This article is about prejudice. It’s about the ‘n’ word as well as every other denigrating racial slur in use today. Of course, the mature Christian would not use any of these ugly slurs for they indicate a condition of the heart that is clearly condemned in God’s word. We’ll have more to say about this shortly, but first, there are some things we ought to consider concerning the subject of prejudice.
Prejudice Is A Perception Problem
Thomas Sowell, an extremely talented black thinker and writer, writing in the Washington Star, said:
A man who says we should really “tell it like it is” refers to whites and blacks as “pink people“ and “brown people.” These jarring phrases are of course more accurate, but that may be why they are jarring. Race is not an area especially noted for accuracy—or for rationality or candor. More often it is an area of symbolism, stereotype, and euphemism. The plain truth sounds off-key and even suspicious. Gross exaggerations like white and black are more like the kind of polarization we are used to.
More Alike Than Different
All of us, no matter what color we are, are much more alike than we are different. We are all created in the image of God and the blood that gives life to one “race” also gives life to another (cf. Acts 17:26). We all share a multitude of beliefs, thoughts, feelings, hopes, and aspirations. This is not to say there are no differences among us. Some of us are male, some female; some black (brown), some white (pink); some red, some yellow; some tall, some short; some thin, some fat; etc. Of course, none of these differences are what makes us uniquely human. Therefore, prejudice, whether racial or otherwise, attempts to disguise the commonality shared by all human beings and, thus, capitalize on our differences.
A Case In Point
In the surrealistic motion picture Apocalypse Now, there is a graphic scene in which a group of U.S. servicemen on gunboat duty encounter a boatload of Vietnamese civilians. One thing leads to another in the confrontation until a misinterpreted move is made by one of the civilians. It is then that the Americans open fire with machine-guns, killing all the Vietnamese onboard. All during the killing, which was portrayed in slow motion, the Americans, both whites and blacks, were using words like “gook,” “slants,” and “slopes.” Just how accurate this scene was in depicting the reality that was Vietnam we do not know. However, it did accurately represent the idea that killing is facilitated by hate, and hate by ugly racial epithets.
Until recently (the last fifty years), prejudice against blacks was institutionalized in this country. Not only were blacks considered to be second-class citizens, they were thought of as second-class human beings as well. In some cases, they were not even recognized as “fully evolved” human beings. To deny this is to deny the way things were. As a nation, we have acknowledged the wrongness of racial prejudice and have instituted efforts to protect the human rights of black Americans.
Is Racism Dead?
Does this mean that prejudice and racism are dead in our society? Of course not! Racial prejudice is still very much a part of our nation. Although it is no longer institutionalized, it continues to live in the hearts of some men and women (both white and black). Sometimes it even rears its ugly head among Christians. Some years ago, when making preparations for a gospel meeting with an evangelist who was black, the local evangelist of a church of Christ in a well-recognizable city in mid-America received a phone call from an individual who insisted that it was wrong for those of different races to meet and worship together on a regular basis. This individual is reported to have said that such would cause “the blacks to think they were equal with whites.” The shocked evangelist says his response was, “I surely hope so.” What makes this phone conversation so shocking is that it did not come from a member of the Ku Klux Klan or some other White Supremacy group. Neither was it from some person in the world who is not interested in God’s word. It was, instead, from an individual who is a member of the body of Christ and preacher of the gospel. When he was asked what he would do if black people visited the congregation where he preached and expressed their desire to be identified with the work, he is reported to have said he would take them aside and talk to them and advise them to attend elsewhere (naming three other congregations in the area). At least the man James condemns in James 2 was willing to make a place for the poor man; this man was not even willing to do that for one who was black.
What Sayeth The Lord?
There is absolutely no excuse for such behavior on the part of one who professes to be a Christian. The apostle Peter said, “God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean” (Acts 10:28). Peter should have known that the Gentiles were to be a part of the New Covenant without having to become Jews based on what the prophets had said about it (Isaiah 2:2-4; Joel 28:19,20), and the commission the Lord gave him (Matthew 28:19,20). But it took a miracle to make him really understand it. With improved perception, Peter said, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34). This seems to be a very hard lesson for some to understand even today. Short of a miracle, it appears some are just not going to be convinced of this truth.
Someone might be tempted to say, “Okay, okay, you’ve made your point; if they are going to be in heaven, then I suppose I can stand them being in our assemblies, but that’s as far as it goes.” But, I have not yet made the point I wish to make. The issue of prejudice is not just limited to what some would call a religious application. It has a social application as well.
In Acts 11:3, certain of the Jerusalem brethren were upset with Peter because he had socialized with the Gentiles. Later on, because he apparently feared this powerful group, Peter failed to eat or socialize with the Gentiles and it was necessary for Paul to withstand him to his face because he was to be blamed (Galatians 2:11). Notice, if you will, that Peter was not refusing to have fellowship with the Gentile Christians in the assemblies of the church, but he was refusing to eat or socialize with them. According to Paul, Peter “walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel” in this matter (Galatians 2:14). If it was wrong for Peter to refuse to socialize with people because of their racial background almost two thousand years ago, what makes anyone think racial discrimination could be right when engaged in by Christians today?
But Prejudice Is Not Just A White Man’s Disease
Years ago, while in college, I worked as a plain-clothes security guard for a large department store chain. My job was to catch shoplifters—and I caught a lot of them. It wasn’t long before a new lady, who was black, was assigned to me for training. One day she signaled me that she had a shoplifter spotted. When I approached her for a description of the offender, she told me he was a male and then began to give me a description of his clothing and general build. I said, “What color is he?” She gave me a very startled look and continued giving me a description of the culprit’s clothing. Again, I said, “What color is he?” She said, with a very hurt look on her face, “Black, but I don’t see what that has to do with it.” After apprehending the shoplifter and finishing the paperwork, I had the opportunity to explain to my partner that every police description of a suspect begins with his or her race, then sex, age, etc. I explained to her that I meant nothing derogatory in asking for the miscreant’s race, but was only trying to get him identified. She said she had thought the question implied race had something to do with the crime, i.e., “he’s probably a black, right?” I assured her this was not the case and that the question itself proved it was not intended to be prejudicial in that it assumed the shoplifter could be either white or black. It most certainly did not assume that the shoplifter was probably black because white people assume most blacks are thieves. After having some time to think about it, this lady, much to her credit, apologized for what she admitted was her own prejudice. I happen to believe the world was made better that day in that two people, two “races,” and two sexes began to understand the other just a little bit better.
Although it sounds strange, racism is really color blind. Although they are rarely held accountable for their own prejudices, blacks, as well as whites, are guilty of racism. As a matter of fact, a system of reverse discrimination has now been institutionalized in our society. White men are now being refused jobs for which they are qualified solely because they are white and male. Under the present quota system, the best qualified does not necessarily get the job. A female or black with substandard test scores and qualifications will get the job or appointment over the better qualified white applicant if the female and black quotas have not been filled. This kind of bias is wrongly being sanctioned in America today. Discrimination in housing, education, or employment is considered vile and intolerable unless it is directed at white males, in which case it is justified as a necessary expedient for attaining “equality.” When conservative black men speak out against such abuses, they are considered traitors by members of their own race. Why? Because racism isn’t just a white man’s disease. So, while it’s axiomatic that many blacks vote reflexively for black candidates, they are rarely held accountable for their own prejudices. Even so, racial prejudice is no less ugly, and no more justifiable, when committed by blacks, although many will argue otherwise.
Racism Is A Sin That Will Stoke The Fires Of Hell
Racism, whether among whites or blacks, is a sin that will stoke the fires of hell for an eternity. This is the very thing the Lord was addressing in Matthew 5:22. There the Lord said:”But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.”
But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
In this passage, the Lord identified three stages of condemnation: (1) the local group of judges—the judgment, (2) the Jewish high court—the council, and (3) the ultimate judgment of God—hell fire. The teaching is that if one is angry with another in his heart, it may cause him to act in such a way as to be called before the local authorities (viz., they may want to know why one is acting the way he is). If one progresses further and heaps scorn on his neighbor by reflecting on his intellectual capacity by verbalizing such words as “raca, simpleton and stupid,” then one may just find himself before the high court for his slanderous remarks. But, if one thinks of his neighbor as a “fool,” (all the commentators seem to agree this refers to the moral and religious character of an individual, e.g., using abusive and defamatory words like “worthless” and “scum”), then one will be judged worthy of the ultimate penalty—namely, hell fire!
Dear brother and sister in Christ, white or black, just because prejudice is something which is sometimes only a very personal thing does not mean it is something we do not have to worry about. Just because it remains hidden in the heart does not mean it will not send us to hell—it will! As we grow up in Christ Jesus, let us be determined to
[S]peak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men. (3) For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another.