Was Jesus a racist? Some people claim that He gave a racist put-down to a woman who asked for help. If the accusation sticks, Jesus might be cancelled.
One label that we all don’t want is “racist.” It’s the new mark of shame. Statues are being pulled down and schools are being renamed, and careers are being terminated. The Royal Family is being severely criticized, and books by Dr. Seuss are being cancelled from publication.
My concern is that racism will no longer be a social issue if everyone is called a racist. The label needs to be applied with care, or there will be push-back and denial. Also, people can learn to keep quiet when they might be judged, without changing their ideas. I know someone who is a manager in the radio business, and he will not tolerate any jokes that make fun of groups of people. I don’t think he is racist, but he is also extremely careful to avoid a label that might ruin his career.
Prejudice and bigotry exist everywhere, and we need to fix those problems. People need to change, but superficial accusations will never make an improvement. Dishonest cancellations will give the actual problem a place to hide.
So, was Jesus a racist?
This question gets confused with arguments about “White Jesus” in pictures and statues. Old European art shows a European [white] Jesus, and many people are offended today. This seems to be context; there are pictures of African Jesus in Ethiopian art, and East Asian Jesus in pictures from countries like Japan. I prefer the words of Jesus himself: “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24) We don’t need pictures and statues of a spirit.
So, back to the question; was Jesus a racist? If you do an Internet search on the topic, you won’t find much, except for arguments about pictures and statues. The idea that Jesus himself was a racist offends too many people, but the accusation is often made.
In the Bible, there was that one story.
We are told in two places that Jesus and his followers travelled across the border into Gentile territory, into south Lebanon. A woman begged Jesus to help her daughter, and He said “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” (Matthew 15: 26).
That sounds crude. It is true that Gentiles were called dogs, if they did not worship the God of Israel, and that was not a nice word. It is also true that the Jews were the despised people in the story, especially those peasants from Galilee, like Jesus. That woman was talking down to the underclass. Probably the crowd was resentful; ‘those important people only talk to us when they want something.’
The meaning depends on one word “dog” which could be “kuon” or “kunarion” ‘outdoor dog’ or ‘small dog’ in the Greek language of the New Testament. In both stories, Jesus used the friendly term for small or pet dog. All the people in the story had the same race; the difference was the religion they decided to follow and the God they decided to worship. After a lifetime of worshipping her own chosen gods, the woman asked for help from the God she had rejected. She was a close neighbor, but she chose to be different, she only crossed the fence when she wanted something.
In my family, we fed the cats at the table, and my parents made us stop. I could drop food on the floor and a cat would gobble it up. We loved those cats, but the table was not their place. My parents made sure we knew that.
It’s easy to make the case that Jesus did not make a crude racist remark to that woman in South Lebanon.
Language warning in video below:
In our modern cancel culture, with labels that stick and do so much damage, it’s only a matter of time. Jesus will be accused of racism, and some will cancel Him, without evidence. One word in one story is enough.
There is an answer to racism, and it has been with us for thousands of years:
For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3: 26 to 28)