Whether it’s Christian-Muslim conflict in Bosnia or the sight of burning crosses lighting the night skies of the American South in less tolerant times, history offers plenty of sad examples of ethnic or racial intolerance skulking behind the mask of religion. Some have based their entire religious outlook on the untenable idea of racial superiority.
If God is our Heavenly Father, he is the Father of all of us. But the question is about religious/racial conflict today as it touches on individual Americans and their personal religiosity, so let’s try to focus on that.
Religious belief ought to reduce or eliminate racial prejudice, just as it ought to reduce hate speech, marital infidelity or cheating on taxes. But as with many other things in life, adherence to religious principles is ultimately a matter of personal choice. Whether those religious tenets we embrace are mere guidelines or hard and fast rules to live by comes down to how much we are willing to internalize our own religion.
For me it’s quite simple. My religion requires me and my fellow Church members to aspire to a certain standard of behavior. My Church leaders constantly exhort, encourage and inspire members of the Church to live in accordance with the teachings of Jesus Christ. Since all of us have our individual agency, we each choose how to apply those principles in practice. We all travel along the same road in roughly the same direction but we are at different places along that road. Some, completely converted to gospel principles, have traveled a good distance and make steady progress. To these people, racial prejudice should be anathema. Others are struggling to get started on the same road. They may be infants in terms of spiritual maturity – still enveloped in the prejudices of childhood or shaped more by environment or upbringing than religious ideals. That’s OK. It’s what church is for – to encourage and lift each person to better behavior, and hopefully sooner rather than later.
In a community of believers, we should build each other. With enough association with other church members and enough examples to follow, an intolerant member might choose to begin to adjust his or her attitude and behavior to what they come to appreciate is more acceptable to God. I see this all the time with people beginning their journey in the Church and struggling with all kinds of issues at first, and I’m sure the same is true for those in some other churches.
Seen this way, it’s easier to understand why a Church member may utter a racial slur. I may not like it – I may detest it – but it doesn’t invalidate my religion. It just reminds me that most of us will always have some growing to do.