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The Problem With ‘It’s Not a Skin Issue, It’s a Sin Issue’

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On Tuesday, Dr. Dharius Daniels took to Instagram to share some thoughts on the idea of racism being a “sin issue,” that can’t be addressed through practical means like law, legislation and activism. His answer addresses some common Christian responses to racial injustice that, whatever the intention, often end up minimizing the work being done to make the world a more equitable place for all people. His answer is transcribed here. You can hear from Dr. Daniels’ thoughts every week on The Dharius Daniels Podcast.

I’ve gotten some feedback when it comes to some of the things I’ve said about injustice and racism, and they aren’t the same. “That it’s a sin issue, not a skin issue.” “We can’t fix this with reform, we can’t fix this with legislation.” “Jesus has to do this.” Et cetera.

I think one of the points that I think is important to make is the difference between racism and injustice. Racism can not be fixed with legislation, right? That is a posture of the human heart. This feeling, conscious or unconscious, feeling of superiority and partiality of one race over another one, all right. But that feeling, in and of itself, does not adversely impact my life until you treat me differently.

If we’re both walking in a store and a person has ill feelings toward me because of the color of my skin, that doesn’t adversely affect my life at all. I really don’t care what they think or what they feel. What I care about is how they treat me. When they’re acting on those feelings of superiority or partiality, then the result of that is injustice.

Now, you’re right. Laws don’t fix or cure the human heart. But what the scriptures teach is that laws and legislation curb or restrain the heart from acting on all of those impulses from time to time. It doesn’t prohibit it, it doesn’t prevent it, but it minimizes it. It causes us to obey. And what ends up happening is it protects society from the implications and the repercussions of the way that a person feels. That’s what laws do. So, no, we can’t fix this with legislation. But legislation has a role to play in this.

That’s the equivalent of saying we’re not going to put laws in place regarding stealing because stealing is a matter of the human heart. Until a person begins to love like Jesus, they aren’t going to steal anymore. It’s well-intended, I think, but I just think it’s inaccurate. And I think it’s a bit dangerous. And I’m glad leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King did not think that way. They didn’t just say we all need to have church together. Dr. King says, “Laws won’t make people like me, but laws will keep people from nudging me.”

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I think it’s both. We need when the human hearts changed, but we need systemic, sinful systems reformed. Let’s not conflate racism and injustice. How a person feels about another person doesn’t affect them until they act on it. That’s when racism becomes injustice, and we do need laws for that.

Listen to more thoughts from Dr. Daniels every week on his podcast.

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