Racism: Where does it come from? Nature or nurture?
I speak as a Christian, as a pastor, and as a Bible teacher.
I grieve with millions of Americans over the senseless death of George Floyd. I also grieve over the current state of continued racism wherever it is found. Racism is wrong, it is a sin, and it is a stain upon humanity.
I must address some of the well-intentioned suggestions and solutions being offered up about how we eradicate racism. Let me say that I appreciate every intention of every person that wants to see racism end. Those are good intentions, but good intentions are not enough to solve this problem. We need more than good intentions. We need more than protests and new laws. We need to have a clear view of the root causes of racism.
Certainly, racism can be taught and modeled to young children, and it often is. That is the argument of “nurture”. Children can be exposed to racism and be told that one race of people is inherently better than another. It is a millennia old problem, and is found in every race and ethnicity. It is not just a “race” problem, it is a “human race” problem. This hardly needs to be said. We all know that part of the cause of racism is the wrong “nurture” of children.
Those who object to the teaching of racism are correct to do so. It is always wrong. Men and women are created in the image of God, and loved by God. The Bible speaks of the equality of all people. Racism should never be nurtured.
It is then suggested that if we will just quit teaching our children to hate other races, that the problem would stop. It would certainly decline, but it wouldn’t stop.
The other side of the coin is the “nature” side. Nature speaks of what naturally lies within the heart of human beings. A child may be faithfully taught to love all races, and yet still grow up to be a racist. Why is that? It is because of his nature.
Who teaches a two year old to throw their food in mom’s face? No one does. Who teaches a five year old to hit their sibling? Who teaches any child to be selfish, greedy, stubborn, or rebellious?
If kids are not taught those things, then why do they do them? They do them because it is in their nature. Parents spend years trying to teach their children to not give in to their nature, but to rise above it.
This is where the Bible comes in. God explains the human nature because he doesn’t want to see us dominated and destroyed by it, but rather, freed from its domination. The Bible says that we are “by nature, children of wrath”. (Ephesians 2:4)
That means that we all are naturally inclined to do things that are wrong and that deserve some kind of punishment, from time out to life in prison to eternal judgment. Many of us recognize our wrong natural propensities, and we try to cage those tigers, but the tigers don’t want to be caged. We may successfully restrain ourselves from expressing our dislike for another people group, but how do we actually begin to love that other people group?
God made us and correctly analyzes our situation. He gives us the best remedy. We need to have a new nature. Restraint from the outside is helpful, but being transformed from within is far superior.
Jesus said that “you must be born again”. (John 3:3)
God wants to give people a new nature. We try to change ourselves from the outside. God changes people from the inside. I invite you to ask God to make you “born again”. You can have a new nature.
I appreciate every sentiment that supports the end of racism, but we will never legislate hate out of a hateful man or woman. We are naive to think that we can. And please, may none of us congratulate ourselves that we aren’t “like them”. Yes, we are “like them”, and given the right circumstances, if we were pushed too far, we would do those things too.
One final word, may I extend this argument beyond racism and say that it applies to anyone that we might hate. Do we love our neighbor as we love ourselves? We would all think that that is a good idea, but do we do it?
People are hating political rivals, cultural rivals, and those who hold opposing worldviews. Our country is sick. It is systemic, and new or current political leaders cannot fix the problem.
It starts with you, and it starts with me.
We all need a new nature.
We all need God’s forgiveness.
We must be born again.