Does American society have a racism problem? Does the the church? Lately, everybody seems to claim or assume the answer to both of these questions is “yes,” but maybe those who preach, teach, and lead in churches and ministries have the same job to do either way—to ensure that the wealth of biblical teaching relevant to racism reaches the believers in their care.
To clarify a couple of key terms, I’m using “race” here in the old sense: basically a group of ethnicities from the same general geography who have some shared physical characteristics. Given the large amount of concept-overlap, I’ll treat race and ethnicity as being roughly equivalent. “Racism” here refers to devaluing and mistreating people (inwardly or outwardly) because we think they’re of a different race than ourselves.
Scripture gives us several reasons to reject these attitudes and behaviors. We’ll consider nine, with the first five in this installment.
1. We’re commanded not hate.
Jesus predicted that hate would be a growing problem in the future (Matt. 24:10), but the NT directly instructs us to turn away from hate.
If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. (ESV, 1 John 4:20)
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice [i.e., every form of ill will]. (Eph 4:31)
In the Sermon the Mount, Jesus systematically exposed the underlying corrupt attitudes of His hearers. It must have been both blessed and painful to be there and hear these words:
You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? (Matt. 5:43–46)
The supposed enlightened of society increasingly use the term “hate” to shout down any moral judgments they don’t like, but that doesn’t reduce the importance of rejecting true hatred. If anything, the growing confusion makes turning away from real hatred more important than ever.
2. We’re commanded to view believers who are different from us as one with us in Christ.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:28)
The Apostle is not directing Christians to treat each other identically across these categories. Equal and identical are not the same thing. If I say to my son, “Please mow the lawn,” and say to my daughter “Please wash the dishes,” I’m not treating them identically, but I am treating them equally. If the yard work and the housework categories seem too traditional (which is supposed to mean unfair now), reverse them. The point still stands.
So it is that, in the church, men and women have different jobs to do, but these assignments are not unequal in essence or value—they’re just different. But when it comes to ethnic backgrounds, Scripture doesn’t even call for different roles, much less unequal ones.
We are one in Christ, regardless of gender, ethnicity/race, or economic status (James 2:1-4).
3. We’re encouraged to see our differences in the body of Christ as God’s wise design.
The NT doesn’t offer a text that directly says “your ethnic differences are God’s wise design.” What it does reveal is that all of our differences are from Him (1 Cor. 4:7) and that our differences in ability are specifically His wise design for His body, the church.
So, if the differing gifts are His wise design, does it follow that differing natural traits are not? Surely the spirit of these words applies to both:
For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them … (Rom. 12:4–6)
If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. (1 Cor. 12:15–19)
In the body of Christ, different is from God, and different is good. Excesses of the socio-political left have given “diversity” a bad name. But long before it became a social obsession, diversity was God’s idea.
4. We’re commanded to regard every man as made in the image of God.
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Gen. 1:26)
Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. (Gen. 9:6)
“Image” refers to both the pattern of our being and to our general purpose—and this pattern and purpose exists from conception to the grave in the greatest of heroes and the lowest of criminals.
The terms “brotherhood of man” and “fatherhood of God” have taken on a good bit of socially and theologically liberal baggage. But there is one sense in which it’s correct to think in these terms: nobody we ever meet is less than a fellow human being made in the image God. There is a kinship of ultimate origin there that goes far deeper than mere ethnic origin.
5. We’re commanded to avoid unnecessary offense.
Some apparently reason that because the godly suffer persecution, all “persecution” is evidence of godliness. This is faulty thinking in itself (see Affirming the Consequent), but Scripture also directly challenges it:
For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. (1 Pet. 2:20)
When we bring suffering on ourselves by being needlessly offensive, we’re really not being “persecuted.” We’re bringing shame on our Savior and on the gospel.
Paul went way out of his way to avoid unnecessarily alienating people he was supposed to seek connections with (i.e., everybody).
Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, (1 Cor. 10:32)
To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (1 Cor. 9:20–23)
The gospel declares that every person is born in sin, has continued to wrong a holy God, and is justly condemned to eternal judgment. It further insists that our absolute best can’t even begin to solve the problem. That’s an inherently offensive message—all the more reason we who declare it must make sure it’s the gospel that offends and not our carelessness, arrogance, or insensitivity.
Aaron Blumer is a Michigan native and graduate of Bob Jones University and Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). He and his family live in small-town western Wisconsin, not far from where he pastored Grace Baptist Church for thirteen years. In his full time job, he is Information Coordinator for a law-enforcement electronic library service.