The recent release of a video showing members of a fraternity at The University of Oklahoma singing a racist song has created quite uproar across the country. In the video, members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity can be seen gleefully singing a song filled with the “n-word,” in which they vowed and celebrated the exclusion of African-Americans from their club and made light of the lynching and hanging of African-American men that characterized the pre-civil rights era.
The President of the university, who appeared surprised at the students’ behavior, responded swiftly by banning the fraternity, revoking its charter, giving its members 24 hours to vacate their on-campus fraternity house and expelling some members who had been identified in the video.
African-American students at the university on their part, though predictably outraged at the video, seemed anything but surprised at the conduct it revealed. According to some of them, the behavior of the Caucasian students in the video was evidence of a broader culture of on-campus racism which needed to be exposed and dealt with once and for all.
Officials of the NAACP and other civil rights organizations have also expressed outrage, demanding systemic changes at OU that extend far beyond the behavior of fraternity members to more significant issues like increasing admissions of African-American students and recruitment of African-American faculty.
Given the outrage that the video has provoked nationwide, it is important that the voice of the church be heard as well. After all, racism is a scourge that affects all of us, diminishing both its victims and perpetrators alike. As people of God with children in universities across the nation, it is especially important for us to examine the issues that the video raises, at least from a Christian perspective.
Some of the issues that arise from this incident include the endemic problem of racism in America, especially the denigration and social exclusion of African-Americans; the influence of organizations such as college fraternities in shaping the attitudes and actions of young people towards racial minorities; the use and unintended consequences of technology; and the ways in which we, as believers, should respond to these phenomena. For the purpose of this write-up, let us focus on what is probably the most salient of these issues, which is the issue of racism in America.
Several passages in the Old Testament make it clear that discrimination against people on the basis of their race alone was forbidden by God. When God revealed His Law to the children of Israel through His Prophet Moses, He commanded in Exodus 12:49 that the Law be enforced equally for the children of Israel and any “strangers” who lived among them. In Exodus 22:21 and 23:9, God forbade the children of Israel from mistreating or oppressing the “strangers” who lived among them, reminding them that they too had once been “strangers” in Egypt.
Several passages in the New Testament also reveal God’s expectation that Christians do not discriminate against people on the basis of race. In John 13:34, our Lord Jesus Christ commanded his disciples to love one another as he had loved them. In John 17:20-21, he prayed that we, who are his followers, would be one. In Galatians 3:28, Apostle Paul revealed that salvation is available to all men on the basis of their faith in Jesus Christ, regardless of whether they were Jews or Gentiles. In Ephesians 2:14-15, Apostle Paul revealed that when our Lord Jesus Christ died, he tore down the wall that separated Jews from Gentiles, making all one in him. In Revelation 7:9-10, Apostle John described a spectacular scene in Heaven where people of every race were gathered before the throne of God to worship, regardless of their racial differences.
Surely, these passages in the Old and New Testaments make it clear that racial discrimination of any kind is inconsistent with the plan and purpose of God for us, as Christians, and those who practice it cannot claim to be in God’s will. Consequently, the actions of the young men at OU, being clearly racist in nature, are contrary to the teachings of Christianity. From a Christian perspective, racism is wrong, regardless of who practices it. It is wrong for Caucasians to be racist against African-Americans, and it is wrong for African-Americans to be racist against Caucasians. It is wrong for Ethnic Africans to be racist against African-Americans, and it is wrong for African-Americans to be racist against Ethnic Africans. It is wrong to be racist against Hispanics, Jews, Asians or people of any other race. It is a sin against God, and those who practice it will surely face God’s judgment.
Now that we have established that racism is a sin, let us consider the role that college fraternities and similar groups play in shaping the attitudes and actions of young people towards racial minorities. Since racism is a sin, we must recognize that its author is Satan and its purpose is, as with all sin, to frustrate the plan of God to save sinners. Whereas the bible states in John 3:16 that God loves the world and desires to save humankind from sin, it states in John 10:10 that Satan’s plan is the exact opposite – to steal, kill and destroy.
Fraternities and other organizations that engage in the destructive practice of racism are simply instruments of Satan in his quest to destroy people whom God has created in His own image. That these organizations exist should be of no surprise to the children of God, who are all too familiar with Satan’s diabolical work. The greater concern is how we can protect our young people in universities from becoming the victims or perpetrators of racist behavior.
In both the Old and New Testaments, the bible teaches that parents must teach and nurture their children in the ways of the Lord. Deuteronomy 6:6, Proverbs 22:6 and Ephesians 6:4 all speak to this basic responsibility of parents. Such training is required in order to enable our children resist the pressure to commit sin that some organizations and institutions like fraternities and, yes, sororities, might expose them to. Without consistent, lifelong training in Christian values, any child of any race can become a victim or even a perpetrator of racist acts.
One of the young men identified in the racist video and expelled from OU was revealed to be a graduate of a Christian high school here in Dallas. While the principal of that school was on television condemning the young man’s behavior and declaring the school’s anti-racist stance, it is clear that whatever the school taught him was insufficient to enable him resist the temptation to be racist when the opportunity presented itself. This underscores the importance of teaching biblical values to our children in the home.
While many Christian families may claim to be non-racist, it appears that most do not take the time to teach their children the Word of God consistently from childhood, with the result that most Christian children do not have the spiritual fortitude to resist the temptations that they face in college. The result is that many drift from the faith during their university days, experience identity crises and become susceptible to the temptation of engaging in racist behavior.
If we hope to protect our young university students from such ungodly influences, we must, as parents, instill Christian values in them through our intentional personal teaching, both in word and deed, and by encouraging their participation in a good Christian education program at church. We must ensure that our children know who they are in Christ, so that they will not be so desperate for acceptance by their peers that they will be willing to do anything just to belong to one club or another.
Finally, with regard to the manner in which we, as Christians, should respond to offenses against us, including those characterized by racism, the Word of God teaches us not only to forgive, but even to love those who offend us. Our Lord Jesus charges us to love our enemies in Matthew 5:43-44 and to forgive those who offend us in Matthew 6:14. Apostle Paul reiterates the call to forgive in Colossians 3:12-14 and the call to love our enemies in Romans 12: 17-21. However, the Word of God also charges the agents of government with the responsibility to enforce laws, including those that govern interpersonal relationships. In Romans 13:1-4, the bible speaks to this issue and clearly advocates the role of government in establishing and enforcing laws.
Given the above, it is clear that we, as Christians, are called to respond to racism with forgiveness and love on a personal level, and must consider these young men at OU in this light. It is true that they have sinned, but if they have repented of their sin, we are obligated to forgive and love them. Seeing them expelled from college at such a young age and likely to carry the stigma of this incident throughout their lives should not be a thing of joy to any believer. The boys did wrong, but so do we.
Surely, the president of OU had the right to expel the boys for their misconduct and he exercised that right swiftly. From a biblical standpoint, he was acting as an agent of government and an enforcer of the law. He showed the young men no mercy and made an example of them, even though it is doubtful that they acted alone. There is good reason to believe that others who did not appear in the video were involved either as participants or facilitators in this racist drama, but apparently they will not be expelled.
It is uncertain if university regulations allowed the president of the university some discretion in punishing these young men, but even if he could have done so, he clearly chose to exact justice and showed them no mercy. His punishment of the young men was swift and severe, and many sided with him, praising his decisiveness. Apparently, in the hallowed halls of OU and the court of public opinion, it is all about justice and not about mercy.
Personally, I wish the president of OU would have shown those young men some mercy. Personally, I wish he could have found some other way to punish them without expelling them, especially since there is no record that they had offended like this before. Personally, I am glad that I am a Christian and that my Lord deals with me mercifully. I have sinned often in my life and I am here today, not because I have been perfect, but because Jesus has shown me mercy. When it comes to justice, I prefer the way of mercy. That is why I am a Christian. I choose Jesus. What about you?