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Early in my career I taught a course called “Christian Social and Political Responsibility.” It was fun. At least I thought so. Not sure about the students.

I thought the most fun, and coincidentally the most learning, took place when we defined terms used in political discourse. We did this knowing that public debates often produce more heat than light, in part because people talk past each other by using the same-word-different-meaning.

Here are a few words dealing with racial politics.

Diversity refers to the rich variety of human demographic attributes God created for our enjoyment and his glory, including race, gender, ethnicity, and physical make-up. At times I add socio-economic status. But I do not include sexual orientation, religion, or religious orientation, particularly if it might be construed that I believe an organization may not make hiring decisions based upon moral views regarding sexuality or religion as protected categories. I don’t have any problem including religion or even sexual orientation if we’re talking simply about respecting others different from ourselves in a free country.

Reconciliation is a word I use to describe the human need created by what a sociologist once called our “relational dilemma.” At the Fall in the Garden of Eden sin broke our relationship with God leaving a “hole” in our hearts. This brokenness characterizes the human race, the individual human being, and Creation. We may be reconciled to God through Christ’s sacrifice and finished work on the cross by virtue of God’s grace and forgiveness. Believers are God’s reconciling ambassadors in this broken world, carrying the message of reconciliation, and God will one day reconcile all of Creation to himself. Sometimes this word is applied to racial concerns as in racial reconciliation. If this means working to restore a right relationship vertically with God and horizontally with our fellow humanity, I support and promote it.

Antiracism might be the most problematic word in this list. I use it to refer to policies or approaches to race relations and racial understanding that identifies racist, which is to say prejudicial or discriminatory, ideas, attitudes, and actions and attempts to help or require people to grow beyond them. But this word is used by a variety of groups that proclaim there’s no such thing as race or that define virtually all opportunity or merit-based advancement in capitalist society as racist. I can’t embrace these usages of the word.

Social justice is an outcome of the Gospel evidenced in the lives of believers who attempt to apply Christian values in life and culture by loving their neighbors as themselves. Working toward social justice is a Christian responsibility, a necessary part of obedience to God. Examples include the biblical Good Samaritan and in more recent history England’s William Wilberforce. Social justice exists when human beings are eternally valued, protected in liberty, treated with dignity, given access to equal opportunity, and encouraged to live with moral accountability before God.

How we use words matter.


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

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