This article is a follow-on from the article – Hate Crime, Love the Criminal – published by LICC (The London Institute of Contemporary Christianity) on Friday 26, June 2015. To read it, click here.
Disclaimer: The following article is a blog post. It contains my own views and is not endorsed by nor does it represent the views of LICC.
NEW VISION FOR THE COLOUR-BLIND
June 17, 2015. Charleston, South Carolina. Dylann Roof shoots nine African-Americans in a church after a Bible study. It is a hideous, hate-filled crime and is roundly condemned. On this, all commentators are in agreement.
It is described and classified as a ‘hate crime.’
The term ‘hate crime,’ however, is open to debate. Here are my thoughts.
A ‘hate crime,’ is ‘a violent, prejudice-motivated crime that occurs when a perpetrator targets a victim because of his or her perceived membership in a certain social group.’ They are on the books of many Western nations.
Classifying certain crimes as ‘hate crimes’ is a bad idea. It’s bad law. Why? Because the legislation seeks not simply to criminalize the violent act, but the motivation behind the act. In short, it seeks to criminalize what goes on in the human heart. And only God can judge what goes on in the human heart.
At the heart of the Christian faith is this truism: Laws don’t change human hearts, only God can do that.
Furthermore, these laws seek to criminalize motivation and motivation is closely linked to one’s beliefs. You shouldn’t criminalize what people think, what they believe, what drives them. You should only criminalize external behaviour. We know what happens when you criminalize beliefs – we have lived through the horrors of the Twentieth Century, in Vietnam and Germany – and we don’t want to repeat those experiences.
Second, ‘hate crime’ legislation privileges – if that’s not an inappropriate word – certain social groups. It is therefore a kind of social engineering; assessing the evil of the act based not on the act itself but the value of the victim. That’s not right. It’s bad law and bad policy. Some argue that these groups ‘need protection.’ That won’t wash. ‘Hate crime’ legislation doesn’t protect anyone. It certainly doesn’t stop people like Dylann Roof.
Third, these laws go against the very thing they seek to affirm – that all people should be equal before the law. Homosexuals, blacks, etc, they don’t want to be seen as ‘special,’ but treated equally in society. Indeed, the Christian position is that all human beings are equal because we all bear God’s image. Privileging one group over another goes against this principle and sets groups against each other.
Whether I kill a heterosexual white man or a homosexual black man, I should be equally guilty before the law. It’s murder and I should go to prison. Both are crimes. Both men lie dead. I am guilty of the same crime, regardless of my motivation.
Some believe that America should be colour-blind. Perhaps rather surprisingly, given the above comments, I don’t agree with that approach. Why? Because it is foolish to pretend that a) The past never occurred and b) Because now the legislation is better, somehow the slate is wiped clean. Colour-blindness is the belief that because all are now treated equally before the law (that’s questionable) then no difference exists between the races. That’s not true.
Injustice persists and there’s no denying it. Calling for the nation to be colour-blind doesn’t help.
I don’t have the answer to the Race question. It has created immense discord in American society. As a white man, I cannot possibly imagine what it’s like to be pulled over by the police again and again and again. Racism, expressed unconsciously or subliminally in all kinds of ways is experienced by black people every day and it won’t go away. No laws can change that. (See my comments on the human heart above).
The American response – Affirmative Action, which privileges certain racial groups, is not a solution. It sets races against each other. Blacks who succeed in life, can’t stand it. Those who struggle at the bottom, become tied up in a dependency culture, playing the Race card to gain unfair advantage. It’s all messed up and especially as a white, British man (albeit one who lived in the U.S. for 12 years and is married to an American), I certainly don’t have a solution. As someone with ‘opinions,’ how depressing to admit that I don’t even have any suggestions.
One final comment, however, regarding colour-blindness. Ever since Babel, we have been scattered around the globe and have developed the kaleidoscope of different cultures which enrich our world. When I meet a black or Asian or European or Pacific Islander, I want to discover the richness of their culture. And as a Christian, I desire to cherish and celebrate both what unites us (our humanity) and what differentiates us (our cultures).
I can’t be colour-blind. I don’t want to be.
Consider the church. She is composed of both Jew and Gentile. God doesn’t seek to have us pretend we’re all the same. We’re not. He simply calls us to be united. To reach out beyond our cramped social circle. To take risks. To love those on the outside.
And you need good vision to do that, not (colour) blindness.
You need a better vision of this beautiful world.
And that’s a gift.
© Richard Collins 2015
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