Racism Comes From a Me-Centered Humanism
The President threatening military force. Racism mangling communities, then others denying that there is racism.
Where does it all come from? Why hasn’t Jesus’s people made more of a difference?
It all starts with one fundamental question: What is the measurement of a human?
Everyone has a definition for what it means to be human, but our answer determines how we measure people. All humans have a tendency towards this: not just those in uniforms or with gavels; but parents, children, employers, employees, enemies, friends, family, neighbors.
Even Jesus categorized people into sheep or goats (Matthew 25:31-46). To gauge in this sense isn’t always wrong.
The problem isn’t with measuring, per se – it’s with the measuring stick. We all have one. What’s yours? You don’t think of it like this, but your mind does hold an image of an optimal human, and it affects how you see others. And how you treat them. What is it? You, me and everyone tend to make ourselves that standard. Consider it.
Whatever a person defines themselves by – typically the thing they’re most proud of – is usually how they define humanness. It’s our human ruler. Take the common high school experience. Jocks pick on nerds for being athletically astute – like them. Nerds look down on jocks for not being keenly academic—like them. The popular girls slander those who aren’t; those who listen to rap sneer at those who don’t.
We move on from high school only to face more me-centered, different-people-destroying forms of discrimination: those based on gender, orientation, politics, income, social status – and of course, skin color. This poison even flows in the drinking water of the church. People define a “real”, or “mature” Christian according to themselves: by their own theology, or their own convictions, or their own worship style, or their own experiences. And unfortunately, even their own race. The standard is always “Me!”
What about those who are weighed in the “Me Balance” and fall short? They are seen as less-than, followed by less-than treatment. Actually, they’re seen as less than human, which is always followed by dehumanization.
That’s how the Nazis nearly wiped out the Jews. That’s how slavery was justified. That’s how abortion is popularized. And this is how African Americans are subjugated by the majority race, even murdered. Inhumane acts start with a me-centered standard of humanity. When that standard is white, and when the white person has the power, then it’s the one who differs who ends up saying, “I can’t breathe”.
What Should Be the Human Standard?
Obviously, it’s not the amount of melanin in one’s skin! There are as many wrong answers as there are words. There is a right answer though.
All creation reveals the Creator (Romans 1:18-23), but in the Biblical narrative, humans alone are His reflection. God assigned us with a two-fold function: “Let us make man in our image and after our likeness. And let them have dominion over” all the earth (Gen. 1:26). God made us to rule as imitations of Himself, in that how we use this power should reveal His charitable heart. We were blessed with abilities so we could bless others: so we could build houses to live in, music to listen to, art to enjoy, and meals to savor. This is God’s reflection we’re supposed to see when we look in the mirror of each another – a blessing. Did you catch the standard?
The Creator Himself is the standard. He’s the imprint we’re supposed to live out to one another. “No one has ever seen God”, John says, but “if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:2). In other words, God isn’t directly visible, but if His people embody His love, He will abide in them – then the world can finally see what God looks like! This is our purpose, the reason He invented us – to be a reflection of our Inventor’s generosity.
It’s false advertising when we fail to represent God as he – this has more to do with blasphemy than saying “Jesus Christ” irreverently (Romans 2:24). We have failed. We were made for beauty, but we’ve burned it to ashes. We were made to make homes, but we commit homicides too; to design music, but we design weapons too; to manufacture medicine, but we produce toxins too. We are called to be divine mirrors, but we’ve massively failed – since Cain fed the ground his brother’s blood, until Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd. If we’re a mirror, we’re a shattered one. But this is where Jesus comes in!
In the Beginning was the Revelation
Jesus arrives to unveil what we should look like. “No one has ever seen God”, but “the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (Jn. 1:18). Jesus came to display God – that’s the human vocation! So he’s called the “word of God” (Jn. 1:1). He’s the living revelation of who God is. He’s “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15), “the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:2). Jesus fulfills the function of image-bearing, and he does it impeccably.
What do we see when we peer at God through Jesus? Healings, restoration, forgiveness, empathy, hope, and unprejudicial love. What we see is God’s heart for all kinds of people. When Jesus loved even his enemies, fed the hungry, freed demoniacs, and fought discriminating systems of oppression, it echoed, “This is what God looks like!”
At the climax of the Gospels, the only perfect human being is himself murdered on a Roman torture device. Why? To rescue all races from the rot of death. What do we see when we look at Jesus? Self-sacrificial, non-prejudicial love. This is who God is. This is what it means to be human.
The Revolution of Jesus’ Revelation
Racism is the fruit of a me-centered standard. But when being human isn’t defined around my family, or my race, or my culture, or my skin, or my theology – or anything about me or you – but around Jesus, things change.
We first realize that you and I don’t define humanness; the self-sacrificial, non-prejudicial love of Jesus does. Second, we’re not even here to measure others! We’re here to serve them – to be Jesus to them. We’re here to lay down our lives for them – all of them. Without partiality. Without exception. Without condition. Like Jesus. Despite race, color, or ethnicity – everyone is deserving of Jesus’ love.
We also realize that we all fail to live out this special love, making us all equally needing grace through Jesus. No one is better than another. Paul often made this point: “For we have already charged that all…are under sin” (Romans 3:9). We’ve all been guilty of making ourselves the center for judging others, and treating them accordingly. No one is inferior, so no one is deserving of being dehumanized.
With a me-centered starting point, racial violence spreads like a wildfire in a windstorm. But with the revelation of God-as-human, Jesus invokes a revolution, forever replacing the me-centered view to a Jesus-centered view. He’s the supreme ideal; the incarnated Standard for a human being. With Jesus at the center of our humanity, racial lines dissolve, and prejudice sinks into obscurity. With Jesus at the center, cops won’t murder. With Jesus at the center, rioter’s voices will be heard. With Jesus at the center, only love is left. Prejudice has no fuel to go. Racism has no room to grow.