People are being called “racist” to a degree I have not heard in 40 years. Some charges come from professed Christians; some people being charged are professed Christians. What is the definition of “racist,” and what is required for a person to be racist?
After referencing a couple of dictionaries, I would boil the definition down to this: A racist is someone who believes inherent differences in people of different races make one race superior or inferior to another.
To avoid any appearance of racism, let’s imagine we live in a world with only three races. We’ll call them triangles, circles and rectangles. One triangle might believe circles are not as intelligent as triangles and therefore shouldn’t be trusted with leadership responsibility. One rectangle might avoid any physical contact with triangles believing triangles are prone to carrying disease without displaying symptoms. Both the triangle and the rectangle in our hypothetical world would be racists.
Most of us have some prejudice
Plenty of racists in our real world are prejudiced against someone because of the color of their skin, their country of origin or their family background. Frankly, for most of us, it would be incredibly difficult to say we don’t have some sort of prejudice. Some prejudices are based on race, and others are based on some other quality, like gender or education-level, for instance.
It is difficult to overcome prejudice—and racism, more specifically—because it is such a sensitive subject. And who wouldn’t be sensitive when characteristics you can’t control have been held against you?
Your question alludes to another unfortunate reality that has made discussions about race increasingly difficult. We live in a world where name-calling rather than rhetoric is the primary method of proving a point. Flip on the television, browse the Internet, listen in at the barber shop and you are likely to hear people resort to name-calling rather than clear discussions of issues. It seems to have become the norm to slap a label on someone we disagree with—liberal, conservative, socialist, atheist, capitalist, legalist, perfectionist, racist.
Clear words from Scripture
Fortunately, clear words from Scripture help us with both of these difficulties. First, from the book of Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
As believers, we are to put away the “us vs. them” mentality that would rule someone less worthy due to race, gender or social status. We all are created in the image of God and ought, as Christ, to value others more highly than ourselves (Philippians 2:3-4). It is time to put away the kind of thinking that considers someone inherently inferior.
Second, as followers of Christ, we have the opportunity to change the tone of conversation in our world. We can be prepared to give an answer for our thoughts, beliefs and feelings, but we should do so with love and grace, letting our conversation be life-bringing—or “seasoned with salt” as the Apostle Paul would say in Colossians—rather than harmful. It is time for us to put away name-calling so we can have real conversations about the things in this world that don’t reflect God’s kingdom.
Like racism, for instance.
Emily Row Prevost, assistant professor and director of leadership development
East Texas Baptist University
If you have a comment about this column or wish to ask a question for a future column, contact Bill Tillman, consulting ethicist for “Right or Wrong?” at email@example.com.