An Open Discussion About Race and the Christian Faith
The topic of race is an inherently polarizing and challenging subject to talk about openly. Please make no mistake, while it may be uncomfortable, It is a subject that must not be avoided.
For far too long, those of us who are white, in particular, have avoided the very mention of race because it invokes the inevitable discussion of racism in and outside of the church. While many of us find the very notion of judging another person based on the color of their skin to be repugnant, we must not rest on our views and personal laurels and act as if the topic of race relations -- namely, how minorities are mistreated, even within the walls of the house of God -- isn't a systemic and cultural issue.
We, as Christians, are in a polarizing and divisive time in our nation's history. But political leanings, parties, and infighting aside, there's one thing we as followers of Jesus must all agree on: there is no room for racism in the Christian faith.
Accepting and Dismantling Racism
Richard Rohr is an American Franciscan friar, spiritual writer, and author who PBS called "the most popular spirituality authors and speakers in the world." In an open letter to the First Presbyterian Church last year, Rohr eloquently summed up where American Christianity currently finds itself related to race.
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly[a] with your God.
As Rohr explains, the Old Testament scripture describes the responsibility in believers to strive towards humanitarian justice and fundamental equality for all people. "Walking humbly with our God" means we need to have a sense of earnestness. We need to allow God to help us learn and grow, to be transformed by His Word. And without a prideful spirit, we need to "do justice" and invoke "loving-kindness."
Cut to the New Testament, Jesus calls onto his disciples to announce to the world the good news: that our equality comes with a Holy mandate that states we must treat each other with the same type of justice Jesus has shown us. This mandate is more relevant today than it has ever been, and just as true as it was then, it is still true today. In other words, in today's world, and by God's own words, the issue of race is an issue of discipleship. It is not an issue of secular debate, opinion, or partisanship fervor; it is a command by God, in his own words, through Jesus.
32 "Well said, teacher," the man replied. "You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices." 34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God.
As Rohr contends, God's own words are quite straightforward in treating everyone with equality. It's not a question of "How can I preserve my social standing and secure status?" or "How should I act that is in accordance of those whose faction I cannot disappoint?" Following God's mandate of humane equality, the invitation to live in solidarity with those who live in pain is what it means to be Christian.
"My story is not about condemning white people but about rejecting the assumption—sometimes spoken, sometimes not—that white is right: closer to God, holy, chosen, the epitome of being. . . ." - Fr. Richard Rohr.
What Does The Bible Say About Racism?
Bigotry is about making quick judgments on the characteristics of a race to judge them as substandard or superior—exhibiting partiality or prejudice.
Racism is an issue we can't disregard or run away from. It's an issue now, and it was an issue throughout antiquity, including when the Bible was written.
Even Paul, the church's earliest leader, lamented about the issues of racism in his writings. During the time of Paul (first century A.D.), it was common for foreigners, AKA Gentiles, to be forcibly employed in what is known as bonded labor. Under the guise of "working to pay off arbitrary and unfounded debts," minority Gentiles were effectively slaves for hire. Under a caste-mandated Jewish system of law that spilled into early Christian culture, it was nearly impossible for foreign minorities to work off their debts to live freely.
For anyone familiar with his teachings and beliefs, injustice as egregious as this thinly disguised form of slavery and inequality based on one's ethnicity was not an issue Paul could turn a blind eye to.
In Romans 10:12, Paul left no doubt as to his opinions concerning racism in the early Christian church:
12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.
However, this was far from the only instance that early church leaders denounced racism and prejudices. Shortly before the time of Paul, another early Christian leader, Philip, echoes God's repeated stance on race equality in Acts 8:26-40 when he helps evangelize an Ethiopian eunuch to becoming saved in the name of Jesus.
These are just a few of many examples in the scriptures in which God, early believers, and the Bible's stance regarding racism, bigotry, and other forms of prejudices are made clear: No matter the law of man; no matter the edict mandated by a majority who blasphemously claim to speak for God to perpetuate prejudices over their fellow man; Bigotry must be fought against by all Christians, with no regard for the status quo.