STUDY TWELVE: RACISM AND DISCRIMINATION
© Rosemary Bardsley 2006, 2016
The issue of discrimination confronts the Christian with two distinct ethical problems:
 It is inappropriate for a Christian to exhibit or employ discriminatory attitudes, words and actions towards other human beings. This includes a wide range of discrimination issues: racism, sexual discrimination, discrimination relating to the disabled or the poor, discrimination regarding language or religion.
 Contemporary anti-discrimination laws, together with ‘the new tolerance’, are increasingly redefining the meaning of ‘discrimination’ and ‘tolerance’ and requiring not only fair and equitable treatment of people who are different from oneself, but also affirmation and support of their ideologies, values, beliefs, etc as equally right as one’s own. This is a problem for Christians, whose God claims to be the only God, and whose Christ claims to be the one way to that one God.
A. DISCRIMINATION - HISTORICAL AND CONTEMPORARY
A.1 Racism - unequal treatment of people because of their race
Racism is discriminatory treatment of people because of their race. It focuses on racial differences – skin colour, physical structure, culture, language, political/national distinctives, or simply the fact of the racial difference. The massive slave trade of the Negro people, the politically endorsed segregation of ‘blacks’ and ‘whites’ in the USA, and the practice of apartheid in South Africa are extreme examples of racism in recent history.
A significant amount of recent and contemporary racism has been aggravated or excused by the implications of the theory of evolution. Consider these comments regarding the attitude of some white Australians to Aboriginal people in the early decades of the twentieth century:
‘The male colonists may have considered that they were not exploiting these girls, nor harming them in any way when they used them for sexual intercourse, nor committing any significant offence, at least morally. Darwin’s theory of evolution … which helped to determine the climate of thinking at this time, advocated that indigenous people were an inferior human species, on the lowest level of human development, and the European Caucasian was on the highest level and the most superior human race. With this framework of thinking the latter was not very sensitive to the former. Consequently, many of the colonists in those times believed that the full-blood Aborigines were childlike, of limited intelligence and therefore uneducable, and without feelings or human emotions. It was accepted by the colonists that if a “white man” had a “fresh native girl” every week he “does her no injury … People cannot be robbed of what they do not possess nor native girls of chastity” ‘ [p40, Pamela Rajkowski, Linden Girl, with quote from M.M. Bennett The Australian Aborigine as a Human Being.]
[Commenting on government policy in Western Australia] ‘When the Darwinian theory of evolution was taken to its ultimate conclusion, it suggested that, in keeping with the premise of the survival of the fittest, the indigenous races seen as the inferior ones could ultimately evolve out of existence. They were a ‘dying’ race. … As it was considered logical that ‘full-blood’ Aborigines were less likely to reach intellectual maturity, and then due to the combination of evolution and some of their traditional tribal practices to die out, Darwinism affected European attitudes regarding the education of Aboriginal people. As there was little point in sending ‘full-blood’ children to schools, the 1905 Aborigines Act prevented such children from being enrolled in schools. It was not logically a ‘right’ that Aboriginal people should have a complete education, become academics, have skilled jobs and professions, hold prestigious positions in society, or that their human rights be a political and civil issue. It was socially, even morally acceptable, that coloured races be prepared to fit into white society either as slaves or as cheap labour. … This also explains why increasingly ‘half-caste’ children were preferred to ‘full-blood’ children in forced removal from their Aboriginal families. … it was apparent that his (that is, Neville, the Chief Protector of Aborigines) ultimate ambition was for control over most aspects of the lives of the entire Aboriginal population so as to accommodate their eventual annihilation. ’ [p88-92, Rajkowski]
From these quotes we can identify the then current belief that Australian Aborigines
Were not as intelligent as white Australians, so could not be educated.
Did not possess normal human emotions.
Were incapable of having moral values.
Were on the way out as a race because of the progress of evolution.
It was not until 1967 that Australian Aborigines and Torres Straight Islanders officially received equal citizenship recognition and rights.
When we think of racism we usually think of something big - like apartheid which was part of life in South Africa until quite recently, or the anti-Semitic [anti-Jewish] mindset which resulted in the Holocaust in Germany, or the problems between ‘whites’ and ‘blacks’ in the USA, or the denial of human rights to Aboriginal people identified above.
Most of us like to think that we are not personally racist, but the question ‘Am I a racist?’ is probably most honestly answered when we each ask ourselves another question: ‘If you had a daughter, and she wanted to marry a man of a totally different race, and specifically of a totally different skin colour, what would be your immediate and automatic response? Would you be as happy about it as if she had chosen someone of her own race?’
Read or listen to the sermon by John Piper at http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/racial-harmony-and-interracial-marriage as part of your study. List any significant comments below.
A.2 Sexism – discriminatory treatment of people on the basis of their sex
By far the most common expressions of sexism are directed against women.
Sexism occurs at different levels. At one level is the question of equal ‘rights’. The equal rights for women that are enjoyed in Australia today are a relatively recent phenomenon. Here are a few Australian facts:
1902 Women were given the right to vote in Commonwealth elections [state elections – various dates]
1930 Women’s wages were 54% of male wage rates
1950 Female wage rate lifted to 75% of male rate
1975 Equal pay for same duties
Along with the right to vote and gradually equalizing wages, women have also experienced increasing access to education, employment and careers, so that in Australia today education and most employment and career options are open to women. There is still a residual bias against women in some occupations and some social areas. In the church acute discernment is needed to distinguish between a valid biblical role differentiation between men and women, and a distortion of this into a suppression of women and a denial of their essential equality and ability.
Another level of sexism is that of the exploitation of a person as a sexual object. The most extreme expression of this is the sex-slave industry. It is estimated that at least 20.9 million people are trafficked annually, the large majority in the sex industry. 98% of those trafficked in the sex industry are women and children.
Sexual exploitation is a form of discrimination. While hopefully no Christians would be involved in trafficking in human beings in the sex industry, the basic attitudes from which this discrimination and degradation arise are observable in other actions and attitudes:
Involvement in pornography
Use of the human body in advertising in a sexually offensive way
Use of the human body or human sexuality in a discriminatory way in media and entertainment industries
Offensive sexual references in the workplace, sports activities, etc
Seeing one’s marriage partner as one’s possession who exists simply to meet one’s sexual or other needs.
While some people give the appearance of enjoying some of the above, even as the ‘victim’ in these attitudes and practices, a long term potential impact of involvement in and exposure to this sexist discrimination is the erosion of the human dignity and respect of both the offender and the victim.
A further level of sexist discrimination is in the area of domestic violence, most of which is committed against women. Women are viewed by some men as people who can be bashed up. Statistics reveal:
23% of women [who are or have been married or in a de facto relationship] have experienced physical violence from their partner.
In 76.9% of intimate partner homicides the victim was the woman.
Up to 25% of young people aged 12 to 20 have witnessed physical violence against their mother or step-mother.
Yet another level of sexist discrimination is observable in gender-based abortions, infanticide, neglect and malnutrition.
A.3 Discrimination against children
In addition to the sexual exploitation of children identified above, children are the victims of discrimination in other areas:
Use of child labour, often in hazardous conditions
Children involved in armed conflict as child soldiers
Child abuse. This includes physical abuse, verbal and emotional abuse, and also abuse by deprivation of adequate care, medical attention, education, etc.
A.4 Other areas of discrimination
Discrimination is present or potentially present wherever differences exist. This includes differences caused by physical or mental disability, differences in socio-economic status, and differences of religion or ideology. There is not space in this study to investigate discrimination in these areas.
B. BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVES: EQUALITY AND DIFFERENTIATION
B.1 Our common ancestry
At two points in the early history of mankind our common ancestry is indicated by the Bible:
Our descent from Adam and Eve, who is described as ‘the mother of all living’ [Gen 3:20].
Our descent from Noah after the flood destroyed all but him and his family [Gen 6-9].
This common ancestry overturns any superiority a person might feel based on sex, race, skin colour, culture or language. Although significant in the human scheme of things, these differences are really only superficial differences. Underneath the differences and distinctions is a common humanity, with a common creation by a common Creator.
B.2 Divisions are an expression of our sinfulness, not of our differing value
The Bible is quite aware of the destructive divisions [discrimination] that exist between people. However it does not attribute these divisions to our essential identity but to our sinfulness. The things that cause and express trouble between people do not come from any innate or essential superiority/inferiority, but from the pride, fears, hatreds, self-focus, and so on of our sinful hearts. For example:
As we have already seen, the man/woman tensions and discriminations arose because of Genesis 3; they did not exist in Genesis 1 and 2.
Inter-personal rivalry, expressions of self-defence and self-justification at the expense of the other, interpersonal fear, perceptions of threat to one’s reputation or esteem – all of these were precipitated by our separation from God by our sinful choice in Genesis 3.
The mistreatment of the poor, as we have already seen, goes hand in hand with the rejection of God [see study on Poverty]. It is only our sinful, God-rejecting hearts that deceive us into thinking the poor, the disabled, and so on are of less value and significance than the rich. But the believing heart knows, as Job said: ‘did not he who made them in the womb make me?’
B.3 The origin of the races
In Acts 17:26 we read: ‘From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth’. [Note: some ancient manuscripts of Acts have ‘from one blood’.] This points to the common origin of the races. Just how the division into races occurred is recorded in Genesis 11. Up to the Tower of Babel there was one people and one language [Genesis 11:1,6]. At this point God confused the language, initiating the spread of people over the earth into different people groups [11:8-9]. He did this for two reasons:  because man was not obeying the original command to fill the earth [given in Gen 1:28], and  because their unity was causing a self-confidence and self-importance that was contrary to the dependence upon God for which they were created [Gen 11:4-6]. Although seeming to magnify man this original expression of secular humanism was actually not in man’s best interests.
[For a discussion of the development of the different physical characteristics in the go to http://answersingenesis.org/creation/v3/i3/human_race.asp ].
B.4 What about the Jew-Gentile divide?
The biblical distinction between Jew and Gentile was not based on any superior attributes or qualities of the Jews. It was not because of anything they had done that God set them apart and made a distinction between them and all other races [Deuteronomy 7:6-8; 9:4-6;14:1-2]. Their distinction consisted solely in God’s choice and God’s purpose: he set them apart to be his own people – a people through whom he would reveal himself to mankind, and through whom the ultimate revelation of God would eventually come in his incarnation in the Israelite Jesus of Nazareth. He did not choose them because they were different, he chose them to be different: to worship and proclaim him, the one true God, in the midst of a world given over to false gods. They were not chosen because they were special; they were special because they were chosen. So it is with anything or anyone set apart by God to be his own possession, to use for his own purpose. Their distinction was not one of superiority but one of responsibility [Isaiah 43:7,10].
C. BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVES: DISCRIMINATION OUTLAWED
The Bible clearly recognizes human differences: financial, social, gender and racial differences all appear on its pages. These differences are an inescapable fact of life. The existence of differences, however, does not validate discriminatory behaviour towards those who are different. Although the Bible nowhere states ‘thou shalt not practise discrimination’ there are a number of commands or principles that outlaw discrimination. This non-discrimination applies to our relationships with everyone; it also applies even more powerfully to our relationships with others who believe in Christ.
Read these scriptures. In what way do they outlaw discriminatory attitudes and actions towards those who are different from us in one way or another? Include the kinds of people against whom discrimination is forbidden.
Deuteronomy 1:16,17; 5:14; 14:29
1Corinthians 1:10-12; 1:20-31
Revelation 5:9; 7:9; 14:6; 21:24;
D. BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVES: DISCERNMENT COMMANDED
While God forbids the kind of discrimination that results in the mistreatment or inequitable treatment of others because of their differences, or the deprivation of human dignity and equality of other human beings, he also commands a discernment that makes a distinction between truth and error, between right and wrong, and between those people who belong to him and those who do not. The biblical Jew/Gentile distinction referred to above with its foundation in God’s choice [which is not to be confused with much of the historical or contemporary conflict and controversy involving Jews], has, since the coming of Christ, also existed between believer and unbeliever. It is at a fundamental and essential level an identical distinction, but now applied at an individual level rather than a national level.
[Note: this biblical distinction between Christian and non-Christian is also different from the politically aligned factions sometimes bearing the name ‘Christian’ that are responsible for or involved in divisions and wars within and/or between countries.]
Those who believe in Jesus Christ have been chosen by God to be his own special people – to be ‘holy’ – set apart by God for his special purposes [Ephesians 1:4; 1Peter 2:9]. As with Israel, this is not grounded in any qualities in those chosen; rather, it is their being chosen by God that endows them with distinction and uniqueness. Christians, like Israel, have been given God’s truth, and along with that a mandate to communicate that truth by word and by life to the rest of the world. This role/identity of necessity creates a division between truth and error, between right and wrong. While it does not imply, indeed it outlaws, any essential, innate difference or superiority of person or being, it definitely affirms a difference and a superiority in the area of belief. In some instances it also results in a difference and/or superiority of values.
It is in these areas of belief and values that the Christian believer is commanded by the Scripture to be discriminatory: to recognize that there is right belief and wrong belief, right values and wrong values, and to exercise discernment about what is believed and what values are embraced and applied. There is also God’s command to go and teach all nations and call them to repentance and faith. This mandate, this responsibility, automatically involves discrimination, for it assumes the invalidity of the existing belief system of people and upholds the biblical gospel as the one valid belief system. The very nature of the Gospel contains an inbuilt discrimination and intolerance of all other belief systems. Note carefully, this is not discrimination against people, but against their beliefs.
This absoluteness and exclusivity of the Gospel creates problems for Christians in the contemporary era of relativism, multiculturalism, non-discrimination, and ‘the new tolerance’. It is not surprising that the contemporary generation of Christians worldwide is experiencing a greater level of anti-Christian persecution than any other generation in the history of the church. The relativistic contemporary mindset will tolerate anything except ‘intolerance’.
D.1 Discerning between right and wrong values [the area of our moral behaviour]
The Bible constantly commands that we discern between right and wrong behaviour. Because it presents God as the one absolute God who has clearly stated his commands, it requires that we recognize behaviour that is wrong and keep ourselves from that behaviour. We are commanded to dissociate ourselves from wrong behaviour and from those who indulge in it.
Read these scriptures. In what way do they command a discernment and distinction that could appear to be discriminatory? What is the Christian’s responsibility in these areas?
In the contemporary concepts of non-discrimination and ‘tolerance’ it is discriminatory or intolerant to make this biblical moral distinction. [This perceived intolerance owes at least a large part of its understanding to the relativism that inevitably follows the rejection of God: If there is not one God who is over all, then there is no absolute right and wrong; any perceptions of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are merely current personal or cultural perceptions, with no universal application.]
D.2 Discerning between right and wrong beliefs
It is probably in this area that Christians in contemporary society are most likely to be seen to be discriminatory or intolerant. The Bible makes it quite clear that there is such a thing as absolute religious/spiritual truth that is true for all people, in all places at all times. Jesus claimed to the ‘the truth’, ‘the light of the world’, ‘the way’, ‘the bread of life’, the only way to God. All of these claims of Christ invalidate all other truth claims.
Paralleling these absolute and exclusive claims of Christ is the Old Testament insistence that there is only one God and one Saviour, and the New Testament insistence that all other messages, and all corruptions of the gospel message, are false, and that those who proclaim such messages are false teachers. In the context of contemporary ‘tolerance’ this biblical perspective of exclusivity is offensive.
Consider the implications of these scriptures in the contemporary climate of non-discrimination. How do they contrast with the contemporary rejection of absolute truth? What kind of burden do they place on the genuine Christian in the context of anti-discrimination laws?
What personal challenges and difficulties do these scriptures place on you in the various contexts of your life in today’s society? How are you going to respond?
E. PERSONAL INVENTORY
Here we leave aside the tension between our Christian mandate to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the application of contemporary anti-discrimination law to that proclamation, we return now to take inventory of our personal attitudes to those who are different from ourselves.
Knowing that our Christian ethic outlaws discriminatory practices we need to take a close look at ourselves and determine to what extent we are discriminatory in our attitudes and actions.
To what degree are you personally challenged when meeting people of the following descriptions? Is your automatic response to them [before you get to know them] different from your automatic response to someone whom you identify as being the same as yourself? In what way is it different? What are the ethical implications for you in these situations?
A person of the opposite sex
A person in a different age bracket, especially someone considerably older or younger than yourself
A person of a different race, nationality or language
A person of a different skin colour
A person of a different religion
A person with a mental disability
A person with a physical disability
A person from a different socio-economic group than yourself
A person with significantly more or less education than yourself
A person with radically different fashion sense than yours
If you unearthed any areas in which you have discriminatory attitudes or actions, what are you going to do about this in response to the Word of God?