I admit to being generally skeptical of common popular approach to theology (i.e. a one that attempts to address “issues and concerns”) and prefer instead to rely on exegesis, exposition, application and the wisdom of Bible-believing Christians that have run the race for us. However, some current events have me thinking that perhaps it is time for theologically conservative Christians (by this I mean fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals, or “Bible-believing Christians) need to come up with a Biblical approach to the racism issue. These events include:
- Black PCA scholar Anthony Bradley’s discussions of racism in Reformed Christianity (including racist attacks against him personally).
- The NAACP’s resolution against racist elements in a Tea Party movement that has a lot of theologically conservative Christian supporters and sympathizers.
- The increasing acceptance of Mormon Glenn Beck – who claims that Obama hates white people and white culture and is trying to start a race war – by prominent politically active conservative Christians.
- Rush Limbaugh – long influential and respected among many theologically conservative Christians – engaging in even more race baiting than usual.
Now, for reasons that I will not get into because they are not particularly relevant to the topic at hand, I believe that A) Obama will win re-election and B) the economy will continue to be bad, including possibly a “double-dip” recession. That means that it is very possible race will be a point of division in our country for years to come, and that it will affect a Bible-believing American Christian community in which many blacks will continue to foolishly support Obama and many whites will continue to foolishly support the Republicans. (Similar to A. and B. above, my personal views that Bible-believing Christians have no business supporting Republicans or Democrats is beyond the scope of this topic, other than the point out the obvious fact that both parties indulge in race-baiting.) Thus, it may be in the interests of the Body of Christ for a Bible-based approach to the racism issue to be promoted and defended from our pulpits, in our media outlets, and in our educational institutions during the next few years, and possibly beyond.
But the problem is that it appears that no such program or approach exists. This is not to say that the racism issue has not been addressed in the church arena. The problem is that nearly all of the deep, broad substantial treatments of the topic by those opposed to racism have come from churches and religious movements that can fairly be described as apostate. The “Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” approach to race is one entirely rooted in liberal theology. It is deceiving, because the language of orthodoxy is used, and so are such time-honored Christian instruments as prayer, fasting, singing, preaching and quoting scripture. However, look a little deeper and you will see that the “Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” approach is one that denies and rejects a Biblical view of sin. It consciously rejects what the Bible states concerning both original sin that is collective and common to humanity, and the sin nature that afflicts each individual. Liberal theology – and Barack Obama/Jeremiah Wright liberation theology even more so – goes on to deny that both collective sin and individual sin were dealt with by Jesus Christ’s atoning death and resurrection (doctrines that were rejected by Martin Luther King, Jr., as was the virgin birth), and that freedom from sins, including but not limited to racism, comes to members of the Body of Christ only through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Further, that even after salvation through faith occurs, one will struggle with sins – again including racism – because of the influence of “the flesh”, “the old man”, “the body of death”, but that if we are truly penitent and confess, Jesus Christ can be faithfully counted on to forgive our sins. And finally, the ultimate victory over racism, both in a collective original sin of the human condition sense and in a personal individual sense, will only occur when Jesus Christ returns and sets up the eternal kingdom of New Jerusalem for believers, when all believers receive their mansion/place/room in His Father’s house (again all doctrines which liberal and liberation theology Christians reject and deny).
Instead, liberal and liberation theology treats racism not as what the Bible calls sin, but as a social ill or condition. Thus, the Biblical truth that until Jesus Christ returns, racism cannot be eliminated on a large scale, such as in a larger society of unregenerate people, is rejected by them. So is the truth that racism can only be dealt with in the individual believer and in a church comprised of believers by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Instead, such people believe that racism can be defeated in the individual with education, and in a society by changing laws, economic and social conditions. That is why the SCLC, NAACP, Rainbow/PUSH and the other alphabet-soup assortment of civil rights groups often led by ministers like Dr. King, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and similar never attempted and do not attempt to battle racism by encouraging racists to repent of their sins and believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Instead, they rely on the same methods as secular organizations: educational programs, lawsuits and political campaigns. Though they rarely come out and openly admit it, such people believe that the “root cause” of racism is capitalism. In their mind, capitalism is either racism’s cause or its primary enabler. Therefore, socialism is the ultimate solution to racism in their estimation. They do not claim that socialism would completely end racism and transform the national – and world – society into a post-racial utopia, but they do assert that socialism would render racism as a nonfactor by removing (in their minds) what is primarily responsible for fomenting racial tension and rewarding racist behavior. In other words, it is not so much that they claim that socialism will change racists hearts, but that it will remove most reasons and opportunities for racist hearts to act, turning racism from appearing sensible and potentially lucrative to being a pointless waste of time. And the true goal of the “anti-racist education programs” that are offered – thanks to the work of pressure groups – in schools, churches and workplaces are actually geared towards getting more people to support socialism – or at least liberal politicians who enact them – than fighting racism. Example: they manipulate people into experiencing white guilt or black anger that is supposed to translate into … well you figure it out. (Please note the extreme irony that the religious right, while purporting to represent the opposite end of the theological spectrum, has resorted to the same tactics as the civil rights movement of the theological left, and also how the religious right often promotes capitalism as the cure for social ills.)
Now of course, the problem is not truly the lies of the enemy as they relate to racism. Quite simply, the enemy lies about everything. Instead, it is the lack of response from Bible-believers. Where liberal Christians have decades of doctrines and actions on the race issue, Bible-believing Christians have … well nothing comparable. Or should I say if it exists, it was often in the form of defending of segregation and slavery in times past, and now often absorbs the racial rhetoric and thinking of conservative leaders and opinion-makers who are not Christians i.e. the aforementioned Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. To make matters worse, when Bible-believing Christians attempt to address race in a “positive” way, they normally use the constructs provided by liberal Christianity. This is generally by default – because thanks to the media and the educational system it is all they know – and also because no other “positive” way of attempting to address race has been consistently articulated and applied on a large scale. As a result, many – indeed most – fundamentalist and conservative evangelical black churches fully endorse the “Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” program on race, and so do not a few well-meaning theologically conservative white pastors and congregations. The result is that race issue is used to get non-Biblical doctrines about sin, human nature and redemption into otherwise doctrinally sound churches, and the resulting confusion is used to slowly get these churches and pastors away from Biblical truth in other areas as well. I may be exaggerating were I to say “first racism, then creation care environmentalism, then supporting abortion and homosexual marriage”, but it would be only an exaggeration. A better illustration is this: before the civil rights movement, there were lots of doctrinally sound evangelical and fundamental black churches, including some entire black denominations dedicated to strong, Bible-based belief and practice. Well, take a look around and see what has happened to these churches – and especially the denominations – since. An entire book has been written on the topic.
So why deal with the racism issue at all in Bible-based Christianity? For the same reason that we deal with homosexuality, abortion, pornography, laziness, theft, adultery, murder, false religions etc.: because it is sin. We are to love God with all our heart, soul and strength and also to love our neighbor. So, we must address racism first because it is a sin that offends and dishonors God, and second because of the negative effect that it has on our neighbor. So, the problem is not the church’s addressing racism, but that it addresses it with liberal theology created by apostates and unbelievers walking in darkness. So, if we ignore the issue we ignore sin, and if we use liberal or liberation theology to address the issue, then those who are walking in the light of Jesus Christ are ignoring that light to follow those who do not have that light and are in the darkness of sin.
Now there has been some excellent treatments of this issue from black preachers over the years. Unfortunately, the civil rights rhetoric has long overtaken it, and these wise words have largely been forgotten. So, what informed, Biblical guidance do black people have to rely on when they experience the sin of racism committed against them? (Allow me to state that the reaction made popular and acceptable by civil rights community, which is “righteous” indignation, an aggrieved posture, and actions and attitude proceeding from them, are generally sinful.) And how are black people to respond to the racism – which does include anger, resentment and defense mechanisms that results from exposure to white racism – that exists in the heart of black people other than with the same repentance, confession, contrition, and reliance on Jesus Christ that is expected of white people? And yes, black people must acknowledge that the civil rights agenda of addressing racism through education, court decisions, laws, and changes to our political, economic, social and cultural systems is doomed to fail. Eliminating Jim Crow – which was unconstitutional anyway – is one thing. Changing the hearts of a mostly unregenerate population is another. Any pastor or church that teaches otherwise is acting in open defiance against the Bible, and such doctrines and the pastors and churches who teach them should be rejected just the same as should those who claim salvation by works, that homosexuality is not a sin, or that there is no Trinity should be. If we don’t accept liberal false doctrines in other areas, why should we when it comes to racism? And yes, the issue of why more blacks won’t join predominantly white churches needs to be addressed, even if it means enduring and overcoming racism. If blacks are willing to confront and overcome racism to attend mostly white schools and colleges and earn a living on mostly white workplaces, why can’t the same be done in attending mostly white churches? I dare say that this may indicate that blacks place a higher priority on getting an education and earning a living than going to church, because blacks are more willing to overcome obstacles in pursuing the first two than the last one. What you fight for is often an indication of where your heart is, and if you are willing to endure discrimination at a job that you know is worldly but not at the church were God calls you to forgive your brothers and sisters and bear their faults just as Christ bears ours, then that constitutes evidence that your heart is more willing to sacrifice for mammon than for Christ’s Body.
As far as white Bible-believing Christians go … the first step is probably severing political conservatism from theological conservatism on the race issue. (Actually, it is a good idea to do that on far more issues than race.) The reason is that the politically conservative position on race basically amounts to the notion that blacks should make all the sacrifices because blacks benefit far more from being in the presence of whites than any harm from racism. It follows from there that since whites receive no real benefits from having blacks in their presence, whites should make no sacrifices at all. Now not only is this illegal in a secular sense, but this type of thinking has no business in the church. Neither should Bible-believing white Christians emulate the apostates on the left by proposing political or economic solutions (i.e. tax cuts, free markets) for what is a spiritual problem. If socialism can’t change hearts or address sin, neither can political conservatism.
As to why theologically conservative white Christians don’t address this issue, there are no good answers. I propose the first is because racism doesn’t appear to negatively affect them personally. So, the issue is “out of sight, out of mind.” The second is likely because of the racist and segregationist history of a lot of denominations, churches and leaders. This is not an issue for the formerly racist Christian entities that have adopted liberal theology, because apparently once you reject the Bible and particularly once you join the left politically and take part in the (destined to fail) attempt to eliminate racism through enacting socialism, all is forgiven. But for those churches and denominations that remain faithful to the Bible, it is a tough situation. Even calling racism and discrimination sinful is mighty difficult, because it would mean that a lot of beloved Christian leaders (and followers) were sinners. To better understand the problem: imagine if the pastor that started your church, the group that founded your denomination or one of your favorite pastor/theologian/evangelist were branded an adulterer. (And also consider that there is a much bigger stigma in our modern society with being considered a racist than an adulterer.)
So, it is understandable that people who attended a seminary that may have been started to support segregation would want to let sleeping dogs lie. Still, how can white pastors, churches and institutions address this issue in more productive – and effective – ways than Bob Jones University’s decision to offer scholarships for “minority students”? (While I think that getting more black students into theologically conservative seminaries is something that absolutely must be done, this is another example of “the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr./racism is caused by capitalism and can be solved with socialism” approach.) Also, it simply is inappropriate to have pastors in racially homogenous churches in Dubuque, Iowa and Bismark, North Dakota to talk about racism all the time. Other things such as efforts to partner black churches with white ones, and also recruiting drives for black members have been tried before with disappointing results, and often do not address the real reasons why blacks do not fellowship with whites in the first place, a fact which truthfully has to do with black resentment against whites as much or more than white racism, and this is compounded by the erroneous thinking by so many blacks (that again are the results of decades of “civil rights movement thinking”) that A) maintaining black institutions for the purposes of using them for political and social agitation is Biblical and necessary and B) it is fine for blacks to nurse and maintain grievances against whites but not the other way around. Again, the arguments for the existence of BET, the Black Miss America pageant, black colleges, Ebony/Jet/Essence Magazines etc. knowing full well that white counterparts would never be tolerated may be fine for the secular arena but have no place in the Body of Christ, and this is a position that white pastors and theologians must boldly take and adhere to. If this means placing the responsibility for ending the fact that “Sunday morning is the most segregated time in America” primarily or disproportionately on blacks, then so be it. Again, the fact that blacks are more than willing to work for white owned and run corporations like BP, IBM, Coca-Cola etc. and attend Harvard, UCLA and Ole Miss while seeking lucre but won’t do the same when choosing churches leaves them without excuse.
However, the primary area of involvement for white Bible-believing Christians (other than, of course, door-to-door evangelism among blacks) may be in the academy. The liberal and liberation theology people have produced volumes of scholarly work – from technical journal articles to books approachable by general audiences – on the race issue. By contrast, Bible-believing Christians have produced very little that can be used to guide people seeking a sound approach in doctrine and practice on the issue. Further, most of what does exist either attempts to shoehorn the liberal approach into Bible-believing contexts, or relates to cross-cultural missions. As racism is a sin that is manipulated to lead so many Christians – black and white – into errors in doctrine and practice, this situation cannot persist. There must be a well-developed line of discourse as well as practical strategies for confronting the race issue in theologically conservative Christianity just as there is on areas like homosexuality, abortion and feminism. Why should white theologians take the lead? There are several reasons, but the primary one is that for blacks the tendency to adhere to and defend the civil rights mindset is strong. (For example, even in conservative evangelical or fundamentalist Christianity, finding the black pastor that is willing to discuss the theological beliefs of most civil rights leaders, acknowledge that the “civil disobedience” tactics of the civil rights movement were contrary to scripture, or that the “civil rights agenda” is rooted in ideas contrary to scripture and is destined to fail is very hard.) So, it would be far better for the Al Mohlers, Wayne Grudems, R.C. Sprouls and John MacArthurs to start the dialogue on the issue and then have their black counterparts respond. Essentially, black Christian leaders who take the Bible seriously would be required (forced) to articulate why racism should not be viewed and therefore addressed like every other sin.
It amounts to the fact that racism is going to continue to be a snare to larger society, and a major reason for this is that larger society is going to continue to view racism as a social ill that can be corrected with education, economics, government action and the simple passage of time. However, the race riots that occurred barely a week prior to the writing of this shows that it is not the case. Also, the rising numbers and influence of Islam in this country will add another dimension. The black leadership has decided to form political alliances with Islam – and indeed several influential black leaders have converted to that religion – and that will result in more white people viewing blacks as a “fifth column.” But just because race will continue to be a problem for the larger society doesn’t mean that it has to remain a stumblingblock for the church, or at least when the context is Bible-believing black and white Christians who ACCORDING TO SCRIPTURE have more in common with each other than they do with the unregenerate members of their own respective races. To put it simply, just because Sean Hannity and Jesse Jackson hate each other doesn’t mean that black and white Bible-believing Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists etc. should have each other at arm’s length. Perhaps even more importantly, black and white Christians need to work together in order to close off an avenue that the world so often uses to lead us into things that range from temptation to severe errors in doctrine and practice.