Racism is abhorrent. And it has been much in the news again recently. (Indeed, one might ask, is it ever out of the news?) Calls are being made for Jeremy Clarkson's head, following a revelation that he allegedly recited a racist word in a nursery rhyme. Then recent poll results have indicated that UKIP is a party containing racists, or is attractive to racists. And not least, the Cornish have been awarded official 'minority' status as an ethnic grouping, meaning the Government must agree to "combat [racial] discrimination and promote equality" for Cornish people.
Having lived for a number of years in South Africa under apartheid, I have witnessed full-blown racism and its consequences at first hand. But equally I have encountered those who are just as prejudiced walking the streets of Britain. That such attitudes exist is certainly an awful blemish on our multicultural society, but the difficulty lies in finding an effective way of tackling it.
The belief seems to be amongst our local and national leaders that we can solve the problem by legislation, and by promoting minority 'rights'. Sadly, my reading of history is that no nation has yet succeeded in making people behave as they should simply by Act of Parliament. Laws such as the Equality Act or the Race Relations Act can curb excesses, together with Hate Speech legislation, particularly in the Public Order Act that prohibits not only discriminatory actions, but also the use of threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour.
Has it worked? It would appear not. Because (to quote J John) the heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart. Or to quote Jesus, "the mouth speaks what the heart is full of" (Luke 6:45). Without right and godly attitudes in people, racist behaviour will persist.
There is little doubt that racism is fed by fear on the one hand and by covetousness on the other. It was the perceived 'Swart gevaar' (Black threat or danger) that fuelled the extremist mentality in apartheid South Africa. And it is envy of the perceived affluence, privilege and wealthy lifestyles of European nations that seems to prompt much of the racist anti-white rhetoric that flows from many ex-colonies today. In Britain it is the perceived threat to jobs, housing and 'standard of living' that lies behind the controversies concerning foreign immigration. It may be politically incorrect to say it, but racism affects all cultures, because the sinfulness of the human heart affects every tribe and nation.
So if Act of Parliament can't achieve the desired effect, the next strategy appears to be one of education. Very often, the focus seems to be on terminology rather than intent. Furthermore, in the educators' enthusiasm to transform public attitudes, a new brand of political correctness has been spawned, to the extent that a contradictory situation has developed whereby it is communicated on the one hand that minority ethnic groups have equal rights, but on the other hand special treatment is accorded to such events or groups in various forms which we've grown accustomed to, such as Black History month, Miss Black Britain contests, the Black Police Officers Association... the list seems to be constantly growing.
In many cases, the results of such well-meaning attempts at re-education have been counter-productive, by fostering cynicism, anger, and the polarisation of attitudes. The danger is that many people are becoming so irritated by the political correctness as regards terminology and social inclusiveness, that they fail to take a stand against the real thing.
Perhaps it is time that the real solution is modelled by the Church, because it is only Christ who can so powerfully and effectively change human hearts. Jesus himself set the perfect example. It's been said that one of the biggest miracles in John's Gospel lies in the account of how Jesus, a Jew in first century culture, spoke to a Samaritan woman of a totally different race. Samaritans were considered to be the dregs of humanity by Jews. Jesus broke through the prejudices of racial distinction, and demonstrated exactly what the Apostle Paul meant in Galatians 3:28 when he spoke of how, in Christ, "there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female". The only distinction that God sees in the human race is between sinners and saved sinners. Saved sinners have changed hearts, and it's only changed hearts that can bring about a changed society.
Tony Ward is a Bible teacher and evangelist who was ordained in Zimbabwe. He ministers mainly in Cardiff and Bristol.