Ethnic Profiling


Ethnic profiling is back in the news after the Brits arrested twenty-one Muslims for plotting to blow up airplanes.   The issue arises every time the public is reminded that terrorists always turn up to be Islamic Middle Eastern men. Common sense takes over and Americans hope to heaven that law enforcement doesn’t take seriously all this politically correct drivel about the evils of profiling.

The ACLU says ethnic profiling is unjust.   A cursory study of  Scripture would lead one to believe ethnic profiling is a necessary tool if properly used.   Everyone bears some responsiblity for the actions of his fellow countrymen, his religion, and his family line.  It may not mean full-responsibility, but you may be inconvenienced if your cohorts behave badly.   That is life.   Get used to it!   The Bible reads   “For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself” (Romans 14:7).

Ethnic profiling stirs up conflicting feelings in all of us because it is one of those theological paradoxes.  In one sense it is morally offensive, and in other it is morally compelling.   The Bible sets in parallel the conflict. The first truth is that it is not fair to punish one person for the sins of another.   One member of a country or race should not be penalized just because some in his group do evil.

Fathers shall not be punished for their sons, nor shall sons be punished for their fathers; everyone shall be punished for his own sin.  You shall not pervert the justice due a foreigner.” (Deuteronomy 24)

The second truth is the flip side:  Since we all affect each other for good or evil, we are responsible for the character of our family, our country, our race, and even all humanity.    I am my brother’s keeper.   In our American emphasis on individual rights, we have wrongly deemphasized the truth of corporate responsibility.    We have ignored the reality that families can take on the sins of their fathers.

“God will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.”  (Exodus 34)

Given the hostility of the sons of Ammon and the sons of Moab toward the Jews, God told the Israelites that there needed to be a 400-year moratorium on any of these people immigrating to Israel.  America would do well to consider the current application of this ancient counsel.

“No Ammonite or Moabite shall enter the assembly of the Lord; none of their descendants, even to the tenth generation, shall ever enter the assembly of the Lord,  because they did not meet you with food and water on the way when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you.”
Deuteronomy 23:3-4

The Apostle Paul profiled the ancient Cretans as being “liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” (Titus 1:12) Is this stereotyping?  Yes!  Is it wrong?  No!  Discerning the patterns of a people group is simply telling the truth.    Some people may misdiagnose the patterns of a culture, and others may leave no room for exceptions in a culture; but that does not mean it is wrong to make general observations about the beliefs and behaviors of a culture and to act accordingly.   It is the wrong observations we should object to, not the observation itself.

Racial profiling should remind us that we need to bear with some inconveniences when our people group does evil.    When I have to lose a day because of jury duty, I do so because a fellow American has committed a crime.   When my children do wrong, it reflects on me, and justly so.   If I become self-righteously angered over my tarnished image, I am the one sinning. God demands that I respond with humility and contrition.

When I want to check my ethical judgment, one of my favorite tests is the shoe on the other foot “test”   If I were touring in Iran while a group of Americans flew a plane into an Iranian skyscraper killing 3000, I would expect to be searched, detained and questioned.    I should be glad for the opportunity to exonerate myself from my newly inherited ethnic profile.  This is the small price I have to pay for the evil of my American brothers.   You would not find me complaining if all Americans were expelled from Iran.    I would be the first one to say, “Serves us right”

But is this the response you get from Middle Easterners ethnically profiled at airports?  Obviously not.   They have been emboldening by certain liberal groups to conclude their civil liberties are being violated.

Self-righteous indignation over reasonable profiling is the deadly sin of arrogant pride.   The Christian man ought to say in humility, “My fellow countryman has sinned; and, therefore, I want everyone to hold me to a  higher standard of scrutiny.   This is good for my testimony and keeps me conscious of my own sin.”  

God does not want the one profiled to try to change the stereotype by demanding rights, demonstrations, violence, etc.   These things only compound animosity between cultures.  The way God plans for the innocent to change their inherited profile is by godly behavior.   Christians are called upon to be the change agents in their family line, culture, or ethnicity so that the corporate character will become a positive one.  When people see your ethnicity they ought to say, “Those are the most helpful, compassionate people on earth.”   Paul told the Cretans that this was the way to change their negative profile.

 “In all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in teaching, dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us.”  (Titus 2)

The interesting question in all this is why are so many liberals  opposed to the extra scrutinizing of Middle Eastern men at airports?   I suppose it is partly a reaction to America’s history of racial discrimination.    But given their illogical opposition to sensible discernment, I suspect their reasons must go deeper.

My hunch is that their objection is rooted in their belief that there is no such thing as sin or its consequences.   They want to remove accountability.    They want a world in which nobody is responsible for his own sins; and, likewise, nobody is remotely responsible for the sins of his family.   That world doesn’t exist, nor will it ever exist.  Men are sinners; and as long as there is sin in the world, profiling is necessary.

But the danger of liberalism is this:  if you treat the real world like the dream world you want it to be, the real world will someday devour you.   It is the punishment on those who deny truth.