Does racism work with Christianity? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
With today being MLK Day, we think about a man who said he wants people to be judged by the content of their character instead of the color of their skin. The dream was to see black and white boys and girls playing together and being friends. There was to be no advantage or disadvantage to race.
Sadly, the church hasn’t had a perfect track record here. It could be a natural human tendency to look with suspicion at the other. We often treat slavery as if it was the worst evil and also uniquely American. It is a great evil indeed, though I think some are worse, such as mass genocide, but it is also not uniquely American. Most every other culture has enslaved a group and been enslaved themselves. Many groups have enslaved their own people and sold their own people to be slaves.
There were too many Christians who were defending slavery in America. I recognize that my own denomination’s history has a black mark here, one that I am thankful we have recognized the error of. I have a professor here who has said if he could ask Jonathan Edwards one question, it would be “Why did you keep slaves?”
Generally, we recognize racism as wrong today, but why? What makes it wrong? We can’t just take these ideas as if they are a given. After all, if you went back 2,000 years ago and asked the average person in the Roman Empire if slavery was wrong, they would look at you puzzled. Of course not. Why would you think such a thing? Oddly, many of the slaves could think the exact same thing.
As Tom Holland argues in his book Dominion, even as an agnostic, he finds his values are really Christian ones. Our culture has been so shaped by Christianity that we don’t see it. We tend to think “This is the way everyone thinks.” No. It isn’t. Our beliefs on morality are something that have been tinkered out over a long period of time. I also suspect we’re about to see how important they are as the major movement today is to avoid any idea of morality in many areas, especially sex.
In Christianity, mankind is created in the image of God. There is no distinction in that regard between male and female. Both are said to be equally in the image of God, despite them both being very different. (Hallelujah that women are so different, might I add.) Too many of us have this idea that if there are any differences between two things, then one is superior and the other is inferior. Not always.
Are men superior in any way? Yes. Absolutely. So are women. Men are superior at being men. Women are superior at being women. (Something our culture is trying to destroy the idea of. It’s amazing women are complaining about the patriarchy all the while supporting the transgender movement.) There are benefits to being a man and there are benefits to being a woman and there are downsides to both.
The same can apply to races. Can there be differences between the races besides appearance? Absolutely. Does this mean that any one race is superior or inferior? Not a bit. (I cannot recommend enough Thomas Sowell on these kinds of questions.)
What racism does is it treats the image of God, the main aspect of man in Christianity, as if it was of lesser importance than race. Taking any secondary characteristic of a person and treating it as a primary characteristic is demeaning. This is also the same when we treat the most important aspect of a person to be any of the aspects I mentioned above.
This does not mean that these secondary qualities are unimportant, but they should not be ranked above the most important. Each person you meet is in the image of God. If they are, then you are to love them as yourself. You can speak all you want against what a person does, because that can be wicked and evil, but humanity is a good still, a good regardless of any of the secondary characteristics.
Also, this racism is not just treating as someone lesser because of a secondary characteristic. It’s also treating them as greater because of it. James had a problem with special privileges being given to the rich. He would have just as much problem with special privileges being given based on the secondary characteristics as well. If you want to see racism die in a society, you have to get rid of privileges as well as disadvantages.
A truly Christian society will be a society that is without racism.
Let’s aim for that.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)