrespect towards bald Azerbaijanis who wear blue t-shirts. As far as I know, I have only met one Azerbaijani in my entire life. He was, in fact, a very nice man, not bald, and not wearing a blue t-shirt.

TagsChristian-Life  | Controversial-Issues  | Current-Issues


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