Jesus and the Defeat of Racism
BY JAKE TAUBE
One of the great wonders of our modern era is that I can safely assume essentially every reader agrees that racism is evil and all people, whatever their ethnicity, have equal dignity and value. This would not have been the case in nearly every society of the past! As concerned as we may be about the state of things today, it would be foolish and unthankful indeed for us to ignore this significant progress in the world.
But there’s a danger whenever our society begins to take a truth for granted. When we assume that racial discrimination is wrong (“everyone knows that!”), we are in danger of forgetting the reason. It may be very obvious to us that racism is wrong, but it clearly was not very obvious for our ancestors! If we don’t know why we oppose racism, we set up future generations to fall back into it. We also set ourselves up to fall into a different version of the same vice!
If we don’t know why we oppose racism, we set up future generations to fall back into it.
Let’s see how this can happen. Racism is antagonism towards some fellow human beings because of their ethnicity. But here’s the big question: is that antagonism bad because we shouldn’t feel like that about any fellow humans, or is it okay to be hateful to some human beings, just not on the basis of their skin color? I imagine that this is a question that will divide the audience. You see, many of us non-racists have not understood the case that historically overthrew racism.
Let’s suppose for now that the first option is correct: racism is wrong because we shouldn’t be hateful to any fellow humans. If this is true, it means that we all likely have fallen into another version of this same vice. It means that if a white person hates his white neighbor, he is committing the same kind of sin as the white person who hates his black neighbor! The sin of hatred isn’t limited to hating other races; it includes hatred of coworkers, political opponents, and even the people closest to us.
For the record, Christianity is opposed to racism because it condemns hatred. The Bible teaches that all human beings have a claim on our respect and love, because they were made in the image of God—including those of other races, including those who disagree with us, and including those we find obnoxious and irritating.
Christians will be the first to admit that we have certainly not managed to live up to this ideal of love. But we will eagerly tell you about the One who did. Listen to how English novelist Zadie Smith put it:
“I think the hardest thing for anyone is accepting that other people are as real as you are. That’s it. Not using them as tools, not using them as examples or things to make yourself feel better or things to get over or under… And it’s so difficult that basically the only person that ever did it was Christ. The rest of us are very, very far behind.”
This love was displayed most perfectly in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, where he died for a world lost in hatred. And what the Bible says is that when I experience the love of Jesus for me, Jesus begins to transform my heart. Secure in his love for me, I am no longer threatened by the “other”—the other race, the other party, the other gender.
Secure in [Christ’s] love for me, I am no longer threatened by the “other”—the other race, the other party, the other gender.
So profound is this change, that a follower of Jesus nearly two thousand years ago wrote these words, which were like a lightning bolt in the ancient world, words that mean racism’s days are numbered:
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”
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