8 Christian Responses to Racism

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1. Ask yourself: Is this a situation that the law can help?

It is important to know whether the discrimination at issue is one where the law normally protects you.  For instance, a refusal to admit you into a particular school based solely on your race or ethnicity in a country where discrimination based on race and ethnicity is generally prohibited is likely a case of racial discrimination.

Compare that to a case of a random man on the street who decided to use the N word against you because he felt that you cut him off in traffic and you happen to be black; or the sales clerk who decided to not-so-discreetly follow you around the semi-expensive boutique for fear that because you look a certain way, you are likely to steal some of the merchandise. 

BOTH situations hurt. Both are racial discrimination. However the solutions to both are not the same. You are legally protected from the first situation, and not so much in the second and in the third. The latter two cases might not be illegal but they are likely immoral. Unfortunately, the law does not always protect us from all immoral acts. The reach of the law is often limited to prevent the law from over-reach i.e. from governing every inch of our lives.

The result is that, certain immoral acts have no immediate recourse. Our best hope for justice in these types of cases is in Christ alone. He sees. He knows and he will judge.

Therefore, the ability to separate issues (illegal vs immoral)  is important to finding effective solutions. Immoral acts that are not covered by law can be helped if the perpetrator themselves change their hearts through, for instance, personal experience and sensitization, among other non-legal means. As for the victim, they can help the situation through any of these Christian approaches.

2. The Simon of Cyrene approach

Accept your special call to help Christ.

Simon of Cyrene was conscripted against his will to carry the cross with Jesus to Golgotha (Luke 23: 26). Christian tradition holds that Simeon was likely of African descent and that he was likely picked on for this reason. The discrimination brought him close to Christ in a unique way such that he and his children – Alexander and Rufus – became Christian.

The Simon approach means to accept the cross of discrimination when you are unexpectedly stuck with it and can essentially do nothing about it. Accept it knowing that before this cross was placed on you, it is already being carried by Christ. You can help him carry the cross to the very end knowing that your silence in suffering will earn you the reward of Christ, namely the resurrection (2 Timothy 2: 11-13).

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4. The Canaanite Woman’s Approach

Persist in Prayer and in Faith.

When the Canaanite woman approached Jesus to heal her daughter possessed by a demon, Jesus basically referred to her as a dog. A term that Jews of his time often used in reference to non-jews (Mt 15: 21-28).

Jesus spoke to her in this manner to test her faith and to teach his disciples a lesson. He wanted to see if the Canaanite woman would be overwhelmed by the insult and give up. She did not. The disciples, and we all today, learn from the story of the Canaanite woman that:

(i) we must never rely on existing prejudices to refuse goodness to our fellow humans. Just because we believe an entire people are unworthy of our love (and sometimes with good reasons), we do not have the right to refuse them the same love we show to those who we find more worthy.

(ii) we must never lose faith or give up prayer in the face of racism. The Canaanite woman kept on talking to Jesus (praying) even when she was rebuffed based on her origin. It is important to note that Jesus does not send her away even when his disciples urged him to do so. It appears that Jesus wanted to draw out of her, the strength that overcomes evil, the faith that remains in the face of immorality. 

(iii) The love of some will get more tested than others. Some  people will have heavier crosses than others in this life. The reason why this is the case is not always clear. Take for instance, John the Baptist or a mother who is diagnosed with cancer during her pregnancy. Other examples are Jesus and Simon of Cyrene. We should be aware of this and should treat everyone with love as much as we can – to help them reduce the burdens they have to bear.

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5. Philip’s Approach

Ignore and keep your eyes on the prize.

The right response here is similar to that of the Canaanite woman. You ignore the racism and stay on the gospel. This was Philip’s approach to Nathaniel. Nathaniel had dismissed the possibility of a Messiah from Nazareth asking: does anything good come from Nazareth (John 1: 45-46).  Philip ignored this snide remark and said to Nathaniel: Come and See.  Nathaniel ended up a follower of the Messiah from Nazareth! 

If Philip had walked off at Nathaniel’s prejudice or gave up because of that, we would probably not have Nathaniel as one of the 12 disciples and martyr; and perhaps not have this beautiful passage to teach us Philip’s approach.

6. Moses’ Approach – let God fight your battle

Moses married a Cushite woman. Historically, Cushites are believed to have been Black Africans. Since Jews at that time did not typically marry outside their own ethnic group, Moses got backlash for this including from his sister, Miriam (Numbers 12). There is no indication that Moses fought back.

Shortly after Miriam s complaint, God punished her. Miriam became afflicted with leprosy. This disease in the Bible is a symbol of sin. Moses’ approach was to let God fight his battle. Saying nothing but remaining in the presence of the Lord and doing as God asked him to. He let go and let God. This approach can be very powerful because God’s justice can be better than anything we could have conceived.

The Moses approach is a highly merciful one.  It is in line with Jesus’ act of forbearance on the Cross when he said, father forgive them for they do not know what they do. Indeed Moses ended up praying to God to heal Miriam of leprosy. How merciful!

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7. Prepare to forgive 

Many people do not live your life; do not know what it is like to stand out in a way that may be stigmatizing. Get ready to hear ignorant and accusatory comments. Therefore, get ready to forgive. 

This will not be easy because the words will sting and they will come, even from your fellow Christians. However, remember that Christ went through the exact same thing and his response was to continue onwards – with the cross, asking God to let the cup pass but that ultimately His will not yours be done. 

Jesus let God handle the situation even if his victory came after suffering and death. Yet he forgave – even on the cross. We often do not know how hard it is to be Christian until we have  to forgive someone who has done us wrong and who is yet to repent of it.

8. See Your Identity In the Right Order

First comes your identity as a child of God and before other forms: ethnic, racial, heritage etc. Racism is wrong precisely because the racist person does not appear to have this priority in order. Sometimes it is because they are not Christians and do not see your true identity. Or they are Christians and do not understand or are unwilling to see your true identity. When faced with racism one must avoid replicating this error. You must always put your divine identity first. This means your response to racism must be the response of a child of God. A child of God first talks to God in prayer, and then practices the virtues of love and the fruits of the Spirit which include patience, peace, self-control, joy, love, kindness, goodness, faith and fortitude (Gal 5: 22). A child of God also puts the identify of his neighbour in order as well – no matter how difficult.

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