Racism is the ranking of people in terms of dignity or value based on their race or ethnicity, and treating them differently as a result.
Racism is incompatible with biblical theology. Prominent passages like Genesis 1-3 (with its affirmation of common human descent under God’s creative hands), Galatians 3:26-29, and Revelation 5:9-10 make that unmistakably clear.
Unfortunately, individuals and even whole churches have often failed to live up to that biblical standard. And for such failure they – or as the case may be we – stand answerable to God. God sees beyond the reach of contemporary statutory law, as such law is limited in reach (it cannot judge the heart), limited in extent (it cannot return us to a pre-fall, pre-sin Eden), and sometimes even counter-productive (causing people to think primarily in terms of race). But the heavenly Lawgiver and Judge has no such limitations. Indeed, everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Hebrews 4:13).
There is a recent story from Time Magazine (Jan 2010) about how one church (Willow Creek in Illinois) is trying to live out Christian truth on this issue today – a story from which the photo from the top of this post was taken.
Slavery. I find that whenever the issue of racism comes up in a discussion about the Bible, the question of slavery follows quickly on its heels. That is especially true here in the United States, where our only experience of slavery as such has been race-related. Now the existence of a form of slavery in the Bible (especially the Old Testament) is undeniable, and here I will only point out that it was largely non-racial, temporary, and carefully regulated by law. And later, as the truth of the gospel of Jesus worked its way through the various social strata in the Mediterranean world, it cut through the conceptual underpinnings that held up Graeco-Roman slavery until the worst forms of it finally collapsed under their own weight. Well, sometimes with an extra push by zealous Christians; read about one such incident over at the Euangelion Blog, in a post called Churches that Raided Slave Ships. Slavery still exists today and zealous Christians (and others) remain dedicated to see that change; see the ministry of Amirah Safe House in Boston.
The Book of Job. There is a magnificent but rarely quoted passage from the Old Testament Book of Job that relates to race, slavery, and the human condition. It is Job 31:13-15 and it stands as part of a speech wherein Job declares his innocence in human affairs – a declaration he makes before his community and before God:
13 If I have denied justice to any of my servants,
whether male or female,
when they had a grievance against me,
14 what will I do when God confronts me?
What will I answer when called to account?
15 Did not he who made me in the womb make them?
Did not the same one form us both within our mothers?
The implications are significant. Yes, Job has servants, but they are not his personal property – they are rather people who deserve and require justice. If they have a grievance that goes unrelieved, their owner and defender is God, to whom Job must answer. And their position as servants is economic and has nothing to do with lower inherent dignity or value. On the contrary, in a final verse that anticipates Jefferson and the United States Declaration of Independence by some two millenia – Job affirms the existential truth that all people are created equal and therefore of equal dignity and value.
By Ray Pennoyer (Feb 5, 2012)