If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. (Romans 12:18)
Now that all the woke realtors have stopped using “master bedroom” and JPMorgan-Chase has dropped terms like “master” and “slave” from their internal tech code, I think we can all feel much better about our new and enlightened sensitivities. After all, I don’t want my computer to be in a slave relationship to me. I want my computer to master me like everyone else. I’m not going back to Master Muffler until they get woke either. Give me a better name, like Novice Muffler or Beginner Muffler.
Race relations is serious business, of course, and every Christian should be concerned about it. Those Christians have it right who find the solution for our racial hostilities in the gospel. But we should also recognize that many barriers have formed over time that make it hard for some in our society to hear the gospel preached. Every Christian should work doubly hard to see those barriers removed so that the gospel can bring forth abundant fruit.
Even before a rogue cop murdered George Floyd, God began working in my heart about the racial strife that plagues our country, and some of my attitudes about it. Typically, I have blamed these hostilities on white liberal race-baiting and blacks who won’t forgive. Rarely have I paused to consider that my attitudes – and ignorance – could be a contributing factor. I hope you will examine what I have to say as I try to work through some of these problems aloud.
I have divided my comments between two articles, where I intend to discuss five things we need and five things we don’t need if we are to tear down the barriers between blacks and whites. I will intersperse the two to keep it interesting. Here goes:
We do need a Biblical understanding of racial sin.
Before defining racism, let me make a few points about the poverty of terms available on this topic. I hate that we discuss ethnicity and skin color in terms of “race” and “racial differences.” As I see it, this is a mark of Darwinist influence on our modern-day culture. Scripturally, there is one race – the human race. And yes, I am aware that this statement makes me a racist, according to the University of California’s list of microaggressions. But this is the point I want to make here: if we would heal the racial hurt in our country, we must approach the issue with a Biblical standard firmly in mind. We don’t need to stroll on over to the progressive waterspout and start gulping.
The Apostle Paul insisted that the God Who made the world “hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth.” I wish we could find a way to discuss this topic without using terms like “race” or “racism.” Unfortunately, we would struggle to communicate on this issue if we attempted to substitute a word for “race.” So, we won’t. Just know that in this discussion of racism and racial sin, I am referring to the differences between people groups based on skin color.
That said, we need a Biblical understanding of sin to have a right understanding of racial sin. The ancients provided us with a helpful definition of sin that has served us well over centuries: sin is any want of conformity to or transgression of God’s law. Our concern in dealing with this topic must be with actual sin, not offenses against woke orthodoxies. So, in seeking to define racial sin, we must judge our attitudes and actions by the standard of Scripture and God’s law.
For better or worse, modern culture and the social justice warriors have taken up the mantle of resentment against anything that hints of racism. They have run with it furiously like Jehu in his chariot. As Christians, we are not held hostage by the tyranny of the mob, and we are not required to conform to woke sensitivities. My refusal to apologize for my whiteness is not evidence of racism. For that matter, my support of the Republican Party does not prove that I am a white supremacist. The fact that I am not oozing with white guilt does not prove implicit bias in my heart. I am held to a different standard – the standard of God’s Word.
So, what then is racial sin? Racial sin amounts to “respect of persons” based on skin color.
If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors. (James 2:8-9)
The sin of racism is the sin of valuing one race or ethnicity over another. Any attempt at ranking races, ethnicities, or skin colors in terms of value or superiority/inferiority qualifies as racial sin. Every form of racial vanity, racial animosity, racial pride, racial hostility, racial antagonism, or racial hatred is sin. When we allow feelings of malice or bitterness to dwell in our hearts towards other people based on skin color or ethnicity differences, we are in sin. These attitudes directly transgress God’s law, which teaches us to honor the image of God we see in one another. May we all learn to see the image of God in black faces and white faces alike.
We don’t need more pandering white people.
We’ve all seen it – the white person who thinks they are doing blacks a favor by kneeling, by holding up their lily-white fists, by apologizing for their white privilege. This kind of grandstanding is silly nonsense, which does the opposite of what it pretends to do. When white people express their white guilt, they do so from a position of white privilege. It is yet another way that whites try to salve their already burdened conscience.
Brandom Tatum put it best:
Please stop asking for forgiveness for your “white privilege.”
You’re not fooling anybody. You’re not helping black people—or any other minority. And your public confessions don’t make you look virtuous. They make you look disingenuous, which is a really nice way of saying fake, phony, and fraudulent…
To acknowledge your white privilege is supposed to make you feel bad. Only it doesn’t. It makes you feel good because by acknowledging your white privilege, you’re declaring yourself to be enlightened. And as a virtue-bonus, it also makes you a better person than those whites who don’t acknowledge their privilege.
White privilege, which is supposed to make you feel bad, ends up making you feel good. Meanwhile, the real damage is to blacks. What makes whites feel good makes blacks angry.
More than 50 years after the start of the Civil Rights movement, the message is: “You’re still oppressed.” How can this not create a victim mentality? And anyone—of any color—who sees himself as a victim gets angry.
We have this thing going on in America right now, where whites are deciding what blacks should be offended by and then imposing changes that blacks haven’t requested to remove “offenses” that never hurt blacks to begin with. As a result, we don’t get to have Aunt Jemima pancake syrup any more – which, as I understand it, is a favorite among blacks – because Aunt Jemima is a black woman. We simply can’t profit off the image of a black woman or have her as the face of the franchise. This kind of lunacy does not solve any problem. It amounts to white people trying to fix black people’s offenses in a token way that only serves to make white people feel even more superior. After all, whites are the ones who were savvy enough to recognize the cultural appropriation in pancake syrup.
We do need to understand the history behind the hurt.
Let’s face it: America got off to a bad start in race relations, tracing back to 1619. We shouldn’t be surprised that blacks still feel a significant degree of offense towards America’s founding. While America’s founding might be pleasing and sentimental to white America, the black man struggles to see the goodness or justice of a system that allowed and even encouraged his people’s enslavement even while proclaiming liberty and equality.
America’s history of slavery is especially egregious, even by the standards of other slave-holding nations. Ours was particularly racist. Ours was especially pervasive. And we didn’t help ourselves at all by the way we brought it to an end.
The Civil War still looms large in our collective memory. On the one hand, we can argue that we should never have killed 600,000 Americans to free the slaves. I have argued that, and I believe it. But on the other hand, our black brothers are justified in asking why so many were willing to fight to the death rather than give up their slaves. I understand that the Civil War was more nuanced than slavery, yet our black neighbors cannot escape the thought that so many fought to the death for their right to keep slaves.
By ending the institution of slavery with so much bloodshed and violence, we set up a terrible racial conflict that dominated the 100 years from the Civil War until the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The war produced so much bitterness and animosity between North and South, driven largely by the North’s intentional effort to sustain the malice against the South, and combined with an unwillingness on the part of southerners to allow blacks into normal society. Jim Crow laws were an outcropping of this Southern bitterness.
In most of the South, “segregation was absolute – drinking fountains, public restrooms, public schools, public swimming pools, bus seating, housing, restaurants, hospital waiting rooms, dentist waiting rooms, bus station waiting rooms, and—with their own kind of enforcement—churches.” (John Piper, Bloodlines, p. 32)
In his book Redemption, Joseph Rosenbloom describes the way the Memphis Zoo handled segregation. Blacks were allowed to visit one day a week. No whites were allowed to visit on the day the zoo was open to blacks, and no blacks were allowed to visit on the days the zoo was open to whites. And if the black day happened to fall on a holiday, blacks lost their opportunity for that week.
“White people wanted no contact on an equal basis with blacks. In this complacent Deep South city (Montgomery, Alabama), 90,000 whites and 50,000 (blacks) largely went their separate ways, kept apart by a rigid racial caste system that relegated (blacks) to the gutters of the social order. A local statute even forbade blacks and whites to play cards, dice, checkers, or dominoes together.” (Stephen B. Oates, Let the Trumpet Sound: The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr., p. 58)
In the Atlanta airport, Martin Luther King encountered “two restrooms for males, one labeled ‘Colored Men’ and the other just ‘Men.’ ‘I thought I was a man,’ King related, ‘and I still think I am so I decided to go into the Men’s room, not the Colored Men’s room.'” As King related it, the only objection came from a black man who insisted that King belonged in the Colored Men’s room. As King described it, “That fellow was so conditioned by the system that he didn’t think of himself as a man.” (Oates, pp. 125-126)
Segregation reinforced every single day the inferiority of blacks and the superiority of whites in the minds of all people. Sadly, rather than take a principled stand against the racist Jim Crow policies, Christians fully supported them and actively participated. For the first 44 years of its existence, Bob Jones University did not accept black students. Bob Jones, Sr. defended segregation publicly, and John R. Rice, himself a defender of segregation, supported him in this policy. Churches in the south voted to exclude blacks from their membership or even from attending their churches.
One of the most significant motivating factors behind segregation was the fear that white children would be attracted to and desire to marry their black friends. The nearly universal bans on “interracial dating” that continued until just a few years ago have caused so much confusion and fostered so much racial animosity among Christians. It is a blight on our history, and we must repent.
If that isn’t shameful enough, the lynchings in America served to drive home the message that blacks were hated and unwelcome in society. According to Wikipedia, over 47,000 lynchings occurred in America after the Civil War, and nearly 75% of those lynchings were blacks. While strict segregation characterized the South, the lynchings spread all over America. Only four American states and territories never had a lynching. Lynchings involved many ways of killing the victim – some were shot, some were drowned, some were burned to death. But the most common form of lynching was by hanging. No wonder blacks responded so violently when Derek Chauvin kneeled on George Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.
In Duluth, Minnesota, in 1920, a mob that some have numbered at 10,000 pulled three black men out of jail and lynched them, then sold postcards of those black men hanging by their necks.
But by far, the very worst season of lynching came in 1919, which James Weldon Johnson referred to as the “Red Summer.”
That summer, an estimated 38 different race riots broke out all across our country, North and South, from Chicago to Omaha to Washington, D.C. to Wilmington, Delaware, and across the South. These race riots were not conducted by black men hungry for revenge, but by white men anxious to murder blacks. Whites murdered hundreds of black men and women that summer, as whites sought to eliminate the competition for jobs. It is a forgotten chapter in America’s history and is rarely discussed in the events that led to the Great Depression. Do you think that in the Great Depression, God chastised America for this terrible sin?
We don’t need to whitewash that history.
Besides the terrible sins of institutionalized racism that have plagued our history, we have added to the sin by ignoring that history. Very few Christian history textbooks give a full treatment to race relations in our country. Most of this history is ignored or glossed over. I do not know of a single Christian high school textbook that gives a careful analysis of race relations in our country, or that does better than skim over the life and impact of Martin Luther King, Jr in our country. It is very feasible that a student could complete their education at a Christian school and never know anything about Martin Luther King, Jr, other than that there is a holiday in his honor that their Christian school doesn’t celebrate. The vast majority of Christian young people have no idea about the lynchings, about segregation, about the history of racial hostility in America, and don’t believe that black people should be offended by our racist past. This ignorance is dead wrong.
Remember that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 came six years before I was born, while my parents were still in college. My father walked through downtown Washington, DC, during the race riots following the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr. Many black men alive today remember well when they were held back from full participation in America. This reality shapes their idea of America and their love for this country, and nobody should be surprised by that.
Unless white America, and especially Christians, make more effort to understand the history of black grievance against America, we will not remove the barriers that have grown up between us.