Theological Fallacies of Racism

When working in Tanzania, I took some pride in myself being the new generation postcolonialantiracistwhatsoever missionary. I was no racist because I was not acting like one. When my youngest daughter had a chat after her first day at school, I had to reconsider:

-Daddy, I got a new friend.

-How is she called?

-I don’t remember.

-Is she white, African or Indian?

-I don’t know.

I was horrified. Is this the way I teach my daughter racism? No matter if I hadn’t, she would have got it from elsewhere because (also) Tanzanian society reflected the colonial racist patterns, decades after independence. By racist, I mean belief in the existence of distinct races and a hierarchy of superiority between them.

WCC Commission for World Mission and Evangelism conference in Arusha 2018. Makumira University performance group. Image: Mika Vähäkangas

Evil deeds are symptoms, not the disease

Some cases of police brutality like the murder of African-American George Floyd, and South African Collins Khosa (by the military, with the police watching by) create angry reactions. Some of them are appalled by the deeds itself while others (usually people of colour) point out to the cultural, political and systemic dimensions. It is not only that we are racist but that racist ideologies contaminate thoroughly our cultures and societies.

Some of us want to imagine away racism by thinking that if we do not act in a blatantly racist manner the problem does not exist. That makes us complicit. The racist conclusion is that because we all are racists, that is the natural state of affairs and it should be so. This position ignores that we are not born racist. Additionally, it is theologically fallacious. Racism is sin (I will explain below why) and if we simply surrender to the evil in the racist manner, why would one not surrender to the rest: stealing, lying, killing etc.? One of the paradoxes of Christianity is that it challenges us to struggle against sin while admitting that we never get completely rid of it. So, the racist solution is out of question but imagining the evil away does not work, either.

A Trinitarian view

The most common argument against racism bases on the creation: God created all humans in the image of God, which means that we should all be equal. Racist deeds and structures kill and oppress human beings, which is evil as such. However, this does not explain why races should not be separate if one would grant that they would be equal.

Belhar Confession, created in South Africa during Apartheid, addresses this. For it, Apartheid not only violated the spirit of the first article of faith but also the second. Racism that tends to separate the races is a fundamental breach against the second article of faith. This separation of races does not trust the atoning work of Christ. For it, there is no possibility of coming together and reconciling.

From the point of view of the third article of faith, there are two dimensions the racist theological fallacy that overlap with the above. First, one does not have any attempt at sanctification because one succumbs to the sin of racism. Second, one does not trust in the power of the Holy Spirit to bridge the differences and nurture one family of God. The ecclesiastic map of many countries is sadly very colour-coded.

Racism as idolatry

In the racist world, the white man (yes, you often get a combo of two oppressive ideologies for the price of one – male chauvinism included) is the summit of creation. He is the real image of God, and the other humans are inferior versions of humanity.

In this thinking, the analogy between God and humans turns upside down. Here, God is created in the image of the white man. The whole of humanity is the image of God, and so is every human individual. Lifting up one specific type of people as THE image of God is nothing else but those people worshiping themselves in the idol they have made for themselves.

Racism is a heresy

Summing up, racism is not only sin both as racist deeds and a culturally embedded inclination towards racism but as an ideology, it is also a heresy. Moreover, it is an idolatrous heresy. Whoever claims that racist deeds or structures are the will of God, breaks in my opinion against all the main Christian doctrines. Therefore, racism is not just a more or less marginal ethical issue for Christians but rather an ideology that has the ability to completely pervert Christian faith. Therefore, there is a fatal conflict between racism and Christian faith.

The views presented in this post represent only the author’s and are not Lund University or GCIR seminar official positions

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