Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Biblical Thinking on Racism

In response to a proposed measure requiring the state of Virginia to apologize to descendants of slaves, delegate Frank D. Hargrove tells the Virginia state assembly that "our black citizens should just get over [slavery]". In a "two-fer", Hargrove also goes on to insult Jews. If you're interested, you can read the account of his remarks here.

Although primarily symbolic, the proposed measure was viewed as part of a healing process according to Donald McEachin, who is black and one of the bill's sponsors.

“No one is asking any individual to apologize, because certainly there are no slaveholders alive today and there are no slaves alive today...but Virginia is alive and well, and Virginia was built on the backs of slaves, and Virginia’s economy boomed because of slavery, and it is Virginia that ought to apologize...”

I'm not sure if the proposed measure would materially advance the healing process but I'm certain of this - Hargrove's negative comments does nothing to promote racial harmony.

As I've asserted in a previous post, how Christians think and respond to racism is strategic to contextualizing the gospel. Unfortunately, there are precious few voices that speak biblically and faithfully on this topic. Hence, we miss the opportunity to communicate the gospel as glorious good news to an area of life that "the world" cares deeply about but cannot fix.

One compelling, insightful voice is that of John Piper. In the article, Stereotypes, Generalizations and Racism, he offers three exhortations to Christians.
  • Christians should not simply reflect the morality of their era but the morality of the Bible.
  • Christians should not be guilty of stereotyping groups, recognizing that stereotyping is different from the just and loving use of generalizations
  • Christians should use generalizations justly and lovingly to form true and helpful judgments about people and life.
I think Piper's analysis, differentiating between generalizations and stereotyping is particularly helpful here. In his article, he defines generalization is the method by which we derive principles, laws and understand standard behavior. Generalization carries no moral or ethical component. On the other hand, he defines stereotyping as unjustified and uncharitable generalizations. He also goes on to define how uncharitable generalizations and stereotyping can lead us to racism.

How does this stack up against real life issues pertaining to race relations? In view of these exhortations, can racial profiling ever be justified?


Meng said...

Thanks for Piper's message on steryotypes, generalizations and racsim. I would like to hear that message to understand the Biblical perspective.

I acknowledge that there are differences between races (Paul himself confirmed the statement about Cretans being lazy, liars and gluttons in Titus) but when my flesh chooses to show biasness or withhold love or speak lovingly because of race, that is sin. Its gotta be a work of grace.

Racial profiling is a hard one. Its a bit political isn't it? We generally know who the suicide bombers would be don't we? and so is it wrong to check an ethnic group specifically or targetly at the airport security gate? Thats a tough one.

andre said...

Regarding Cretans, didn't Paul really say that "one of their own" said...Cretans were lazy, etc... Was Paul making a judgment about Cretans or simply acknowledging the saying? I'll have to look it up.

My point about racial profiling is exactly this - perhaps we shouldn't be viewing it through the political lens. Is it a no more than a generalization to say that we are in conflict with Middle Eastern terrorists and that likely suspects for terrorism are of Middle Eastern descent, so we need to "keep an eye out" for suspicious Middle Eastern travelers at the airport. Or does that kind of profiling represent stereotyping and racism?

How would you feel if the Europe and the US were under threat to a small faction of Chinese terrorists and all Asians were viewed with similar suspicion and profiled as potential threats?

Just asking...