The Problem with Ending Racism

Even the casual sports fan can no longer avoid Black Lives Matter. The letters lined NBA baselines and smothered the broadcasts. They were featured on player warm-ups and printed on the back of jerseys. The NFL has been less conspicuous, but cleats, helmets, telecasters, commercials, and kneeling still draw attention to the movement.

As I watched a football game recently, a curious phrase caught my eye: End Racism. This command stared at me from either side of the field, etched in the endzones. This struck me. Assuming the best of the many people involved in the decision, did they truly believe that they — or anyone watching — could really end racism?

End Racism?

I have no reason to doubt that those involved really wanted to make this world a better place. But as I watched them try, I couldn’t help but feel the powerlessness of it. What did pointing a camera at the endzone have to do with pointing people away from the heart’s lust for ethnic superiority? The call, even if it met with the sympathetic heart, did not empower anyone to go and accomplish the feat. The command read to me as “End Envy” or “Stop Lust.”

This sentiment swirls around us so much these days that I wonder if the world truly believes its own mantra — that it can, in fact, end racism. To be clear, secularism can effect change toward partial laws or economic systems or accountability for police shootings — and behind any progress on those fronts stands a loving God with common grace. Secularism can also alter political correctness and incentivize (or strong-arm) outward conformity. If this is all that is meant, my amazement subsides.

“Racism is sin, and a world enslaved to sin cannot overcome sin.”

But with the lack of clarity on objective goals of various marches and protests — a point very different from the civil rights movement which aimed at ensuring just law (i.e., civil rights) — one might stand to wonder if the end isn’t really to expunge the world of ethnic lusts entirely (and this understood to be against minorities almost exclusively). Some of the demands seem to be heart demands; to think and feel certain ways.

Were the world to build a totalitarian regime, with the authority to severely punish those who do not bow to its diversity indoctrination, it still could not force anyone to love what he ought to love and hate what he ought to hate. That power belongs to Another. The change the world groans after, even on its best days, belongs to the very God the world rejects every day. He alone has the power to change hearts.

Blind Leading the Blind

Why can’t we expect non-Christian movements, even the best of them, to end racism of the heart?

Because of the sinfulness of humanity. With regards to skin color, the Bible says that sooner can an Ethiopian change his skin or a leopard his spots than those who are accustomed to doing evil do good (Jeremiah 13:23). Or, as Paul says, mankind is enslaved to sin, children of wrath, happily following the devil (Ephesians 2:1–3). Racism is just one manifestation of this rebellion against God.

We think we can pick and choose our master. We exchange the truth about God for lies, refuse to acknowledge his universal reign, and then wonder how anyone would seek to exalt himself over his fellow man based on something so trite as skin color, culture, or nationality. When we think we’ve successfully dethroned God, what’s left but a game of thrones?

Ending racism is not possible for the world. The humanitarian religion can take aim for a time at systemic racism, but it will tire and move on to the new fad when convenient. No politician. No law. No march nor protest. No best resolves nor coercive measures. No amount of listening nor diversity training can end racism. As great as some of these measures can be, racism is sin, and a world enslaved to sin cannot overcome sin.

You Must Be Born Again

This makes Jesus’s way to “end racism” revolutionary: “You must be born again” (John 3:7). He begins from the inside out. You must have new loves, a new nature, a new heart.

This new heart, enthroned by God himself, inspires a countercultural love for Christians who are different from us: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7).

This new heart is incompatible with any ongoing practice of racial prejudice:

Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. (1 John 3:8–9)

This new heart prepares us for heaven, where we will experience inviolable peace with one another: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:5–6).

This new heart, unlike an old heart commanded to act new, is really, genuinely new: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:17–18).

Where systemic injustice does exist in this world, starting with Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood, we prefer new hearts with new allegiances to King Jesus, not old hearts still aligned with Satan, to take the lead. Only hearts remade and captured by God can understand justice as they ought: “Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand it completely” (Proverbs 28:5). New births by the Spirit of God empower us to live new lives of love, a love strong enough to overcome old bigotries.

Where Our Racism Ends

Our history, our current moment, can feel so momentous, so terrifying, so broken, so urgent. The ancient gospel can feel small in comparison. Now can feel like reality, the atonement can feel small on the horizon. But no.

The foundations of racism — and all the other perversions of our culture — will crack when we gather together under a brotherhood that flies not under the banner of a better tomorrow, but of a better eternity. A universal brotherhood of man to man — irrespective of Christ — is not the Christian’s goal. Jesus prayed for unity among his people so that the world may marvel at it from the outside and conclude that Jesus must be sent from God (John 17:20–21). Christ is still and always the answer.

In the cross of Christ I glory,
Towering over the wrecks of time;
All the light of sacred story
Gathers round its head sublime.

“When the cross shrinks, the world dims. When the church loses influence in a culture, the culture decays.”

The cross still towers over the wrecks of time, shining like a lighthouse to navigate through dark and jagged shores. When the cross shrinks, the world dims. When the church loses influence in a culture, the culture decays. When we distance ourselves from Calvary, when we move on and try to do God’s work without giving preeminence to God’s work and God’s Spirit, we will never shine with the light the world so desperately needs to see. In other words, having something higher to unify us than unity itself, we will show the righteous fruit of God being among us.

Having Tried All Else

Our climate today is analogue to the woman who bled for twelve years.

As Jesus went, the people pressed around him. And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and though she had spent all her living on physicians, she could not be healed by anyone. She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, and immediately her discharge of blood ceased. (Luke 8:42–44)

The world is full of physicians that cannot heal. Your favorite political candidate cannot end racism. New legislations — with all the good they can achieve — cannot end racism. And messages lying limp in endzones cannot end racism. None of these can change hearts.

Historically in America, too many churches have not been the standard-bearers in this area, but rather had their share of indulgences and compromises with racist societies instead of shining within them. Yet the church today is still the only institution on the planet, the only “chosen race,” that goes forth in the authority of Christ and effects genuine change as we “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that [Jesus has] commanded” (Matthew 28:19–20).

Ironically, the racism-free world fallen humanity aches for is approaching. Racism will end soon — sooner than most will want — when our King finally comes to judge. And not only will racism, and every other sin, be thrown into the lake of fire, but his people will be unified in ways we can only now imagine — all in Christ.