The Sin of Racism

This is the second article in the series on justice and race by Timothy Keller that includes: “The Bible and Race” (March 2020), “A Biblical Critique of Secular Justice and Critical Theory” (August 2020), and “Justice in the Bible (September 2020).

Because of the image of God. It is a sin to violate–in thought, word, or deed–the divine truth that all humans have equal dignity and worth as persons created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-28). One of the many ways that truth can be violated is given in James 3:9, where we are told that to even curse a human being—to address them without respect—violates the image of God. When Jesus explains “You shall not murder” (Matthew 5:21), he says if you treat someone with contempt, calling him or her ‘Raca’ or ‘fool,’ you are violating the principle of the command and are “in danger of the fire of hell” (Matthew 5:22). To modern ears this seems excessive, but behind the sixth commandment is the doctrine of the image of God as expounded in James 3. It is a sin to treat any class or group unequally, as being less worthy of respect, love, and protection.

Treating people unequally on the basis of race is only one version of this sin, though it is a particularly prevalent, grievous, and pernicious one. To presuppose one’s own race or nationality is inherently superior to another, and to treat those of other races and nationalities with (a) unfairness or unequal justice, with (b) dismissiveness (the probable meaning of ‘Raca’ is “you nobody”) or with (c) active contempt is a sin, and one that is “in danger of the fire of hell.”

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