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Robert L. Briggs Headshot

Racism and the Bible

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Following the trial of George Zimmerman for the shooting of Trayvon Martin, there has been a tremendous outcry about the verdict. Many are claiming that it was unjust and is further evidence that African Americans receive unequal treatment from our judicial system -- both as victims and plaintiffs -- compared with other Americans.

I'll leave it to the legal experts to comment on the appropriateness of the verdict. But one thing of which I am certain? No matter what you believe about the verdict itself, reactions to it send a clear message: racial divisions continue to be a significant issue in America.

Now comes the commercial success of the critically acclaimed art-house film, Fruitvale Station. The film is a fictionalization of the real-life 2009 story of a police officer's shooting of an unarmed black youth. The film's success -- the only non-studio film to boast top-10 earnings at the box office last weekend -- was driven by an almost entirely African-American audience, providing further evidence of racial divisions around issues of justice.

We cannot ignore the fact that a large group of people in this nation feels they are looked upon -- and treated -- as second-class citizens. This should trouble all right-thinking Americans, but particularly Bible-believing Americans.

While the Bible has often been twisted and misused to justify racist acts, the truth is that Scripture makes a strong case against racism and for racial equality. If this is news to you, let me make my case.

1. The Bible clearly asserts that the value of a person comes from his or her Creator.

Genesis chapter one, verse 27 states, "God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them."

All of humankind is the work of the ultimate master artist.

Think about the implications of that statement. Why is an original Renoir worth millions of dollars, but a print of the same image is worth around $29.95? Because the original is the work of the master artist's hands. In a similar way, all humankind -- whether Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, mixed-race or any other race -- is the work of God, the Creator's hands.

This biblical truth asserts the value of all people and leaves no room for racism.

2. In the Bible, God doesn't make distinctions based on physical or social attributes.

When the prophet, Samuel, was sent by God to anoint the next king of Israel, Samuel was initially convinced that someone with an impressive, physical stature would be the Lord's choice. Speaking about Samuel's pick, God set him straight. God told the prophet, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." (1 Sam. 16:7)

In the New Testament book of Galatians, the Apostle Paul writes, "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Gal. 3:28)

The Bible is clear: God invented equality and social justice.

3. The Bible tells us to consider others before ourselves.

Throughout Scripture, God encourages people to treat others with respect and dignity. In the Apostle Paul's letter to the church at Philippi, he tells the new believers, "In humility, value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others." (Philippians 2:3-4)

Anyone looking to the Bible to justify his own mistreatment of others is going to be sorely disappointed.

4. The Bible states that God calls us to be reconciled. And He's serious.

The Bible advocates for people to resolve their differences and be reconciled. Whether it is a family, a faith community or a nation in conflict, the Bible advocates that reconciliation be sought wherever possible.

The Gospel of Matthew finds Jesus instructing His followers in this principle.

"Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift." (Matthew 5:23-24)

God is so serious about reconciliation that He doesn't want our gift -- time, treasure or talents -- until we've done our best to resolve our conflicts with one another.

The Bible's marching orders to Christians in America are clear: get serious about healing the wounds of racism.

So the Bible makes a strong case against prejudice and for reconciliation. But how do we do it? How do we end racism and heal its wounds?

Fortunately, the Bible also gives us a place to start.

The book of Proverbs blockades the person who is overly impressed with himself saying, "A fool finds no pleasure in understanding, but delights in airing his own opinions." (Proverbs 18:2) The implication is that if you don't want to be a fool, seek to understand others rather than broadcast a monologue of your own opinions.

In the New Testament, James 1:19 says, "Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger." In other words, talk less and listen more. Seek to understand before seeking to be understood.

Jesus said that one of the most important things we can do is to love our neighbors. When pressed with the question, "Who is our neighbor?" he told the story of love across the razor wire of racial and religious enmity when a Samaritan man helped a wounded Jew. The strong lesson here is that love and compassion should always trump the divisions between us.

The cure for racism is humility and compassion. The wounds of racism will only begin to heal as people, of all races, seek to understand one another.

True racial reconciliation in this nation will take time, but it must be pursued. And the Bible can help us to take the next step toward healing.