Christianity, Racism, and the Way Forward

This was the title to my last blog post: Trayvon Martin, Racism, and the Church’s Problem.  Perhaps my remarks about the incident involving Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman were a bit premature.  Nevertheless, the post was really not about the recent killing of Martin as it was about racism in America and why this problem is the church’s problem.  Unfortunately, my post elicited some rather shocking comments that in actuality, only illustrate how deep the problem of racism is.

I believe racism is a social cancer, as deadly to human community as cancer is to the human body.  That is why we cannot ignore it or pretend it is not that big of a deal because to do so is to make a perilous mistake, just like it would be to do so with cancer.  That is why I wrote my post.  I did not mention the Trayvon Martin case for any reason other than it is the most current event that illustrates the problem of racism among our society.  The “White Tenants” picture you see was chosen for no other reason other than the fact that it illustrates the historical problem of racism.  But I was accused of being a racist for inciting racism with my post and having an ulterior motive for choosing the picture I chose.

My motive for yesterday’s post was to speak about Christianity in America for one reason.  The majority of Americans have been Christian and yet America has a sordid history of racism.  That means that it has been Christians by and large who have promoted and/or tolerated   racism in America and that makes it not just an American problem but a Christian problem or a problem with the Christian church in America.  What is so disturbing to me about the connection between racism and Christianity is that scripture is clear about the social consequence of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is through Jesus and the cross he died on that God is reconciling all people to himself and one another (cf Eph 2.14ff).  So I am speaking out because I believe the problem of racism is ultimately a theological problem.  That is, racism is a rejection of the social claim the Gospel declares.

So here is a reality check.  Christians cannot address the issue of racism so long as we are accusing each other of having ulterior motives, or as though we are being racists by inciting racism because we speak out against racism.  Neither can we adequately address racism so as long as we want to turn the problem into a western political issue between Democrats and Republicans, political liberals and conservatives.  It is not a political problem for Christians, it is a theological issue.

Neither can we address the problem of racism by resorting to further violence, ad hominem arguments, or by making absurd remarks about racism.  I am aware that the New Black Panther party has issued a $10,000 bounty for the capture of George Zimmerman saying, according to this news article “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”  How foolish!  Harming or killing Zimmerman or committing any further violence will neither bring about justice nor will it bring about reconciliation.  It will only further divide.

But making remarks about racism that seem to dismiss the issue will only further divide too.  Yesterday I had someone make a comment on a now defunct FaceBook thread that said “black fear is not racism.”  Really?  I not sure if a black person would feel the same.  It is likely only to be offensive and thus create further hostility.

For Christians (and I speak here as a deeply committed follower of Jesus Christ and his way of life), the only solution to racism is, as I have stressed, theological and by that I specifically mean by way of Jesus and his cross.  To return to the main passage, the Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 2:14-16:

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh with its commands and regulations.  His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility (italics mine).

Here Paul is clear that Jesus has taken all of this hostility upon himself by being crucified.  But where Paul speaks of the cross, he also has in mind the resurrection.  That is why Paul can speak the language of victory and accomplishment, because Jesus has born the hatred and evil of the world and conquered it through crucifixion and resurrection.

The good news (gospel) is that there is no more battle to fight.  The only battle worth fighting has already been fought and won by Jesus.  That means, as Christians following Jesus, the only thing for us to do is love our fellow humans regardless of their ethnicity, regardless of whether they love or hate us back, and regardless of whether they are violent or peaceful towards us.  When we learn to do this, racism will begin to be replaced with reconciliation.  It won’t happen overnight, rather it will start out one person at a time as (and as I suggested in my last post) we sit around the table of hospitality listening and understanding each other.

6 responses to “Christianity, Racism, and the Way Forward

  1. If it matters…my understanding of racism is any form of discrimination upon a person or group based on race and ethnicity.

  2. Pingback: Ad Hominem…Ad Nauseam | Kingdom Seeking

  3. I agree with your sentiments and believe, as the Law and Prophets are summarized, race relations can be dealt with by loving the Lord Our God with all we have and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

    And because we like to talk text quite a bit, particularly what it meant to the original audience, I’ll push back a little on your use of Eph 2:14ff in this case. 🙂

    In short, this pericope has little to do with racial reconciliation as we talk about it today. Additionally, I don’t believe it is referencing all of humanity. Theologically and contextually speaking, Eph 2:11ff has to do with Israel (near) and Pagans (far away). Paul puts all races in one of two groups here: those who are without God (not Israel) and those who are with God (Israel). Thus, the “two humanities” are 1) Israel and 2) everybody else. I think what Paul is really concerned about is that there is a danger of having a Gentile Christianity not thinking they are now in Israel. There is the battle of remaining hostility, enmity, and fundamental hatred on both sides of the two humanities. That hostility was on display in the fact that those who are “near” had the “commands and regulations” whereas those who were “far off” did not (Paul writes of this same advantage for the “near” in Romans 9:4-5).

    Thus, in v.19 we see the reversing of v.12. Because of Christ tearing down the barrier of the Law (which here includes more than just ceremonial aspects; also moral ones), no longer are the Gentile (believers) strangers and foreigners but they are fellow-citizens. They are now saints and are of the elect of God in Christ (which were first the Jewish Christians in the early history; i.e. “to the Jew first”). So now Gentile Christians are members of Israel (συμπολιται). This is what must be stressed today. All who believe in Christ are Israelites, have a Davidic King, are Jews (by being circumcised of heart, not merely of the flesh – 2:11), and are true children of Abraham. It is not about humanity in general.

    I’ll stop there, but I know you like discussing this stuff! 🙂

    Grace be with you –

    • For some reason, every time you comment it gets sent to the spam bin. Any ways, thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      I do agree with what you are saying and freely admit that I was using the Ephesians passage as an ad hoc argument…or, as I would prefer, for a constructive theological purpose. The main point that I was wanting to stress (whether it is clear or not) is that since Jesus’ death on the cross was sufficient to end the hostility between Jews and Gentiles, it is sufficient to end other racial/ethnic hostilities…if the cross, rather than western politics, would shape our moral/ethical practices.

      Grace and Peace,


  4. Pingback: God: Slow to Anger « Peter’s Patter

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