Sunday, July 5, 2015

Reconciliation as a Remedy for Racism and Religious Exclusivism

 By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

            Last week we looked at what racism and religious exclusivism have in common: They both divide us and are opposed to God’s will to reconcile us.  Both God’s will and secular reason urge us to be reconciled.  Jesus prayed for a unity of all believers, and we celebrate our national political unity and equality under the law on July 4.  Whether we consider religion or reason to be the motivating force for reconciliation, it is a fundamental principle of legitimacy that all people are equal under God and the law, no matter how unequal they might otherwise be.
            White racism is motivated by the belief that God ordained the white race as superior to all others.  The Southern Poverty Law Center considers the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC) a white supremacist group, and reports that the CCC “oppose[s] all efforts to mix the races of mankind,” and that "God is the author of racism. God is the One who divided mankind into different types. ...Mixing the races is rebelliousness against God."  Those white supremacist views were echoed in the manifesto of Dylann Roof to justify his massacre of nine people at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. on June 17, 2015.

            A spokesman for the CCC has denied any affiliation with Roof, who appears to have been a lone-wolf terrorist who was probably motivated more by a demented and narcissistic desire to bring attention to himself than to promote the cause of white supremacy.  Whatever his motivation, the tragic episode illustrated the analogous relationship between the hatred of racism and religious exclusivism; and while racism may not be as likely to produce deadly acts of terrorism as religious extremism, both are instruments of evil that originate with fear and suspicion that can grow into hate and violence.

            Religious exclusivism promotes the supremacy of one religion over others and condemns all unbelievers, and fundamentalists assert the supremacy of holy law over secular law, denying fundamental freedoms.  The evils of religious exclusivism can be countered with a belief in the transforming power of God’s love to reconcile people of competing religions into a universal family of God.  The first step toward reconciliation is finding common ground; and for Jews, Christians and Muslims it is a common word of faith in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors, with our neighbors including those of other religions.  That same principle applies to racism as a form of belief based on a distorted understanding of God’s will.

            Finding common political and social values is necessary to reconcile the religious and racial differences that divide us.  Religions in libertarian democracies have conformed their doctrines to modern economic and political values that support free enterprise and libertarian democracy, even though they were not mentioned in the ancient scriptures.  That has not happened in the tribal cultures of Islam, where strict adherence to Islamic law (shari’a), with its apostasy and blasphemy laws, has precluded the freedoms of religion and speech.  Many devout Muslims are offended by the materialistic and hedonistic excesses of Western libertarian culture, and believe that a theocratic Islamist culture is superior to that of a libertarian democracy.

            In Islam no distinction is made between the sacred and the secular (religion and politics), while in libertarian democracies governments are prohibited from favoring or promoting any religion.  The reconciliation of religious and political differences in the modern world requires the acceptance of the freedoms of religion and speech, but many devout Muslims accept apostasy and blasphemy laws that prevent those freedoms in order to constrain immoral behavior.

            Those whose power or status is based on racial division or religious exclusivism oppose change.  White supremacists excluded blacks from political power in the Jim Crow South until the civil rights revolution in the 1960s enabled black leaders to gain political power by emphasizing black solidarity in gerrymandered single-member districts that elected black representatives.  But concentrating black voters in single-member districts has produced more predominately white districts with white representatives who have little concern for black interests.  That has institutionalized racial polarization at local, state and national levels, with politicians now more interested in maintaining their polarized racial constituencies than in promoting racial unity.

            The continuation of traditional black educational and social institutions that emphasize their racial identity also contributes to racial polarization, but black leaders resist integrating traditionally black institutions for the same reason that religious leaders resist abandoning the exclusivity of their traditional religious doctrines.  They have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo of racial division and religious exclusivity and see change as a threat to their status.

            Reconciliation is the remedy for racism and religious exclusivity, and it requires finding common values while respecting important cultural and religious differences.  In the political realm that requires sharing a sense of political unity and providing equal justice under law.  In the spiritual realm it requires a colorblind belief in the unity of all believersand a spiritual kinship in a family of God.  Jews, Muslims and Christians can find a common word of faith in the greatest commandment to love God and their neighbor as themselves; but while most blacks and whites share similar Christian beliefs, Sunday morning remains the most segregated hour of the week.      

Notes and References to Resources:

For related blogs, see the following at Blog/Archives: Religion and New Beginnings: Salvation and Reconciliation into the family of God, posted January 4, 2014; Jesus Meets Muhammad: Is There a Common Word of Faith and Politics for Jews, Christians and Muslims Today? posted January 25, 2015; Promoting Religion Through Evangelism: Bringing Light or Darkness? posted February 8, 2015; Is Religion Good or Evil? posted February 15, 2015; Christians Meet Muslims Today, posted June 21, 2015; and Confronting the Evil Among Us, posted June 28, 2015.   

The Southern Poverty Law Center considers the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC) a hate group and a modern reincarnation of the old White Citizens Councils that were formed in the 1950s and 1960s to battle school desegregation in the South.  The group's newspaper, Citizens Informer, regularly publishes articles condemning "race mixing" as elaborated above.  See  Eugene Robinson referred to the CCC in his commentary on racism in The Washington Post, June 22, 2015, at

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