Question: "What does the Bible say about systemic racism?"
Answer: The Bible does not use the phrase systemic racism in any translation, and neither the word systemic nor racism is found individually. However, Scripture does address racial equality, injustice, oppression, and so forth. In fact, ideals set forth in the Bible form the basis for modern views that “systemic racism” is evil. Such a perspective is radically contrary to the worldwide culture of the ancient world. Opposition to systemic racism stems from beliefs only natural to a Christian worldview. Likewise, the correct response to the evil of racism must follow a godly approach in order to succeed.
Generally, the term systemic racism suggests that race-based discrimination is ingrained or woven into rules, laws, or traditions, even if the actual text of laws makes no overt reference to race. Of course, it’s possible for nations to have openly racist laws or policies. However, charges of systemic racism typically suggest the system is structured or applied with an unfair impact on a particular group. The concept of systemic racism implies that effectively racist outcomes can occur even if no participating individual personally holds racist attitudes, and even if no law mentions race. This concept is obviously controversial, and the extent to which any process exhibits systemic racism is subject to debate.
Prior to the dominance of Judeo-Christianity, broad concepts such as human equality and universal rights were nonexistent. The natural assumption was that the strong and privileged had a moral authority to do as they pleased with the weak and underprivileged. Likewise universal were sweeping judgments based in sex, race, or social status. These biased assumptions were not merely common; they were considered obvious and universal truths. This point cannot be overstated: what the modern world considers “evils” were ingrained conventions in pre-Christian worldviews. The biblical perspective that all people are image-bearers of God, all individually accountable to God, and all subject to the same moral code is foreign to non-Christian perspectives (1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11).
Of course, the growing influence of a biblical worldview did not eradicate racism and oppression overnight. But biblical teaching is an inherent contradiction to racism and oppression, and, like a solvent steadily eating away at a material, the Bible progressively weakened those sins’ acceptance in society. In some cases, biblical ideals led to the abolition of practices that every other culture in history had embraced, such as slavery. Modern cultures impacted by a Christian heritage often take for granted that civil rights, racial equality, freedom, and so forth are moral imperatives. In truth, those beliefs are anchored in biblical teachings.
In broad strokes, Scripture places obligations on Christians to push back against systemic racism. The Bible promotes impartiality (James 2:1), the equality of all people (Genesis 1:27), concern for those who are oppressed (Zechariah 7:10; Proverbs 28:16), and fair treatment of the weak or poor (James 1:27; Proverbs 14:1). If some law, tradition, or interpretation of law truly has an unfair impact on one race, then that realization ought to spur Christians to action (James 4:17). And Christians ought to be open to the experiences and thoughts of others, rather than simply ignoring those perspectives (Proverbs 18:13, 17; John 7:24).
This does not mean every claim of “systemic racism” should result in the destruction of suspect laws or structures (Proverbs 11:29; 14:16; 29:8). Careful reflection and good judgment are important both in identifying and addressing these issues. Believers need to accept that systemic racism is possible. It cannot be dismissed out-of-hand. Believers ought to be open to the perspective of those who believe they have been victimized by it. We should be equally receptive to the perspectives of those who are blindsided by claims they are perpetuating racism (Galatians 6:1).
Christians need to be thorough and Christlike in their response (1 John 4:1; James 1:22; 1 Corinthians 13:4–6). Countering legitimate evil must be done according to a biblical worldview, not by embracing anti-biblical philosophies.