Two Gifts the Church Provides to the Conversation on Race

Image: Scott Olson / getty
Image: Scott Olson / getty

The avalanche of stories of police mistreating African Americans—from pulling them over for “driving while black” to shooting unarmed teenagers—has caught many white Americans by surprise. With legislation passed during the civil rights movement in place, and an African American President, many people believed racism had been quenched. It makes many wonder, after all the progress, whether that’s even possible now.

The short answer, of course, is no: Racism has not been quenched, nor will it be in our lifetimes. But hidden in that answer is some realistic hope.

Many well-intentioned leaders, intending to “eradicate all forms of racism,” champion laws and programs to end or at least debilitate racism in America. But laws can only do so much. Eventually, we’re stymied by continuing racial tensions, as Matthew Loftus, a physician outside Baltimore, noted for First Things:

Conservative commentators and liberal do-gooders alike look at Sandtown, the neighborhood that I live in, and shrug their shoulders…. Police officers justify brutality towards citizens because conditions here are brutal, which only makes the nihilism stronger when people who have never been respected by the law in turn have no reason to respect the law.

When despair is in the air, both the powerful and the disempowered agree: Peace and justice can be secured only by violence.

A simple dictionary definition of racism is “discrimination… against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.” Racism, like all sins, is the result of something good gone bad—in this case, affection for loved ones. Such affection makes possible familial, ethnic, and racial pride, as well as love and sacrifice for family and community. But just as healthy sexual attraction often turns into lust, and healthy self-esteem into pride, so healthy loyalty to one’s own too often turns into racism.

The point is this: Given the human condition, we will never rid ourselves of racism in this age, any more than we will rid ourselves of lust or pride. And yet this seeming cause for despair actually prevents despair.

Just because we cannot eradicate racism doesn’t mean we have to succumb to its nasty expressions. Take lust. Though we cannot eliminate it, we still create social norms and laws that keep it in check. We still expect men to refrain from making lewd comments to women, and we prosecute employers who sexually exploit their employees.

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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Mark Galli


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