Recently, there has been a groundswell of support from the religious right for Clemson Football coach Dabo Swinney’s remarks on the NFL protests. Meanwhile, others have criticized his misrepresentation of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., his unclear message, and his calling for those who don’t like this country to leave. Christians have primarily lauded his diagnosis of America’s issues as merely a “sin problem.” While true, that statement is a dangerous oversimplification. Here’s why.
First, Mr. Swinney suggests that if more people were to become Christians, the world would be a better place; the problem is that Christianity has failed time and time again. Christians, sadly, have long played a role in systemic racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry that are not representative of our Savior. We are a fallen group of people attempting to serve a Holy God, but we fail more often than we succeed. To suggest that the world would be better with more people like us is at best ignorant, and at worst petty and conceited. Christians are not good for the world; only Christ is. The truth is that the world would be a better place with more people like Christ, a description that doesn’t fit the majority of the church.
Also missing from the discussion is the details of the “sin problem.” It seems that, in this current issue, there are two major sins at play: systemic racism and absolute patriotism (which I will discuss in part II). The problem is that the church is not innocent of either sin.
Racism, in all of its nasty and gruesome details, still exists. While I could ramble about the facts and effects of racism in America, I thought I’d leave that job up to a few writers who are more qualified in that area. Below are links to research and discussion on the topic of racism in the 21st century.
An article by Dr. Robin DiAngelo on White Fragility, or white America’s resistance to the topic of racism:
A short discussion by Hip Hop artist, Lecrae Moore, on interracial relations and systemic racism:
Statistics compiled by US News and World Report on the state of systemic racism in America:
This hardly scratches the surface of the research done on lingering racism in this country, but it paints a brief picture that is relevant to the discussion. The sin issue of racism, Dabo, cannot be easily swiped under the rug as a matter of failed evangelism. There are complex and shameful details that must be dealt with.
My mind wanders to another sin issue that Christians have focused on for decades: abortion. Our attention to the details, policies, and effects surrounding this issue seem to suggest that we care about eliminating sin issues. So why do we ignore racism?
For Christians to stand and declare themselves pro-life yet not actively fight racism is hypocritical. And by the way, I tried to replace ‘hypocritical’ with a less emotionally charged term, but that was the clearest and most succinct description. I mean it one hundred percent. Systemic racism leads to undeserved poverty, unjustified deaths, impaired education, higher incarceration rates, and yes, higher abortion rates. If you, white, republican, upper/middle class Christian are to be known as pro-life, it is your duty to stand and fight systemic racism.
The sanctity of life is the driving principle behind anti-abortion activists; it is also the force behind anti-racism activists. No human, created and loved by God, made in His image, should be held down by society. Racism is an affront to God’s character, sharing company with abortion, hate crime, bullying, rape, theft, and infidelity. All are sin; all are serious; all should be dealt with. We find ourselves at a point where we can join with members of our society and finally deal with racism, or we can ignore the call to action and increase the divide. We can throw out the skeletons in our closet, or we can continue to let them rot.
We can choose to make right the wrongs of the past and eradicate them from our future; and why exactly would we not? If racism is a sin issue, should not we actively oppose it? Shouldn’t we bring the power of the Holy Spirit into the valiant fight against oppression? The fact that racism is sinful is not a cause for inaction, but rather a motivation for great action.
I’m reminded of Dr. King. Yes, Mr. Swinney, I know you tried to quote him to defend your stance, although he might stand on the opposite side of the issue were he still alive. Famously, in his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” (which you can read in its entirety here),Dr. King writes,
“I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: ‘All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.’ Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be coworkers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.”
While the system of racism in this nation has certainly improved since the publishing of this letter in 1963, it has not been eradicated. We must act to finish the task Dr. King and many others have worked to accomplish.
Let us work tirelessly to fight social stagnation. It is our duty to those who came before us, to those who we share this earth with, and to those who will follow us. I believe, as Dr. King did, that God is in the fight against racism. I think it might be a good idea to get on His side.
So, Dabo, I agree that racism is a sin issue. But it is because of this that we must work actively and practically to eliminate it. You told me, “it’s amazing how if we don’t learn from our past, you know how you can repeat your mistakes.” I agree, and I certainly hope we learn from our past mistakes of idleness and stagnation and take a stand to fight racism. Nothing else remains acceptable.