It is astonishing to me that some conservative and Reformed elders and teachers refuse to address racism. Even more startling, however, is that some even refuse to acknowledge that racism is a real thing.
Although this sort of denial brings to mind holocaust denial and flat-earth madness, we should be fair to some of these critics. Some are truly denying ethnic-based hatred and prejudice, and these people should be ignored as the lunatics they plainly are. Others, however, are opposed to the use of the term “racism” because they claim that the concept is not a Biblical concept. They are opposed to addressing this particular form of racial hatred directly, though they acknowledge that some racial hatred may truly exist.
The argument is that all hate, of course including ethnic-based hate, is just hate and so only hatred should be addressed and condemned. Of course the Christian should be striking at the root of these sins. Of course the Christian should not merely address social evils as if they are divorced from spiritual realities. Of course not. But is there some sort of Biblical principle that states that you can’t address specific forms of hatred? Specific forms of sin? Those on the religious right who claim that racism is merely a construct of the liberal left find themselves constructing a special hermeneutic to serve their own special purposes.
This inconsistently employed hermeneutic postulates that it is somehow wrong or unhelpful to address very specific forms of sin because Scripture does not list that specific sin out in a plain and neat way. Hating others is sin, according to these men, but racism is not a valid or righteous sin to address.
This is a tempting line to take. After all, the root must be struck. We cannot address racism without addressing the sin behind racism. But is this Biblical? In other words, did the prophets, Jesus, and the apostles solely address the core heart problem, or did they call out, condemn, and destroy very specific sins and sinful ideals? Does Scripture teach that we should divorce the heart from the particular sin?
The Prophets dealt with many forms of idolatry, murder, theft, and general lawlessness. They could have simply preached against this idolatry in indistinct terms. But instead, they named names (Jer. 19:4-5). They pointed out and addressed the false gods of their day, the child sacrifice of their day (Jer. 32:35), and the lack of justice (Amos 5) in their day. They pointed these sins out specifically. They did not give a vague sermon calling on Israel to abide by the vague Law of God. They named the specific sins.
Our Lord was likewise not shy about being specific. In Matthew 23, our Lord goes into great depth on the specific sins of Pharisaism. Instead of addressing the sins of Pharisaism, should our Lord have just focused on the “main thing” and given a vague exhortation to abide by the heart of the Law?
The Apostle Paul was very direct with a great number of specific sins. While Paul could have written a letter about general obedience to the Seventh Commandment (Ex. 20:14), he instead chose to address the very specific sin of sleeping with your father’s wife (1 Cor. 5). This is certainly covered as a type of sexual immorality, so why didn’t Paul just focus on the heart of the Law? Why did he need to get into the nasty detail of the specific sin?
There is example after example of Prophets, our Lord, and the New Testament authors addressing very specific sins that function as a subset of a more general sin. This is so commonplace, I’m ashamed that it needs to be pointed out. But I’m also, sadly, not surprised. In regards to abortion, I have been told by men of ecclesiological office again and again that we should just address the “main thing” and not waste our time on specific evils. Many have said that instead of addressing mass murder we should just talk about sin in the abstract, the atonement, and repentance in the abstract. This is, clearly, not the Biblical model.
Some commit the juvenile error that attempts to discredit an idea (or the existence of an idea) because the term is not found in Scripture. This is where the inconsistency of this silly hermeneutic comes into sharp focus.
Homosexuality is also not a term found in Scripture, but racism-deniers have no problem condemning homosexuality. Same applies to transgenderism. Same for socialism, communism, and fascism.
According to the logic of some racism-deniers, they should be passionately opposed to Christians addressing socialism, because as well all know, the term isn’t found in Scripture. Furthermore, should it not be covetousness and theft that we address, not socialism?
But of course there won’t be any consistency. There will be cherry picking when to apply this made-up hermeneutic. The vast majority of pastors will address some sort of “ism”, but when there’s a reason to hide from a particularly politically charged form of a sin, like racism, why is it that many want to hide behind vagueness?
Some racism-deniers will say that they simply do not like the term because it presupposes multiple races. Fine. I get that. There is only one race, the human race, so an ideology that attempts to separate the human race into ethically loaded subsegments isn’t legitimate. I agree. But the same could be said of homosexuality. As the left defines it, it is a fiction. But as the Church defines it, homosexuality is a very real sin. With racism, the use of the term itself does not imply a biological distinction between Image Bearers, although the meaning of the term may sometimes imply that. When someone uses the term “racist”, it has never meant that they are necessarily Darwinists. It is ethnic-based hatred and prejudice. If when you say racism you mean the Darwinistic presumption of intrinsic value differences between Image Bearers of God, then I oppose the term. If when you say racism you mean ethnic hatred and prejudice, then it is obviously and clearly a real thing that should be discussed.
It is productive to discuss particular sins. The Church should have a response to humanism. The Church should have a response to socialism. The Church should have a response to Darwinism. The Church should have a response to racism. In all of these things the Church should presuppose the truth of God’s Word and strike at the idolatrous root of whatever Godless “ism”.
There is a danger in jumping on a bandwagon to talk about an issue that is very much in-vogue. We should not be opportunistic and desiring of attention, and we should never compromise on God’s Word. There is also a danger in being so caught up in a mindless counterculturalism that we have a strong reactionary disdain for discussing issues that may be a popular talking point in culture. Of course the Gospel is counter-cultural, but a mindless counterculturalism that rejects anything and everything that the culture may be getting at least partly right is not Gospel counterculturalism. Rather, that’s an addiction to novelty and an implicit denial that the pagans are Image Bearers of God and capable of picking up on some problems, although their solutions aren’t right.
My fear is that issues of justice have been co-opted by the left to such an extreme degree that many Christians believe, at least functionally, that justice belongs to the left. This attitude is so deeply ingrained that even mentioning racism and justice on social media can get you accused of being a socialist, as if the only answer to racism or other societal evils must be a governmental program. It is, frankly, ludicrous. Racism is important to discuss because racism is real, racism is sin, and the answer to any sin is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is not just a “liberal” issue to talk about, this is a Gospel issue.