Argument #1: Like all sin, racism originates in the human heart. Therefore, the solution to racism is for people’s hearts to change. “Systemic racism,” on the other hand, is a Marxist idea.
Response: The first sentence’s claim is true. If you believe in original sin (Genesis 3, Romans 5), you have to admit that any sin originates in the human heart. Sin might be aggravated by circumstances, but circumstances don’t cause sin. However, the conclusion that the solution to racism is for people’s hearts to change is true but incomplete.
If people are born in sin and people build a society, that society will be structured in ways that reinforce whatever sins dominate the hearts of those who build it. Therefore, even if many people’s hearts change a few generations later, those structures might still perpetuate the problems associated with that society’s “original sins.”
This is why—and I believe this is an important distinction as well—it is possible to recognize that many individual police officers might not be racist and still believe that changes in police departments need to take place to discourage injustice.
What those changes might be—alterations in training, changes in criteria for which areas are patrolled more often, etc.—is an important conversation, but having it does not mean condemning all police officers, many of whom are no doubt grieved at the horrific actions of other officers, such as the murderer of George Floyd. The problem can be built into structures and (some) individual hearts.
Here is how the above arguments are distinct from Marxism:
Marxism posits that socio-economic forces create the problem, not that they perpetuate the problem. A true Marxist does not believe that individuals have essential selves apart from the historical contexts in which they develop.
As an atheistic philosophy, Marxism does not allow for belief in a soul, and therefore, people are merely the products of the world they live in (referred to as a “superstructure” of social norms, historical forces, religious ideas, etc.).
The way to change people is to change society, and, for those who follow the most progressive version of Marxism, to dismantle society and recreate it from the ground up (this is what Lenin tried to do in Russia and Mao Tsetung tried to do in China). I know people who hold to the most extreme version of this philosophy.
If you believe (as I do) that sin, such as racism, originates in the human heart and merely manifests itself in society, you can recognize the above project as fundamentally utopian. It won’t work because whatever society you build from scratch will still have problems (perhaps new ones, perhaps the same ones) because you won’t have fixed the source of the problems (the human heart).
Only one Person can eradicate sin from the world, and I pray for that Person’s coming with an increasing sense of urgency these days.
However, to reject the claim that “fixing society at the structural level will fix everything” does not mean that we should reject the idea of being good stewards of the society in which we live. The fact that we will never be able to eradicate sin (this side of the resurrection) does not mean we should sit back and allow it free reign.
Those among my fellow believers who oppose abortion are already recognizing that sin and its effects can be addressed on both individual and societal levels. Meeting with a desperate woman outside a clinic and convincing her not to end her baby’s life is addressing it at the individual level.
But many who reach out to prospective patients outside clinics also campaign for legal protections for the unborn and support clinics that provide desperate women with other options, resources, counseling, and support. Other systemic changes might involve better guarantees for parental leave, stronger incentives for paternal involvement or financial support, and funding for adoptive and social service venues.
Addressing the problem of abortion at the systemic level does not mean caving into Marxism.
I firmly believe that if we are to work toward racial reconciliation, we need to admit that the history of racism in the United States (slavery, Jim Crow, etc.) has left us with problems that need to be addressed at the heart level AND at the structural level.