Since there is no word in the Bible such as “racism” or “racist,” is there another word or concept that would be representative? To find out the answer, we have to determine what “racism” means. So, let’s do a little history lesson on this word.
History of “Racism”
In respect to the English language, “racism” or “racist” is a relatively new word. It did not exist until the 1930s. The Oxford English Dictionary (Second Edition, 1989), defined “racism” as “the theory that distinctive human characteristics and abilities are determined by race.” Pretty benign compared to how it is used today.
Let’s look at other definitions as an example of how the meaning of racism changed over time.
“A belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce inherent superiority of a particular race.” (Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, 1967)
This is a general definition, but unclear, as to the reasons why “race is the primary determinant of human traits . . .” Notice just twenty-one years later how the definition changed:
“1. A doctrine or teaching, without scientific support, that claims to find racial differences in character, intelligence, etc., that asserts the superiority of one race over another or others, and that seeks to maintain the supposed purity of a race or the races; 2. Any program or practice of racial discrimination, segregation, etc. based on such beliefs.” (Webster’s New World Dictionary, 1988, emphasis added)
This definition of “racism” has changed from the earlier one by adding a qualifier of “scientific support.” In other words, if there is no scientific support for claims of “racial differences” or the assertion of “superiority of one race over another,” or if one holds to the “practice of racial discrimination,” and so forth, then one is engaged in racism and is a racist. But what if there is scientific support for racial differences? Would one be a “racist”? No, not according to this definition. In this case, one could assert the superiority of one race over another and practice racial discrimination and not be called a “racist” as long as he could show scientific support for conclusions about racial differences.
Yet another definition adds to the notion of “racism” by including “a policy of government” and the vagueness of “hatred or intolerance”:
“1. A belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior. 2. A policy, a system of government, etc. based on such doctrine. 3. Hatred or intolerance of another race or other races. (Webster’s College Dictionary, 1991)”
This definition has dropped the qualifier of “scientific support” from the previous one and added some broader based, but subjective, qualifiers. What is “hatred” or “intolerance”? These have become arbitrary words of impression rather than definition.
What if one believed there were “inherent differences” between the races and, therefore, practiced racial discrimination and segregation for the benefit of his own race, but did not hate other races? Would he be a racist? No, not in the full sense of this definition. But then again,k what does “hate” mean?
Even this cursory review of dictionary definitions reveals a lack of consistency or exactness of definition of the word “racism.” And without a more exact definition, the terms of “racism” or “racist” may not properly identify or categorize an individual who may be a racial separatist or segregationist for very good religious or scientific reasons.
Religion on “Racism”
Today, “racism” and “racist” are used and perceived as downright evil. For example, Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd said,
“I believe that the issue of racism is from Satan and the demonic forces of hell. Racism is completely opposite from the message of Jesus Christ; it is completely opposite of the message of love, it is completely opposite of the message of dignity, value and the sanctity of human life. It is completely opposite of the message of reconciliation.” – Nov. 5, 2015
Pretty strong words here. But it may represent the sentiments of Catholic and Protestant religion today.
Many pastors and scholars who believe that the Bible is the written word of God stand in defiance of “racism” because of one primary presumption: that all races originated from Adam. They have concluded that the Bible is a universally-applied book. It’s about all races, they say. So, it only stands to reason that racism is to be hated and opposed – whatever “racism” means.
But is it true that the Bible is about, and for, all races?
I used to believe that, but I asked the hard questions and then tried to be as objective as possible when I searched for the answers in the Bible. My conclusion: there is no evidence that all races came from Adam nor is the Bible – the key people, historical events or covenants – inclusive of all races. No evidence. None.
That being said, I would also conclude that unless there is a definite and agreed upon meaning of “racism” or “racist” (since there are obviously many different ideas about it), we cannot determine if the Bible discusses the issue.
If, on the other hand, I am assigned the racism or racist label because I believe that the Bible is about one race of people among many, and that the Bible is not inclusive of all races, then call me what you will. But remember what Jesus said:
“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.” – Matthew 5:21-22
You good-for-nothing, you fool – you racist! Be careful.
Let’s be honest. “Racism” and “racist” are created words used against the White people to shame and blame them. They are used by unthinking people who basically don’t know what they so confidently accuse another of.
Just stick with what the Bible says and means.
In the meantime, may I suggest another, more accurate definition of “racist”:
“One who realizes that there are inherent differences between the races and makes choices about his life based on those differences.”
Lawrence Blanchard, ND, MDiv