Racism and the Bible
The answer to racial reconciliation is found in the book of Leviticus?
… Yeah. I was just as surprised as you are. Let me fill you in on how I discovered it.
Back in March, I decided to read through the entire Bible, page by page. I knew I wouldn’t finish it in a year – that type of goal didn’t produce any of the results I was looking for. I just wanted to be able to digest the Word on my own, without anyone else’s interpretation influencing me. I’m doing this because I want to know God’s Word for myself, wholly and completely. So, I started with the beginning, in the beginning – Genesis. I read about Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Abraham and Isaac, Joseph and his brothers, and now I’m getting into the saga that is the history of Moses as he led the Israelites out of Egypt into the Promised Land.
I made it through Exodus and landed in Leviticus – the forgotten book. I mean, I don’t really hear many sermons reference sacrificial preparations or sundry laws for priests. What even is a sundry? Why include a two-chapter long dissertation about leprosy? I don’t know, but I read it all anyway. It’s in there for a reason, and if I never figure that reason out, I’ll be asking God when I get to heaven. I’m glad I didn’t skip over it, though. If I did, I would’ve missed one of the most applicable passages hidden in the Bible.
I was reading another list of commandments in Leviticus 19 on Monday night when I came across these words: “You shall not oppress your neighbor.” (verse 13, NASB) This happened the day after a weekend of violent riots swept across the nation. The day before, my friends told me about being trapped in a sudden crowd of angry people, unable to get home. And when they finally did, they fell asleep to the echo of gunshots around them. The riots began as peaceful protests formed to decry the oppression of a black man who was murdered by a white cop.
When I read this seemingly random sentence at a seemingly random moment in time, I knew it wasn’t a coincidence. I was shook. The timing was impeccable! People say God speaks through His Word, and it’s true. (If you’re having trouble making this connection, stop reading. You won’t find much value in anything else I write in this post.)
Oppression is defined as the exercise of authority or power in a burdensome, cruel, or unjust manner. George Floyd was subjected to oppression in the worst way. Black people have a history of oppression in this country, which is a fact that cannot be argued. This oppression has taken various forms; hundreds of years ago, it was mostly expressed as physical authority exercised over the life of another. Today, I would say that it’s a mental oppression attempting to control Black American lives. Whatever the form, it’s not right. God said so. He told the Israelites way back when, and He tells us again, now.
For me, His instruction is simple: Don’t do it.
A lot of people will come up with different definitions for the word “oppression,” complete with a list of characteristics to define someone’s inherent racism and privilege. Some of these people will demand preferential treatment in the name of “leveling the playing field”, because they see themselves as automatic victims, bound to defeat because of their skin color. Others will say oppression doesn’t exist, that Black people only use the term because it’s a good excuse for laziness or stupidity. They might actually think that our skin color determines our level of intelligence. All of these statements are examples of extremism, and often used in a stereotypical or derogatory way.
Jump down to Leviticus 19:15, where it says, “You shall do no injustice in judgement; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly.” When reading this, I subconsciously swapped out the word poor for victim and great for authority. I think the connotation and meaning is similar. This is what I strive to do in situations like these. It’s so very easy to pick a side and stick to it, defending your stance and opinions to the very end. I’ve caught myself doing it too. But I think in the greater scheme of things, that habit is short-sighted and emotionally driven. Fairness doesn’t pick a side. Lady Justice is supposed to balance the scales by recognizing the wrong and righting it.
When it comes to racial tension, this verse tells me to be fair. Be honest. Identify the wrong and make it right.
The next three verses show us what not to do. “(16) You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people, and you are not to act against the life of your neighbor; I am the LORD. (17) You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. (18) You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD.”
Sometimes I think the Bible gets complicated, but in its truth, it’s very simple.
Watch your words.
Don’t murder your neighbors (whoever they may be).
Criticize and correct, but don’t feed the seed of hatred against someone because they are wrong.
Payback isn’t the answer; forgiveness is.
Did you know this is the first time “love your neighbor as yourself” is ever mentioned in the Bible? Jesus even refers back to that statement as one of the two greatest commandments God has ever given us. Really loving people, with love as action, can change the way we see the world itself. When we see people the way God sees us, we no longer see the world as black and white, or different shades of brown and tan. We see the colors of our hearts, the parts that actually matter. People will look at people and make judgements. God will look at out hearts and give us grace.
None of this is easy to do, let me tell you! I try my hardest to follow through on my own, but I never make it. And this is exactly why I’m thankful for God’s grace, because it compensates for my weaknesses in every part of life. Personally, my biggest takeaway from this passage is that no true resolution will ever come without mercy, love, and forgiveness – all of which God has already freely given us, so we can give it away to others.