“Racism has used the American church to battle against God’s will and purpose for his people. Racism has accomplished this goal by encouraging numerous rationalizations for the church’s position on slavery and racial discrimination, positions that are inconsistent with the message of the Bible.”
~Norman Anthony Peart, Separate No More: Understanding and Developing Racial Reconciliation in Your Church
Though I disagree with the Peart’s decision to continue using the word race/racism and Peart would agree with my understanding of race saying, “Race is a concept that has been created by our unique history and does not have the same meaning in the Bible… Race is an aspect of how we view ourselves and also shapes our social interactions with others,” I find great truths in his book that warrant repeating. I would add that our belief in race not just our practice of racism has compromised our Christian witness, segregated the Lord’s table and tainted the waters of baptism.
I hold that race is unbiblical and its perspectives and practices are ungodly. I agree that it is necessary to talk about the concept of race but I also feel it necessary to have a response to race. For me, it is not enough to talk about race and all of the social ills that are associated with it but one must have a solution to this problem. The problem is that many of us don’t see it as a problem while others feel that race is so complicated that it is impossible to solve. This hierarchy has so tied our minds in knots that it seems to be the riddle of all riddles. How do we rid ourselves of race?
For this question, I have an answer: Be baptized. Walk more fully into the newness of life that is offered in Jesus Christ. Take race “down to the water to be baptized” and I assure you, it will not rise again. It is not a part of our life with Jesus Christ. God has no use for it. It is not a spiritual test of our faith but a social test of our assimilation into American society. Race is spiritually useless and biblically unfounded. God did not call us black/white/red/yellow/brown/beige or socially position us. Society does that. Our God, the God of the Old and New Testaments, is not a “Jim Crow God.”
Peart says, “…Many evangelicals of this period (i.e. 1700s) saw the great need for the slave’s emancipation from sin and Satan’s spiritual bondage, but could not see a need for their emancipation from slavery’s physical bondage. The greatest tragedy, though, is that they did not see slavery as also a result of sin and Satan’s spiritual bondage.” I believe that the same can be said of Christians today with regard to race. The identity of race is one that is socially binding; it has no authority with God. Socially defined white/black/red/yellow/brown/beige people are not closer to God or God’s best example of the human being. So, the Church should not employ it; it is of no use to God or the Word of God. In fact, it does more to confound us and to prevent our understanding of the Word and will of God. Race, too, is a result of sin and Satan’s spiritual bondage.
Believing in race, knowing race and practicing racism does not make us better Christians. Learning prejudice and stereotypes is not a part of the discipleship process. Segregating ourselves according to the social construct of race is not a part of our call to holiness. Race is a god, an idol. It is another master and if you serve it, your Christian witness is compromised.
God is love and as the songwriter says, “They will know that we are Christians by our love.” But, race calls for hatred, hatred of self and of others. Race calls for the employment of hate speech. The recitations of stereotypes are not a part of our a confession of faith in God. It is not a creed or a doctrine. John writes, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For the person who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And we also have this command from Him: the one who loves God also must love his brother” (I John 4.20-21). Race is not known by its love and if we believe in it, race has made a liar out of us. Race will not allow us to love our brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ.
Our belief in race not only makes us love less and loveless but it also makes us faithless. The writer of Hebrews says, “Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (11.6). Race challenges our belief in God for if you believe in race, then there are some things that you don’t believe about God. You don’t believe that your reward will come from diligently seeking God. Race makes you believe that God loves you more or less and will reward you more or less according to the social coloring of your skin. This belief is proof that your faith has been compromised by your belief in race. Race rewards us according to the law, a social law that is based on appearance while God rewards us based on a relationship grounded in love. It is about knowing Christ not showing ourselves white in appearance, speech and deed. Whiteness is a social marker of perfection while God’s perfection is defined as wholeness. The rewards of believing in race and the rewards of believing in God are not equal or synonymous. Race will not allow you to believe who God is.
Race is a mean god, a miserable deity and it calls for its people to be miserable. Race will make you believe that there is no way out, that things will never get better, that we will never be better. It daily distances us from our true self and impedes the ministry of reconciliation. We will never make sense of ourselves as long as we believe in race. Its power is unequal; the scales of its justice are unbalanced. Its opinions are biased. Race makes us hopeless. But, we come from a tradition of hope-filled people: “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations” (Romans 4.18). More importantly, we serve the God of hope: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15.13).
Love your neighbor and your enemy. Believe that God will reward you and have hope because you serve the God of hope. Be a witness for God not race. Amen.