Then he said to them, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.” - Acts 10:28
The recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia have fanned the flames of an on-going controversy over the question of racism in America. The attempt by some overt and rabidly racist groups, such as the KKK and the neo-Nazis to gain a bigger spotlight and following through the internet and public demonstrations has sparked a vigorous response of denunciation by most Americans. Nevertheless, controversies persist over the nature and extent of less explicit forms of racism in American society, such as in law enforcement, immigration, voting regulations or public monuments. Few people will explicitly argue that people should be treated unfairly on account of their ethnicity, religion or any other perceived aspects of their identity. As a society, we have finally almost caught up with the full meaning of our Declaration of Independence’s assertion that everyone is created equal and have been endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, such as the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. While racism may persist, those who overtly argue for its legitimacy remain a small minority.
Despite this theoretical acceptance of equality, it seems we clearly still do have problems of racial and other forms of prejudice in our country. This should not be surprising. Americans are, after all, human beings. As such, we have a natural tendency to feel closer to people who are more like ourselves and further from people who are different. From the Biblical perspective, this stems from the sin of selfishness of which all human beings descended from Adam partake. Loving ourselves more than others disposes us to have less empathy with those not like ourselves. The more like ourselves others happen to be, the more we feel a commonality and sympathy with them. Human beings have become very adept at detecting differences, even very superficial ones, such as in clothing or hair styles and adopting a prejudicial antipathy toward people based on such very small differences.
Here is another problem that the Bible’s teaching can really help us. In fact, I would go so far as to say that only the worldview and values the Bible teaches can provide a sound approach to overcoming this natural tendency toward racial, or any other, prejudice. While the Declaration of Independence asserts that human equality is a self-evident truth, it is only so if the Bible is accepted as the public standard of truth. Long before 1776, the Bible asserted that God made mankind in His own image and likeness. This image, though greatly damaged by the Fall of Man into sin, remained intact. What was true of mankind in Genesis 1:26-27, before the Fall, was still true after the Fall as we see from Genesis 5:1-2; 9:6 and James 3:8-9. As beings created in the image and likeness of God, we have a profound and unique place in God’s created order. We are, if I may be so bold to say, God’s colleagues! Because of the faculties, powers, potentials and position God has given to us, God has called us to join Him in a venture that is truly breath-taking: to reflect His glory and govern creation. Moreover, this is not just a temporal project, beginning and ending with our brief lifespans on earth. The Bible reveals that though sin has brought upon us the curse of death, God intends that we shall live forever before Him and, if we submit to His rule, we shall reign forever with Him. (For instance, see Job 19:25-27; Psalm 17:13-15; 23:6; 73:25-26; Luke 16:19-31; 20:37-38; 23:42-43; Revelation 3:19-21)
Not only are we all made in God’s image and likeness but we are also members of the same species, biologically speaking. God did not make “races” of men. As the Bible testifies, “He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth…” (Acts 17:26) The “nations” of mankind are not races. We are all descended from Adam through Eve. The Bible calls Eve “the mother of all the living.” (Genesis 2:20) Every human who has ever lived or ever will live is a descendent of Adam and Eve. We are one human race. God gave our first parents a genetic diversity that has unfolded over time into all the differences we see between peoples. Despite this diversity, the genetic differences involve less than one tenth of one percent of the human genome. There can often be more genetic differences, slight though they are, between two people of the same “race” than between two members who belong to different “races”. As the human race spread across the world, these slight differences, most of which were originally in the genes of Adam and Eve, had a chance to manifest and predominate in certain lineages.
There are still other ways the Bible shows the unity of the human race and therefore refutes racism. We have all come under the curse through the sin of Adam. One fate, therefore, awaits us all: death. We are apparently unique among the animals in that we are conscious of our mortality and have the concept of immortality. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) Only humans can sin, that is, choose not to obey God. Animals can’t do that. Even though we have all sinned we are all the objects of God’s redeeming love. (John 3:16) There is no one we will encounter throughout our lives who is not loved by God and precious in His sight, however despised he or she may be in ours. We are all persons for whom Christ died and rose again. (Romans 5:18; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; Hebrews 2:9; 1 John 2:1-2) We are all the recipients of God’s saving wisdom, Spirit, light and grace. (Proverbs 8:1-4; Joel 2:28-29; John 1:4, 9; Titus 2:11-12) Truly, we are one human family and are all brothers and sisters, at least if the Bible is to be believed.
Naturalistic, anti-Biblical accounts of man’s origin, nature and destiny are the ruling paradigm of our age and have been the source of much evil in the world, including various forms of racism. After all, if man is simply an evolved and evolving animal, there will be some humans that have evolved “superior” features that give them an advantage in competition over finite resources. Social Darwinism, Eugenics, Nazism, Fascism, Communism, among other death-dealing economic, social and political movements, have been spawned by this monster of Naturalism that rejects the Biblical view of mankind. The obvious deficits of these depraved spawn of Naturalism have rendered them odious to the public but make no mistake about it, subtler and no less deadly offspring of Naturalism have taken and will take their places. In the case of racism, its persistence can only be successfully overcome by a return to faith in the Bible and a spiritual renewal in response to its teaching. May the Lord grant us just such a refreshing from on high!