“Do not twist justice in legal matters by favoring the poor or being partial to the rich and powerful. Always judge people fairly.” [Leviticus 19:15]
Words matter. We must use them and define them carefully. Yet in our modern age of social media, it is apparent to me that oftentimes words and phrases get thrown around so much, with so much confusion, that it is wiser to talk about ideas in fleshed-out paragraphs. No doubt there are other times where being concise is more helpful. But when it comes to terminology like “Critical Race Theory,” “Woke,” “Cultural Marxism,” etc. I think people have such differing definitions and understandings, they’ve lost all meaning. At least in the sense of meaningful discussion. One common refrain I have seen as CRT has trended is that “Opponents don’t understand what it really is”. And hence have turned it into a boogeyman.
So today I will skip the words and phrases. Perhaps I do not understand them. But I think I understand several real ideas communicated in the national discussion on racism that I think Christianity should oppose. They all center around the idea of favoritism. Here are the main ones.
Only talking about injustice when it concerns one race.
Police shootings and other killings of unarmed people produce public outrage, both on social media and in protests and riots, among a significant subset of people only when the victim is black. This is obvious enough that some have begun to push back, noting other races are victims of police shootings as well. One response to this I have seen in mass is that people do not mourn other races publicly because a disproportionate number of those killed are black. For example, in 2018, 24% of unarmed police shootings were black people, who are only 13% of the population.
Let’s assume for a second that all killings of unarmed people are issues of injustice. Even though I do not think that is the case and I will deal with this more below. But for the sake of this point, let’s say they are. I cannot fathom God in Heaven saying, “Don’t worry about the 76% of victims because they are 87% of the population.” That is not biblical justice or impartiality to me.
This is what makes the phrase “black lives matter,” as a lament cry (and not necessarily supportive of the organization) interesting. People say the goal is to communicate that black lives matter too, and not that other lives do not matter. Yet, no one cares about the shooting victims from other races. They do not get hashtags, essentially no one “say(s) their name,” and essentially no one marches for them. Not even white people. The only names I know of unarmed non-black people who police have killed in recent years is because other people have pointed out this same disconnect. And cited their names as examples. Otherwise, their lives have not mattered.
I honestly think that the best phrase any Christian can use on issues like these is “all injustice matters”. Anything outside of this strikes me as partiality and hence, unbiblical.
Only or primarily talking about injustice when framed as racism.
I confess I believe those who wonder aloud why there are no marches or hashtags for gang violence or other civilian killings while there are for police shootings are often not listening. Because the response often is that if a black gang member kills a black person, they will be sought after, arrested, and tried. The cop almost never will.
Yet I think the point about not speaking about injustice when it is gang-related or otherwise civilian-on-civilian is still valid in another sense. According to the Washington Post, in 2018 half of murders in the largest 55 American cities over the prior decade did not lead to an arrest. There are numerous reasons for this I imagine. But actor Terry Crews hit on one of them on Twitter last summer when he said it this way:
To say it another way, in cities, gangs often are the system. And they frequently get away with it.
I can still see the point that police have a job to protect and not harm and gangs do not. Yet police shootings of unarmed people are statistically quite rare compared to other killings. And more complex. Additionally, if we are talking about true injustice I again think God cares about it all. Badge or not, if a murderer goes free, I would hope Christians would care passionately. (Having said this, I do know when I lived in Chicago I attended numerous marches against gang violence and gun violence. Yet names of victims are not nationally known. That makes me think that the outrage pales in comparison.)
Only talking about racism when white people are racist.
I can absolutely believe that if one skin color outnumbers another in a society by a four-to-one ratio, then it stands to reason the minority would experience racism more often. Especially considering the society’s (i.e., the U.S.’s) history.
However, Biblically speaking, racism is always a sin. No matter the source. In Romans 1-3 Paul bends over backward to make the case that Jews and Gentiles are both equally guilty under the law. As Christians, we do well to reflect that. It feels at times as though talking about racism means only talking about white racism. So I advocate for impartiality. If a fraternity at the University of Oklahoma says a racial slur about black people on camera, it’s racism. And if Meena Harris, the Vice-President’s niece, tweets that a mass shooter must be white since he was taken in alive, that is as well. As well as this:
Interviews like this one are becoming more mainstream by the year.
Interpreting and Applying the Biblical “Ancestral Sin” passages too simplistically.
I confess I’m not positive I completely understand what God meant by “visiting the sins of the fathers to the 3rd and 4th generation” in Exodus 20:5 and 34:7. Yet I think it is obvious that whatever it means, it means God will do the reckoning. Not man. Justice will be His, not ours. No one ever truly gets away with any injustice in this world. This is similar to the idea that vengeance is God’s and not ours.
Also, I confess I admire the prayers of Nehemiah, Ezra, and Daniel when they confess the sins of their people and their ancestors. But considering how different America is from Old Testament Israel, I am not sure I understand how to apply this. Is a 1st generation American-Polish Christian in Chicago suppose to confess the sin of slavery in America from 150 years ago? Simply because he or she is white? What about a third-generation German in Sesser, IL? Being from South Carolina, am I supposed to confess the sin of the Tulsa race riot from 100 years ago? Also, I often wonder if Ezra, Nehemiah, and Daniel didn’t confess the sins of their ancestors precisely because their people were guilty of the exact same sins.
I’m not trying to get myself off the hook. I know what the sins of my ancestors are. And what I am struggling with today. I am simply saying that this is not an easy area of theology to navigate. These passages are about God’s mixed multitude of people, not one skin color over another. And if we are going to confess things as God’s people, I imagine we need to confess all of our sins. Not merely racism. Yet, I rarely hear this topic broached outside of things like historic racism in the U.S.
Treating statistically rare events as though they are common
In a country of 330 million people, you can find an occurrence of just about any event every few weeks or months. And both mainstream media and social media tend to amplify those events that produce outrage. As such, it can feel like they happen often. But this is not true, and Christians should care about truth and context. For example, it is statistically rare for someone to die in a shooting at a school or church. Yet it doesn’t seem that way. Because when they happen, they get major news coverage. Similar are police shootings of unarmed people. (And I hasten to mention that I understand that unarmed doesn’t always mean “not a threat” nor does armed mean the person deserved to die.)
The same is true for shootings in major cities. They are so big, the numbers are big. But all stats need context. In fact, in 2021 Knoxville, TN has had more deadly shootings per capita than Chicago.
Regardless of how you feel about Zuby’s first two points below, I think the third one is dead on.
Ascribing racist intent to actions where we do not definitively know intent.
From police shootings to other more innocuous incidents, if the perpetrator is white and the victim black, people assume racism. This is always a possibility. But beyond how many human interactions are much more complex, it takes Christlike humility to give the benefit of the doubt to people. I am thankful for Greg Morse writing about this for Desiring God last year.
This same idea holds for some of the worst incidents as well, such as the killing of Michael Brown. Darren Wilson, the officer who killed him, might be the biggest racist in the world. But the facts of the case that I have read keep me from believing that I can know with any certainty that Wilson shot Brown simply because he was black. Please understand as well that I do not believe that just because a person resists arrest or lunges for a weapon, that they deserve to die. Just that these things make these cases more complex than a meme-driven narrative bemoaning racism.
Additionally, some claim that when a police officer is not charged and found guilty of killing a black person, it is because the system is racist. Yet in over 1,000 police shootings in 2017, police were found guilty only 1% of the time. Manifesting little to no racial element as to why.
Assuming all racial disparities in data are due entirely to racism.
For example, on the issue of wealth disparity, Coleman Hughes has written about other potential causes in deeply researched detail. He chronicles several reasons outside of racism that likely contribute to it. He follows men like Thomas Sowell in attempting to go beyond a one-cause answer. To be clear this does not deny that racism plays any part, just that it is not as simple as racism being the sole or main cause.
Another oft-cited racism claim is about mass incarceration from the war on drugs. Yet Anthony Bradley writes about how even if you freed every drug offender in the U.S. right now, we’d still have the highest incarceration rate in the world. Just from violent crime and other offenses. So we can acknowledge that there has been racial injustice in the broader topic while recognizing that there are other factors as well.
Hughes and others like Leonydus Johnson have also done extensive research into police shootings and race and have spoken to numerous studies that seem unable to conclude any heavy correlation between police shootings and race.
And lastly, I will add that I think it is a fair point to wonder why, if the white race is such an oppressive force in America, many immigrant groups of all skin colors do better than whites in all the typical metrics used to show racial injustice. (See also this interview.)
Asserting that we need to preach on or discuss racism constantly.
I agree with Kofi Adu-Boahen when he says:
As a pastor and preacher, I should not have an agenda when I shepherd my people. Regardless of what is in the news. If I straight up preach what Bible texts say, I will preach constantly on the person and work of Jesus. And not much else. Being mindful of current events is wise. But if I am on Micah 2 in my sermon series, I will interpret and apply it as well as I can. Without trying to fit an idea like racism into it. I have preached on racism many times in twenty years. But only when the text calls for it. Also, to show this isn’t about racism, I also only preach on abortion when the text calls for it. And hence, I have not preached it frequently either.
Claiming that racism isn’t prevalent today
Sowell says that racism isn’t dead, but is on life support. Kept alive by race-baiting hustlers and politicians. I don’t know exactly what he means by that, but I do not think we are close to a post-racial society. The human default is prejudice. I see overt and passive racism in people I know, fairly regularly. I’m not above it. And in spite of what I’ve written above, I can believe there are times a person of black skin has more to worry about in terms of things like profiling. We are eons away from slavery and even the 1960s. But prejudice will always exist.
Denying racism is not my goal. I’m merely advocating above for truth and impartiality. This is not mutually exclusive with recognizing racism today.
In closing, I feel it is prudent to acknowledge that every person I have cited has been black. I would obviously rather that not matter. And in one sense, it does not. Every writer I have read on this topic is thoughtful, intelligent, and nuanced. I have not cited any grifters, in my opinion. And they do exist. But there is a sentiment that white people do not understand this issue and need to merely show empathy. As such I find it helpful when those who are black disagree with the major unhealthy narratives around race.
I think Christians should celebrate diversity in the church and not pretend we do not see race. But I also do not think we should make over race constantly. To achieve Galatians 3:28, we need to move beyond it as an obsession. We cannot be one in Christ if we are constantly shouting, “There is white and black!” It likely is not possible without calling out racism, but also many of the ideological flaws on race in popular American institutions. And in the American church. I have waited, listened, read those with whom I disagree, and been in the middle of a messy multi-cultural community for years. I want to discuss this as humbly as I can.
So I do not care what you call these things I dissect above. But to whatever level they are guilty of race partiality, they do not belong in a Christian worldview.