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"Racism is sin. Let's treat it that way." by Sam Vaughn

Racism is sin.

People are sinners.

I am a person.

I am a sinner.


I am stained by the sin of racism. I commit the sin of racism. I omit the righteous deeds that undo and push back the sin of racism. I have stayed silent when it benefited me, rather than speaking when it would have benefited my brothers and sisters of color. I have defaulted to judgment rather than sorrow, when an unarmed Black person is shot to death.


I remember when Michael Brown was shot and killed, watching the news coverage, the first thing I focused on was what he ‘must have done to cause it.’ I sought for a flaw in Michael Brown’s character as if that should be worthy of death. I engaged with other nationally covered events in a similar way. Embracing a narrative that made me comfortable was functionally more important to me than the God-given lives of image bearers like Eric Garner and Tamir Rice. I have been indifferent, and uncaring. Over the past year I have ignored the increase in violent hate crimes against Asian Americans, and overlooked the members of that community in my own church. I have not wept with those who were weeping, because the world works for people who look like me the way it currently is. I have been wrong. I have done wrong. I repent. God, forgive me. Work in me. Brothers and sisters, please forgive me and keep bearing with me. While I’m not the same as I was in 2014, I still have great need to be examined by God and the church, to repent, and work to bear fruit in keeping with repentance.


This racism is a horrible reality of my yet-to-be-perfected flesh. This is an affront, a heinous betrayal against the God of the universe, Who wisely and lovingly made all people in His beautiful image. This state of sinfulness requires the Blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, to save me. 


Why is it important that we recognize racism and the injustice that it breeds as sin, as so awful a thing that it requires the blood of the Son of God for forgiveness? Firstly, simply because it is true. The people of God are committed to telling the truth, about themselves and the world they live in. As sin, it must not be minimized, ignored, or explained away. Secondly, because if it is sin, it can be forgiven! It can be confessed, repented of, and fully forgiven by Jesus’ blood. As Christians, we don’t need to hide from sin in ourselves, we don’t need to fear it, we get to be freed from it! We don’t need to say things like, “he makes inappropriate jokes sometimes, but he’s not a racist” or “I’m not racist, I’ve never called someone a racial slur.” 

 

If racism is sin, then it can be subtle, it worms its way into us, our communities, and our systems in ways we don’t even understand and impacts our hearts and minds in ways we may not even be aware. This is true of all sin. If racism must be defined as an outwardly observable, distinct action or set of public beliefs, we lose much of our power to fight it. Even something so seemingly observable and objective like the sin of adultery, Jesus gave depth to when He said that looking at another person with lust is like committing adultery with them in our heart (Matthew 5:28). In order to be free, we must be forgiven. In order to be forgiven, we must repent. In order to repent, we must know our sin. Understanding racism as sin, within each of ourselves, is the only path to freedom from it.


This sin, rooted in differences between people groups, and manifesting in the creation of a dehumanizing sense of ‘the other,’ impacts different people and people groups differently depending on cultural context. If one group has more power than another group, or if one system advantages one group over another, by historical and current means, then the sin of racism will play out in meaningfully different ways and have meaningfully different impacts between those groups. There is no question: in America if my skin is white, I have advantages over those whose skin God created with a different hue. Some of those are handed down to me through a history of injustice in this nation, some of those are given to me by present day, systematized, inequalities. There is an abundance of evidence across education, business, safety, criminal justice, healthcare, etc. If we care about racism as sin as much as we should care about all sin, we ought to be faithful to learn about the ways it is wreaking destruction in our midst.

 

This means that racism is a particularly powerful weapon wielded through the hearts, minds and hands of white people in America. It has been so historically and is still so today. This is why the particular outworking of this sin in the form of white supremacy deserves distinct attention. White supremacy is the conduit through which this sin has and is wielding its greatest demonic power in our context. Therefore white supremacy is the form of racism that needs to be most clearly, repeatedly and forcefully rebuked. We ought to talk about it often. We ought to work and pray to root it out in our systems and for white folks, in our hearts.

 

Some people ask, why spend so much time on this sin? Why not write a post on greed or lust? Certainly it wouldn’t be wrong to write those posts! But the reasons I am focusing on this sin in particular are multiple:

  1. It is destroying our brothers and sisters. People are literally dying; families are being ripped apart in loss and grief. There is a real fear for the physical safety of brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters. There is real emotional, physical and mental trauma from living with the constant stress of being ‘otherized,’ and all the microaggressions, verbal abuse, threats and more that go with it.

  2. Racism is an affront to the very image of God. When God wanted himself to be seen in the world, distinct from all other parts of creation, He made humans. Nothing else in all of the manifold creation bears God’s image. Only men and women. When we treat a human as less than human, we are treating God as less than God. This is a grievous, direct attack against The Maker.

  3. Racism within the church is a stumbling block for the gospel. When unsaved people see racial division and harm happening between and perpetuated by Christians, they fail to see a difference between the church and the world. In many ways the white church has lagged behind the secular world in this issue. Repentance, repair and forgiveness is a uniquely attractive opportunity that the church has to offer.

  4. Multi-ethnic unity is where we are ultimately headed. Revelation 7:9: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands…” We ought to be moving towards our destination. This is God’s vision and will be our future reality. It is our job and our joy for God’s kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

 

So where do we go from here? Particularly if we are white, what do we do to combat this sin, to join Jesus in making His kingdom come? If you are having trouble starting: prayer, confession and repentance is always the right place to begin. It opens us up to the work of the Holy Spirit. And as with all sanctification, we have the opportunity to work with God in our growth. It’s not wrong to use the resources available to us. Google “how to end racism” and find dozens of good and right ideas. Read the blog posts on this very blog from over the past year. As Christian sister Tamara Johnson wrote for the Witness BCC: “If you love me, do your homework” (https://thewitnessbcc.com/if-you-love-me-do-your-homework/).

 

 

Arthur Ashe grew up playing tennis at courts in The Northside. Almost every single day I walk by a plaque placed in Battery Park in his honor. He was a world-renowned tennis player and a devoted civil rights activist. One of his quotes that stays with me is: “Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.” So, start. 

  1. Wherever you are, start confessing and repenting. Bear fruit in repentance. Start learning. Start moving towards brothers and sisters of color and their stories so that you can get close enough to ‘feel the heat’ of this sin, as Pastor Stan Morton says. If you have already started, keep going! Keep pressing in. 

  2. Whatever you have, use it for God’s gospel work of justice. All of yourself and your possessions belong to God. Use them in the work of His Kingdom coming. Consider giving money to organizations that seek justice, equity and opportunity for people of color (https://thewitnessfoundation.co/, https://thecretecollective.org/)

  3. Do what you can: whether that be voting for policy that does justice (this isn’t about republican or democrat, see: The & Campaign), painting walls at a neighborhood school, talking to your friends and family about the sin of racism, or a plethora of other things. 

 

Christians have a weapon against racism that those outside the church lack. Because we understand it as sin, we have a way forward in repentance and forgiveness. We have a Savior who empowers us to say when we’re wrong, because our identity is secure in Him. And we have a Spirit that can energize us for the work of the Gospel. Show those outside the family of Christ that there is good reason to come in! Work to show the world a foretaste of the final banquet, a multiethnic, multilingual celebration of the glory of the Lamb. Lord, let it be.




Sam Vaughn, his wife Kelly, and their daughter, Lucy are members of Northside Church of Richmond. Sam also serves as a ruling elder on our session.



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