Racism and the Sin of Contempt

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Now the serpent was craftier than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. A true sociopath, he preyed on people, “Did God really say...” as he tempted Eve. She did not stand a chance. No one does. Jesus incarnate, he is the only one (Acts 2:22, Romans 5:15 & 17, Hebrews  4:15).

Christians are not perfect; the believer is not immune to sin. Especially the sin of racism. All Christians experience racialized contempt toward others [1]. 

Some wear it proudly, some hold it privately, and some have it but don’t realize it (that is until an awkward moment stirs up hateful feelings). “Here we go again”; “What is wrong with these people?'' some may even have harsher thoughts or expressions. Then the flash of anger ends in shame and a rationalizing of an unchristian attitude.

For others, that guilt and sorrow leads to repentance. For the ones feeling guilt, the conversation can be daunting. For those feeling shame, the conversation is too threatening. The entrenched shame finds its home in racial hatred.

For most of us, racialized contempt is not life threatening. This is not the case for Black people. And while Black women are stigmatized, the level of contempt toward Black men is life threatening all the time [2]. Sometimes it is direct violent action from a fellow human, but most times it is the ongoing violence to their identity. The constant dripping of a faucet that affects mind and body.

Condemning atrocities in Germany, Rwanda, South Africa seems the Christian thing to do. But to name it in segregated churches is a recipe for creating paranoia for the most politically and legally protected people.

The comfortable alternative is to offer rogue officers and angry citizens as scapegoats. Naming segregated communities as socialized apartheid creates defensiveness and the purpose for naming it here is not that. The purpose is to examine the threshold of our collective guilt. Is it possible to imagine from scripture a way to see our own sin in the segregation that is working to keep racism in place? Can we name it and tame it? The alternative is a divisive gospel.

The gospel rebukes principalities in high places, refutes heretical beliefs, and practices and disturbs worldly peace. Can we believe in a reformation and a reimagining of a church from every tongue this side of heaven? Or do we dismiss the call as too radical, something left for Christ’s return? The true church is called a radical to love? The option to ignore racism is to ignore a cruel reality of hate and harm of humanity. People holding racialized contempt quickly move through rage, violence, genocide [3] and unto neighbors in their way.

Racialized contempt is satan’s tool against God our creator and Christ’s church. As Christians, the Christian thing to do is to rebuke the evil one; refute and admonish each other to stand against it.

Individuals experience the effects of racism like any other sin people face. These are beliefs and assumptions rooted in life experiences. The challenge is how to abandon convictions keeping segregation in place? How can we abandon assumptions of a biblical basis for segregating? This is work for courageous preachers in pulpits and prophets at dinner tables. It is faith formation / discipling with biblical precepts for confronting cultural traditions that disturb the peace. I should not call anyone impure or unclean (Acts 10:28).

There should be no peace until we address the stigma we have branded on Black people or African American. Everyone is created in the image of God. No one is righteous, not even one. Christ unites people of every tribe and nation at the cross.

If that is the case, how will it change our views when Black people and their families come to our congregations, move into our communities? In Christ, the sins of our past are forgiven and the righteousness gives us power to do right and achieve the right to embrace those we have harmed.

But what to do about the broader racism in church, economy and government. Is confessing all it takes? Is it be possible to overcome institutional racism through people merely acknowledging and repenting from having contempt for the Black Man? Language is a powerful tool. Behavior will follow when we change the way we talk. Changing our behavior will get us back to who we are in Christ. The church, economy, and government will serve its stewards.

Labeling (i.e. victor, victim, colonist, racist etc) identifies and connects people to behavior.  It also is an efficient way to condemn. It is a rushed judgment without due process, repentance, and reparation. Christ did not condemn. He did ask sinners to leave a life of sin (John 8:11).

Listening is key. Not getting bogged down in parsing terms and definitions allows space for a better understanding and meaningful conversations. Avoiding the fallacy of defining the same things with different terms and different things will increase fruitful conversations and minimize unhealthy debates. Christians are on the same team and it will take the whole team to work against racism.

The broader implications of racism in church, economy, and government is a work for selected leaders trained and supported for the work. Leaders with clarity about biblical principles will have clarity about reformation in church and community. As the church steps into its stewardship responsibility with the community and supports selection and training of community leaders, the community will have clarity about reformation of the economy and judicial systems.

The work is not a barn building call. It is a call to faithful action until the Lord returns. This is a gospel call in which the staff in the Office of Race Relations is hopeful that we can join with you.

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I simply don't believe it true that "all Christians experience radicalized contempt toward others."  It's not helpful toward any constructive end to make such hyperbolic claims.

(Nor, BTW, do I think that statement is true as to all non-Christians).

Doug, thanks for sharing your comments.  I offer stigma or contempt as an underlying condition for segregation in congregations and communities.  Your thoughts on the topic are appreciated.