The Sin of Racism

A couple weeks ago when Donald Sterling’s racist comments were front page news, a man in our discipleship group asked me to preach on racism. “I’m a racist,” he said openly. “I need help.”

“Where in the Bible does it say racism is wrong?”, he continued without a hint of rancor or defensiveness. “You should do a sermon on racism.”

It was a teachable moment given to me on a silver platter, but my mind went completely blank. I could think of nothing to say. The truth is I almost never think about racism. I live in a middle class white world. Someone has said that to be white in America is to never think about race. But to be black in America is to think about race every day.

That’s me. It may be a stereotype, but it fits me perfectly. I’m white. I don’t think about racism. Over thirty years ago I was eating lunch with a young black man in a youth correctional institution where we both worked. We were both Christians. I don’t remember the conversation, but suddenly he blurted out, “You’re a racist!” I was shocked at his words and oblivious to why he said them. I felt strongly I wasn’t a racist, but at the same time I was completely ignorant of what it was like to walk in that fine young man’s shoes. I had no idea of the difficulties in his world which were inherent in the color of his skin. In that sense, I was an extreme racist. Decades of life experiences have made me more aware of the big picture, but even now I live a very sheltered live in Clarkfield. I still don’t think often about racism.

So when my friend asked me recently where the Bible condemns racism, I was stunned into silence. Finally I stuttered, “I don’t really know what to say. I’d have to do some digging.” We went on to agree the Bible doesn’t explicitly condemn slavery. We noted slavery was rampant in the Old Testament, even in Israel. In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul commanded slaves to serve their masters faithfully (not fight for freedom). And masters are told to care for their slaves properly (not set them free). Clearly, slavery is the wrong place to start a biblical case against racism.

I was stumped at his question, but immediately I decided I had to preach on it (hopefully with prayer and study first). This morning it hit me while I was in the shower, of all places. Here’s the big idea: The root of racism is pride. Suddenly I knew this would be the answer to his question. I remember a sermon I heard decades ago in which the preacher outlined four kinds of pride: pride of race, pride of face, pride of place, and pride of grace. Racism is pride of race.

Pride is the root and racism is the fruit. The Bible doesn’t explicitly condemn racism because racism is only the fruit. We need to dig deeper to the root of racism – pride. The Bible has a lot to say about pride! We might start with Luke 18:9-14, where Jesus tells a story about two men to went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector….

It looks like there’s a strong biblical case against racism after all.