Racism, Identity, & Self-Justification

In Pittsburgh, Racism Is a Health Crisis - CityLab

Like so many of you, when I saw the video last night of what happened to George Floyd, I was horrified.

If someone was not there to film this incident, would we even know that this happened?

Was this an isolated incident? We have to recognize that a steady stream of “isolated incidents” constitutes a pattern, and racism and prejudice are alive and well in the world today.

As Christians, it is our theological duty to speak out against racism.

Racism asserts that some people are more valuable than others. This view is anathema to those who follow Jesus.

No matter the color of a person’s skin, no matter their economic or social status, no matter their level of ability or disability: all people are created in the image of God, and therefore endowed with an innate dignity as image bearers of the Divine.

What is at the Root of Racism?

It would not be uncommon to hear someone say that at the root of racism is sin. The question though is: What sin exactly is at the root of racism?

What underlies racism is the endeavor common to all human beings of seeking to establish an identity.

Every person is seeking to establish an identity, which can be defined as: evidence that we have value and worth, that we are deserving of love and acceptance.

People seek to do this in many ways, such as geography, ethnicity, morality, economics, social standing, education, etc.

However, when someone seeks to establish their identity in anything other than the redeeming work of Jesus, it leads to disaster.

This disaster, in some cases, may only be personal; it may only affect them. It will still be disaster because it will lead to emptiness, futility, and the loss of their soul (see Mark 8:36).

However, in many cases, the disaster of attempting to build an identity apart from Christ can affect others. This is what leads to wars, ethnic conflicts, tribalism, rivalries, and racism.

These are all forms of self-justification, or the attempt to prove one’s worth by means of something within them, whether that is their morality, their good deeds, or their race or tribe.

The Reformers, particularly Calvin, pointed out that while people can do good things apart from faith in Jesus and experiencing His regenerative work in their lives, all of their good works will ultimately be motivated by either self-justification or self-glorification.

Self-justification often seeks opportunities to justify oneself by looking for ways in which they can feel superior to others. It is endeavoring to build an identity for yourself – apart from Christ – that “proves” that you have worth, and many people go about that negatively by juxtaposing themselves against other people whom they deem to have “less worth.”

Considering It All Rubbish

In the third chapter of his letter to the Philippians, Paul the Apostle talks about how he formerly tried to build his identity apart from Christ in his ethnic background, in his morality, in his education, and in his zeal for God. (Philippians 3:4-9).

The result of these things, in every instance, was that they led him to look down on others who didn’t have his ethnic background, his morality, his education, or his zeal for God – and in at least one case it led him to physically and psychologically harm an entire group of people.

However, after coming to faith in Christ and embracing the gospel, Paul says that he now considers all of these things rubbish compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus, and being found in Him, with a righteousness that comes from Jesus, not from anything within Paul himself.

What the gospel offers us is value, worth, and belonging because of what God has done for us and who we are in Christ. This identity, rather than leading to oppression or rivalry, leads to love and charity.

May we be those who find our identity in Christ, and who recognize the inherent dignity of all people.

8 thoughts on “Racism, Identity, & Self-Justification

  1. Sir, is an investigation warranted by trained men with oversight into the circumstances or have you like the media prematurely judged the circumstance as racism? I came to your site for another well-written article by you and stumbled on this. I was fortunate to be groomed in the U.S. military where we directed an investigation and explained we would get to the bottom of it, until then we don’t speculate. We wait patiently for the investigation run its course. We did this because thats what’s expected in maintainig good order and discipline, and special trust and confidence by the American people and congress who we serve at their pleasure. Why is it necessary for Christians to write opinionated articles alluding to racism without an investigation? Are we to uphold His justice while also leading peaceful lives, waiting patiently for the closest thing to truth this side of heaven? God bless you Sir and the investigators.

    1. Hi Joe, you’re right that an investigation is warranted. This post is more about a theological understanding of what leads the human heart to racism, even if in this particular case that is not what led to the death of George Floyd.
      There is a disturbing patterns of prejudice against black men in our society by law enforcement. That cannot be denied.

  2. Sir, if you haven’t judged these officers as racist then what is your rationale in linking this specific incident to racism? Do you know if the suspect (person) posed a sufficient threat to the officers that warranted that degree of persistent force free of racial bias? Do you see into their hearts? We see only a clip. Do you see more than what the rest of see? I see absolute brokenness all around but to already conclude racism in this incident by a clip, C’mon Pastor. As if you and I don’t have a racial bias in our default nature and experiences and are utterly free from racism. Perhaps the call is to minister to the police officers rather than painting them with the broad brush of racists. SF. Maranatha!

    1. Perhaps you’re right. I certainly don’t want to accuse anyone of racism unnecessarily, but I do want to speak out against patterns of prejudice against African Americans in this country. This man was accused of using a fake $20 bill. Several eye witnesses and multiple camera angles have shown that he did not pose a threat to police officers and that he was handcuffed the entire time. When he begged for mercy, why did he not receive it? Perhaps it had nothing to do with race or prejudice. But then why do similar things keep happening? Why is it that when a white man shot up a black church, that man taken into custody in a dignified way, rather than being thrown on the ground and choked by a policeman’s knee? I don’t claim to be free from prejudice, but I endeavor to be free from it. Thank you for the cordial dialogue on this topic.

  3. Pastor, do you sit down with the Longmont or nearby police officers and ask them the most difficult part of their day or week? What keeps them and their families up late at night? Would they even come to you by writing this article at the expense of those officers you’ve condemned? Will writing an article make the difference or donning a mask and coming alongside your very own police officers and sharing their burden as well as any other hurt family with a greater degree of melatonin than you. I am clearly of mixed race myself so I am aware of racism and bad cops, bad dads, and even Pharisee Christians who nonbelievers trip over everyday in knowing our sweet savior. Save your attempt to teach the theology of racism. We can read Romans and know the nature of man. Rather go down to the Longmont police department and come alongside the officers and minister to them. I pray that God uses the gentle touch of a feather to convict you of condemning these men and those you paint with a broad brush. You dont know pastor. You dont know. We all hurt Pastor and long for His coming. Until then put the pen down and go sit with officers you say are prejudice. Tell it to their face. The article is hot air from a soapbox. I have never made a comment in a blog or on the internet in my life before this. I am a new believer so if my words aren’t articulate or seasoned with grace please forgive me. Our job is to love police officers even the Minneapolis police officers and the bad ones. The courts and our God will judge and condemn or exonerate. Our job is to love. This is coming from someone with multiple combat tours who came to love and minister to muslims because of what Jesus did for me in forgiving my sins. Our police officers are not the enemy. The principalities and forces of darkness are. God bless you Pastor. I pray God guides and comforts you in the most gentle way to make much of Him. For His glory.

  4. There is no doubt that this incident has sparked a discussion about racial bias and especially about police violence against people of color. It is not wrong for the church to speak into this subject. In fact, it would be wrong for the church to ignore it. Pastor Tony Evans posted a tweet that stated it was inherent for the church to be a primary source for a potential solution to the issue. Because, as Joe stated, we all have hidden racial biases to deal with, it is an easy assumption to make that it may well have come into play in this incident. Police officers are not exempt from biases we all deal with. Police officers have one of the most difficult jobs in existence. They have to uphold the law, keep the peace, and do it while knowing that their every action is under scrutiny. Some become jaded, some become hostile towards the criminal element they have to come in contact with on a daily basis: especially those who patrol the streets of large cities with high crime neighborhoods. Some overreact to a situation as these officers did with George
    Floyd. It is not unreasonable to conclude that an element of racial bias played into their actions. It is also possible that this was just an angry cop, who allowed his emotions to override his common sense. It was a ugly scene that should never be allowed to happen no matter what the cause.

    1. Your assumption of racism in that man’s heart to use excessive force was excessive too. He may be guilty of using higher proportional force too long once the suspect was subdued and didn’t transition to subduing SOP tactics once the suspect was under control. The courts will determine the verdict, until then we are to trust God in prayer and love the hurting.

      Furthermore, officers are their brothers keepers. There were several providing a cordon for officer safety but also should step in when an officer is being excessive by the adrenaline caused by fear in grappling with a suspect. If you’ve never grappled with another man who intends to harm you or is capable of doing so you wouldn’t understand, and never will.

      I love Tony Evans but he’s a copycat man with prejudice like you and I and the officers. You ought to defer to the preeminent one without prejudice: Jesus.

      Jesus invited Himself and was invited by sinners to their homes and communed with them. After reading your article.and comments, would one Longmont officer invite you into their home to break bread with their family and trust you with their brokenness that they may hear the freedom of the gospel, feel your love for them, and experience everlasting change?

      Sir, please take a stand. Your either for officers or against them even though they are guilty. Jesus is still for me and invites me into relationship when I fail in epic ways.

      Sir, meet with the Longmont officers and share the good news with them. Minister to them so that you don’t have a similar incident in arms reach.

      Change has to first start in our hearts not pointing to officers to change. They can’t Sir, not without the Gospel. They are helpless and hopeless in their own strength.

      You have been entrusted with gospel Sir. Go to them.

      1. Joe, please understand that I am 100% for police officers. I am thankful for them and the service they provide. My next-door neighbor and good friend is a Boulder police officer. We often talk about his work, he shares his horror stories with me, and I pray for him. He also condemns the actions of this officer and has stated that this maneuver the officer used is not their protocol, and this was completely uncalled for. I don’t think that loving and supporting officers and speaking out against systemic racial bias are mutually exclusive.

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