Racism has been a hotly-debated topic for much of 2020. The tragic murder of George Floyd earlier this year and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests have prompted important discussions about race and justice across the Anglosphere.
Of particular focus is white supremacy — the belief that people of European descent are superior to other races. In pursuit of this, the spotlight has been cast on various white supremacist groups this year. But more commonly, the idea up for grabs is whether or not white supremacy is “baked into” Western society itself, and that we’re all somehow complicit.
These are very hot potatoes, to say the least. Understandably, many shy away for fear of saying something unacceptable and being accused of racism.
Christians are among those remaining quiet — maybe because the church already courts enough controversy for its views on sexuality and marriage. But in truth, race and racism should be important to Christians because God has a lot to say about them.
In fact, what God has to say about this is an advantage — not a disadvantage — for followers of Jesus. In the first chapter of Genesis, we see God creating human beings in His image. As the story continues, it becomes clear that all people who inhabit the earth are actually descendants of the first couple, Adam and Eve.
There are episodes of ethnic violence in the Old Testament, which were common throughout the ancient world and make any modern person rightly squeamish. But it doesn’t stay this way. Even though God’s promises of blessing and salvation were first made to the Jews, many non-Jewish people were welcomed into them — think Moses’ wife Zipporah, or Rahab or Ruth.
Indeed, the lesson behind the book of Jonah is not just that a Gentile city repented, but that Israel’s often-neglected calling was to be a “light to the Gentiles” — people just like the Ninevites.
Sadly, prejudices remained in place for the Jews, and hundreds of years later, Jesus found himself pushing up against these taboos when he challenged ethnic barriers. His encounter with the woman at the well in Samaria and his parable of the Good Samaritan are well-known examples of this.
Jesus’ final command—popularly known as “the Great Commission” — was for His followers to go and make disciples of all nations, or ethnos in the Greek.
The early church obeyed, spreading out across the Roman Empire and taking the good news to people of any background that would hear it. Later, in writing to the Galatians, the apostle Paul had to confront lingering prejudice by affirming that:
“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
There are many other affirmations of ethnic equality in the Bible, but consider two more. The first is in Acts 17:26, where Paul is explaining the Gospel to the people of Athens. He tells them that,
“From one man [God] created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and He determined their boundaries.”
Finally, in Revelation 7:9, we get a glimpse of what Heaven will look like. In the words of John,
“I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb.”
So from Genesis to Revelation, God is absolutely clear on how He views the different races of the world: all are equally precious because all have been made in His image. In fact, Christian theologians have often said that according to Scripture, there is only one race: the human race. Slowly, science is catching up with this.
Some counter that in the past, Christians used the Bible to defend racist ideas and even slavery. While this is true, it reflects much less on what Christianity itself teaches and much more on the prejudices of past eras. In fact, people have used the Bible — like many other books — to defend countless terrible ideas.
What stands out in the history of slavery’s abolition is that it was a movement led mostly by evangelical Christians, notably William Wilberforce and the “Clapham Sect”. (Notice too that while slavery existed almost everywhere in the early modern world, it was the “Christian West” that abolished it first and then pressured other nations to do the same).
Based on the teachings of the Bible, and in light of how those teachings transformed the Western world, there simply is no place for white supremacy — either in the church, or in Western societies.
Consider that what sets Western nations apart is that they do not depend on a shared ethnicity, but instead a shared set of values. Historian Victor Davis Hanson explains:
The West, then, transcends its place of birth precisely because its ideas, although they were born in Europe, were uniquely and logically able to spread and to transcend historical ethnic, racial, and religious bonds… the logic of Western civilization was never predicated on blood-and-soil chauvinism.
I have many Australian friends who were born elsewhere, or who were born in Australia to migrant parents, and they are just as Australian as I am. Australia simply wouldn’t be what it is without “those who’ve come across the seas,” as our national anthem attests.
While anyone can affirm racial equality, the Christian worldview gives us a concrete foundation for this: a God who created all of us in His image, and who sent His Son to redeem people from every tribe and nation.
It is a sad fact that racial prejudice can still be found in our societies. While it’s easy to point the finger at others, everyone is susceptible to “tribal” and divisive thinking, so all of us must guard against racism and other prejudices in our own hearts.
Ironically, in our present moment, to guard against racial prejudice is also to oppose the idea that all white people are complicit in racism. Part of the newly popular Critical Race Theory, this is itself a racist concept, since it makes blanket judgments against people based on the colour of their skin.
The words of preacher and civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. are no less relevant today than when he declared them from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial:
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.
Let’s work together to keep his dream alive.