Racial profiling is automatically considered a breach of justice in America. One of the highest priorities of the ACLU is to fight against what they call the outrageous practice of racial profiling. Since the 911 bombing of the Twin Towers by those with Arab and Muslim origins, many of us with other racial and religious origins have become suspicious of those of Arab descent, especially whenever we get on an airplane. I include religious profiling here too because contrary to popular American sociology, religion does tend to run along national lines. Also, it's interesting how the political left-wing liberals have no problem of profiling the fundamentalist right. That kind of profiling seems to be acceptable with them. Profiling seems to be unavoidable to some degree. However, regardless, racial and religious profiling do pose an ethical dilemma.
In a benign sense, racial profiling could be defined as attributing certain qualities to races or nations, and from that generalization, drawing certain conclusions about the attributes or character of a particular individual because he is a part of that race or religion.
In a more malevolent sense it could be defined by an example, such as that which occurs when the police targets someone for investigation on the basis of that person's race, national origin, or ethnicity.
Like many other issues, racial profiling opponents have identified a natural proclivity in man, thrown its abuses in our faces, and declared that anything that smacks of this natural proclivity is sinful. Like the issue of slavery (unbiblical slavery, I might add), our opponents have rightly judged our sins, thrown it in our faces, and then assumed that anything that limits freedom is sinful. In such a manner they absolutize freedom, and deceptively move from the condemnation of slavery to the condemnation of anything that limits freedom of choice. To them the freedom to choose abortion and the freedom to choose sodomy is the same as freedom from slavery. It's all a matter of freedom. For those of us who have the law of God as our standard, we see the fallacy of such logic. God's law defines sin, not the modern god of Freedom.
Racial profiling in the benign sense is a natural part of man as is breathing. It can be dangerous and it can be abused, but neither must it be condemned as something sinful in all cases. The natural tendency we have of attributing to certain races certain attributes, be they good or bad, is not only something we do, but something that God does too.
According to the ACLU, God may have been a racist when he agreed with the Cretian prophet when the prophet described the characteristics (character) of Cretians as a people who were "liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons" (Titus 1:12). Amazingly, Paul and therefore God said, "This testimony is true" (Titus 1:13). Paul was simply stating the truth about the Cretians in general. Neither did Habakkuk have a very nice view of the Chaldeans when he called them an impetuous and arrogant people. As a people, that's the way they were.
The description of Paul and Habakkuk cannot be called racism. Racism tends to promote the idea that there is no hope for a particular nation or a particular race. Christians who believe in the gospel cannot be racists. Yet, this in no way negates the natural proclivity of generalizing about certain nations or races. In the Bible nations (peoples-races) do have characteristics and national character. Israel was called to be holy, not simply as individuals, but as a nation (which includes all facets of life in both the heart of the individual and the corporate nature of the nation - civil laws included). Even today we say such things, as the French are… the British are… Americans are big, fat, and bossy. Blacks can jump higher than whites (if you don't believe this, then watch a few NBA or NCAA basketball games).
Now does this mean that all individuals of a nation are identical with the character of that nation? No, of course not! "All Israel is not of Israel" (Romans 9:6). Paul was an Israelite of his day, but after his conversion he was no longer typical of the nation Israel as a whole. Neither were Peter, James, and John. It is true that even though we do generalize about people, that we must be careful not to assume that every individual of that race replicate the characteristics of that race as a whole. There are many Arabs who are Christians. However, to ask us to stop profiling people in a benign sense before we know their individual character, is to ask us to do something that goes against human nature. We must be careful, but we cannot change a natural proclivity that comes from God Himself. Don't let the thought police make you feel guilty about something that is as natural as breathing.
Part of the reason we have to deal with this problem is the nature of the modern mobile society. I suppose there was a time, when most people did little traveling, when dealing with strangers was seldom a problem. We knew who are neighbors were, and we soon knew everything about the stranger who just arrived in town. Traveling to other places often was done with an entourage for security purposes. Those days are gone. We cannot find out by the grapevine anymore about the guy sitting next to us, whether we are at home or traveling abroad. There is no time to do an investigation. The modern mobile society has created a social danger zone where we have to deal with strangers everyday of our lives, especially as we board airplanes.
When I get on an airplane, I do feel differently about people upon my first recognition of their nationality or religion. It's one thing to sit beside a Caucasian Southern Baptist. It's quite another thing to sit beside an Arab from the Middle East that looks like Mohammed Atta. I don't know of any Southern Baptists who have turned an airplane into a bomb. I know several Middle Eastern Arabs who have.
I often wonder how the time taken for airport security could be greatly shortened if we did do some racial and religious profiling. This would not be a full-proof guarantee, nor void the necessity for airline security, but it could shorten the lines at the airports. Women could be put through separate lines than men. Men commit most of these horrendous crimes. I guess you could call this sexual profiling, but most women I know would not mind avoiding a shakedown. Muslim women don't bomb airplanes. Muslim women seldom travel with their husbands. That would probably shorten the lines too. We should expect more screening of Arabs, who pray on the carpet toward Mecca in the airport concourse, than we would expect of Presbyterians who carry their Bibles on the airplane with them. Is this profiling? Yes. But, it is a natural proclivity that finds its root in the nature of man as God created him.
We already do some profiling. When a man buys a one way trip to America without any luggage and that man has large heals on his shoes we get worried, especially if he studied at Bin Laden University. We put him into a certain profile, and we should. This only means that his screening tests must be much stricter. He may be near the Apostle Paul in character, but we won't know that until we do some investigation.
Is racial (or even religious profiling) bad? It depends, but is must not always be viewed as something sinful. That's just purely unchristian.
- Larry E. Ball
Rev. Larry Ball is pastor of Bridwell Heights Presbyterian Church, Kingsport, Tennessee. He is also a CPA.