It is sometimes heard in our society that religion and politics are topics one should avoid because these topics are controversial and lead to heated arguments and disagreements. At the present, the issue of race and race relations could be added to the list of what must never be spoken for fear of disrupting the peace.
Taking this to another level altogether, on September 17, 2020, President Donald Trump, in a speech during the White House Conference on American History at the National Archives Museum in Washington, said that he plans to make an executive order that will create a “national commission to support patriotic education” dubbed “the 1776 Commission.” Trump also plans to direct taxpayer funds to create a patriotic curriculum for schools that eliminates “anti-racism” teaching, teaching Trump considers “toxic propaganda” and “child abuse.” I contend that avoiding and stifling conversations about race, religion, and politics will not keep the peace. In addition, deleting teaching on American slavery, Jim Crow laws, and the civil rights movement from American history classes would be the ultimate in revisionist history.
How should one think Christianly about race? Is racism a biblical or political issue or is it both?
Much of right-wing white conservative evangelicalism is blind, insensitive, and silent on issues of race in America. Why is this? Is it because white American evangelical faith is largely personalistic, private, and individualistic? Is it because churches are influenced by the homogeneous principle advocated in past years by church growth experts? Is it because white Christians have never personally experienced bigotry and intolerance because of the color of their skin? Is it because right-wing white conservative evangelicalism has largely identified with right-wing politics and their white leaders? I think all of the above are factors that keep racism alive and well in America and in evangelical Christianity. I also think racism exists within white evangelicalism because most right-wing conservative white Christians and pastors have not read the Bible very well or contextually. In addition, many white pastors are afraid of upsetting their white constituents with talk about race. They hide behind the pretense of not wanting to disturb the flock.
Racism is rooted in ignorance, fear, scapegoating, hatred, and inferiority. Racism is xenophobic tribalism that dehumanizes “the other.” Racism exists in persons and within societal structures. Racism is something that is taught. (Small children are not racist). Racists are offended when their racism is unmasked, named, and revealed. Racists declare “All Lives Matter” and miss the point of “Black Lives Matter.” Racists don’t think they are racist. Racists conceal their racism in issues concerning welfare, incarceration, healthcare costs, jobs, housing, immigration, crime, drug use and trafficking, gerrymandering, free speech, historic confederate flags and statues, and the like. Racism wants to ignore the past and blame the victim. Racism wants to assert its rights while denying the rights of others. Racists denounce “political correctness” as sappy, weak, snowflake liberal ideology. They favor the good old days of rude, demeaning, insensitive, and hateful speech. Racism has no place in biblical Christianity.
First, God created all of humanity in God’s image and likeness (Gen 1:27). All humanity, every race, images the likeness of God equally. Second, a central theme and concern of the law and prophets is justice. Every race, group, or nation is held to the standard of equal rights before God’s law. If justice is God’s concern, it should be our concern. Third, the issue of race is found at the core of the gospel. Jesus died for all humanity, not just white people. All who are baptized into Christ are one body, no matter their skin color. Paul emphasizes that there is neither Jew, gentile, slave, free, male, or female (Gal 3:26–29). He further exclaims that Jesus Christ “destroyed the barrier,” “the dividing wall of hostility” so that he could create “one new humanity,” making peace and reconciling all people to God through the Cross (Eph 2:14–18). Fourth, God’s Spirit is poured out on, indwells, gifts, and sends all people who put their trust in Christ no matter what race (Joel 2:28; Acts 2:17). Last, the Book of Revelation notes that the future people of God and the kingdom of God will be composed of every tribe, every nation, every people, and every tongue (5:9; 7:9). No one is excluded from citizenship in God’s kingdom. No one is a foreigner to God’s grace, covenant, and promises. Every tribe, tongue, people, and nation who confess Jesus as Lord embody God’s people. We are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household. All believers, black, white, red, or yellow are a holy temple and a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit (Eph 2:11-22).