Our Race Problem is Our Sin Problem

Yesterday I tweeted a few things in response to a statement from Dabo Swinney on the racial unrest that has gripped America since the murder of George Floyd last week. Coach Swinney said, as part of a longer statement:

“What I know is I approach everything from a perspective of faith, and it’s that where there’s people there’s going to be racism and greed and hate because we live in a sinful, fallen world…(full statement here).”

While I like making fun of Dabo (I am, after all, a South Carolina Fan deeply jealous of Clemson’s recent success), I don’t doubt his sincerity when he makes statements like this. By all accounts he’s a good to great person with a strong faith that he tries to bring to the forefront. But his words come close to a statement I’ve seen from others recently and in other times where issues of race come to the forefront, including from Dabo himself: “We don’t have a race problem in this county, we have a sin problem.”

Let me say first that that’s right. Racism is sin, and its good and necessary that we declare that openly and forcefully. But there are some dangers to that thinking that I believe are worth all of us, especially white Christians, ESPECIALLY white Christians in the South, need to grapple with.

First, its true that we live in a fallen world and as a result the realities of sin are everywhere. But simply recognizing that fact isn’t sufficient. Christians are called to confess and repent of sin, that means naming it, recognizing it, but also seeking to go and sin no more. We would not readily accept statements like “I don’t have a lust problem, I have a sin problem” or “I don’t have a stealing problem, I have a sin problem,” or “I don’t have a murder problem, I have a sin problem.” You get the point. If I just chalk racism up to the reality of a fallen world I’m failing to recognize and wrestle with the way it exists in my world; the ways that I’ve benefited from it and perpetuated it. If we simply lament racism as a reality that can’t be undone until Christ comes to make all things new we’re failing to grapple with how we could work to undo the way this sin has worked its way into the systems we participate in.

And that’s the real danger of this idea, if we allow it it can convince us that racism is “the world’s” problem, not ours. It is the fallen world that is racist, not those of us who profess to following Christ. Another thing I’ve seen shared repeatedly over the last few weeks is something along the lines of “you can’t be a Christian and a racist, those ideas can’t go together.” In theory that’s right. In reality that couldn’t be further from the truth. Scripture was used time and again to defend slavery and segregation in this country. The Ku Klux Klan has maintained since its founding that it is first and foremost a Christian organization. On Easter Sunday 1873 in Colfax, Louisiana somewhere between 62-153 black men were killed by a white militia who left church and marched to the Parrish courthouse to “resurrect” their way of life that they believed had been taken from them and given to the former slaves. It isn’t simply in our history either. The first adult I heard use the n-word was one of my Sunday School teachers discussing Barack Obama’s candidacy. I’ve listened in shock as adults who led black boys in RA’s and on youth trips discussed what they would do if their daughters brought home a black boyfriend. I’ve been at church league basketball games where a referee was told to “get those monkeys under control” in reference to the young black men on the court.

Those are all other people’s actions though. Those are still examples of racism “out there.” I’ve locked the door when I came to a red light in certain neighborhoods. I’ve crossed the street early to avoid walking past a crowd of people who “looked sketchy.” On a mission trip we started to leave without a black member of our group and I said “well, at least we only left behind 3/5 of a person (everyone knows that historical racism is funny and clever).” I’ve claimed to “not see race,” without recognizing the privileged it is to not have race be the first thing people see. I have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

And so have you. And so has this country. And we still do. And until we’re willing to confess and repent, until we’re willing to recognize that this isn’t a sin “out there” but one lurking in each and every one of us and, more importantly, in the systems our world has been built and sustained on, we’ll never be able to go and sin no more.

The Lord’s Prayer includes the line “thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.” That’s a prayer, but its also a call to action. As Christians we believe we can make bring the kingdom even as we wait for it, that we can make earth a little more like heaven while we wait to see it in full. We start that process by being honest about what’s not there yet and refusing to leave it that way.

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