Biblical Antidotes to Racism – Part 1

Ronald Kalifungwa:

Antidotes that must aid Christians in overcoming racism as they relate to other humans

Introduction

The 18th century Swedish botanist, Carolus Linnaeus, is credited with the first ‘scientific’ classification of humans that he named Homo sapiens. He divided Homo sapiens into four subspecies: Homo sapiens americanus (Amerindians); Homo sapiens europaeus (Europeans); Homo sapiens asiaticus (Asians); and Homo sapiens afer (Africans).[1] More importantly,  Linnaeus did not restrict his racial observations to morphological traits, but evaluated temperament and psychology as well. ‘Linnaeus was so far from accepting the idea of equality among men that he listed the mental qualities of each race as distinguishing characters, comparable with the physical ones.’ [2] Jewish anthropologist Jonathan Marks quotes Linnaeus’s  thumbnail racial descriptions as follows:

  • Americanus: ‘red, ill-tempered, subjugated. Hair black, straight, thick; nostrils wide; face harsh, beard scanty. Obstinate, contented, free. Paints himself with red lines. Ruled by custom’
  • Europaeus: ‘white, serious, strong. Hair blond, flowing. Eyes blue. Active, very smart, inventive. Covered by tight clothing. Ruled by laws’
  • Asiaticus: ‘yellow, melancholy, greedy. Hair black. Eyes dark. Severe, haughty, desirous. Covered by loose garments. Ruled by opinion’
  • Afer: ‘black, impassive, lazy. Hair kinked. Skin silky. Nose flat. Lips thick. Women with genital flap; breasts large. Crafty, slow, foolish. Anoints himself with grease. Ruled by caprice.’[3]

Any unbiased observer will see that this is not an exact description of the various racial groupings.  For example, not all Europeans have blond hair and not all red Indians are ill tempered. Similarly, not all Asians are yellow in colour and neither do all blacks have thick lips and flat noses. Clearly these descriptions are based on insufficient or prejudiced information about the different peoples. And yet it is descriptions such as these that have coloured much of the world’s ideas about what the different people groups are like as well as fanned the flames of the sin of racism.

In many parts of the world racism has done untold damage to many people and nations. It has engendered hatred, it has destroyed many people’s self-confidence and self-image, it has bred violence, it has led to Genocide and ethnic cleansing and it has torn whole nations apart.

Whether it takes the form of white supremacy, black consciousness, the Indian caste system, or tribalism, the effect is the same – man who is made in the image of God is demeaned, hurt and destroyed, and God who created him is insulted.

‘One of the most urgent needs of today throughout the world is the need for the healing of strife between races. It is undeniable that tension exists between races. If ever there was a problem, which showed the sinfulness of man’s nature, this is such a problem. If ever there was a problem to which the church of Jesus Christ needed to bring the sin conquering message of salvation, this is it.’ (A Christian perspective in racial understanding).

Such is the reality of the sin of racism, and it is my task in this article and the next to offer some solutions to this problem. My subject is ‘biblical antidotes to racism’ and I wish to begin by making some comments on the three words that constitute the substance of my topic: The first is the word,

Racism

According to the American Heritage Dictionary racism is ‘The belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability…’[4] It is further believed that those races that are perceived to be inherently superior (physically, intellectually, or culturally) to others have a right to dominate the particular racial groups that are deemed to be inferior.[5]

This definition suggests that there is a scientifically proven relationship between race, on the one hand and human character and ability on the other; and that some races have superior character traits ingrained in their DNAs that give them intellectual and cultural advantage over races that are not so well endowed, and that nature therefore gives such races priority over the others.

However scientific proof  in support of this claim is glaringly absent. A scientist at the advancement of science convention in Atlanta in 1997 stated that ‘Race is a social construct derived mainly from perceptions conditioned by events of recorded history, and it has no basic biological reality.‘[6] Those who think otherwise often have less than noble goals to attain. Indeed they may be inspired by the often times sly sin of racism.

Antidote

An antidote is a remedy or other agent used to neutralise or counteract the effects of a poison (in this case racism).

Biblical

Something relating to, or contained in the Bible or something in keeping with the nature of the Bible.

What I am suggesting in these articles therefore is, that racism is a sin/poison, which needs to be neutralised and eradicated and that the Bible proposes the only means through which this can be done. And in this article I wish to propose five biblical antidotes to racism. The first antidote is that:

(1) We must see the whole of humanity as originating from God

Gen 1:27 says ‘God made man.’ Man did not evolve from simple substances as evolutionists claim, nor did different people groups evolve from different sources. God created man and he created him male and female (Gen 1:26) and the two together constitute the human species. All humanity therefore proceeds from the hand of God.

(2) We must view humanity through the eyes of God’s image

In Gen 1:26,27 we observe that God made man in his own image. In a day when racism is lowering some humans to the level of animals, we must remind ourselves of the nature of man as the image of God. In a time when some men sing the praises of their own racial superiority we must re-emphasise that they together with those that they look down upon are a reflection of the image of God. But what are we to understand by the fact that God made man in his own image?

We will attempt to answer this question from two perspectives:  a biblical and a theological perspective:

a) A biblical view of the image of God

In Gen 1:26- 27, Moses reveals that God made man in his own image, sometimes also referred to as likeness. The idea that man is made in the image of God is best understood as implying identity. That is to say, man in all that he is, is created as God’s image or to be God’s image. An image is normally understood to refer to a picture that is produced by a mirror. In this sense, man is something of a finite picture of God’s infinite being. ‘The idea is that that which was archetypal in God became ectypal in man. God was the original of which man was made a copy.’[7]

In 1 Corinthians 11:7 Paul is categorical when he says man ‘is the image and glory of God’. The apostle speaks of man here as in his first creation, in his state of innocence before his Fall. And Paul appears to equate the image of God to the expression ‘the glory of God’ which chiefly lay in the power and dominion he had over all the creatures, and even over the woman when made.[8] The fact that man is the image of God distinguishes him from the animal and from every other creature including, in some sense, from angels.[9] He stands supreme as the head and crown of the entire creation.

b) A Theological view of the image of God

Medieval theologians introduced the idea of analogia entis. It stands for the analogy of being. It means that even though the Scriptures make clear that there is a wide gap between the nature of God who has life in himself, is transcendent and majestic and the nature of any creature who is limited and dependant, nonetheless, God is not so different and so far removed from man that  there aren’t any points of contact between him and the creature. As a matter of fact there is a similarity between God and man.[10]

Consequently, man will reflect in his own structured relationships, the eternal fellowship that exists between the persons of the Trinity. Furthermore, man, regardless of his skin colour or culture, will also reflect personality, spirituality, morality, authority, creativity and the capacity for dominion.

Man’s standing in God’s image is the basis in Scripture for some wide appeals and applications. Ian Hamilton, in a paper on a historical survey of the doctrine of the image of God spelled out the importance and relevance of this doctrine when he said:

‘No biblical truth more confronts and challenges the naturalistic presuppositions and amoral values of our modern (or post-modern) world. It challenges the perceived autonomous character of man; it establishes an infallible bulwark against the trampling on and despising of the poor, the dispossessed, the infirm and the unborn; it speaks hope to the lonely; it challenges the rampant individualism that scars our world (and the Church); it condemns racism and anti-Semitism; and it clarifies the essential equality and dignity of men and women.’[11]

According to Ian Hamilton, the fact that man is the image of God condemns racism and upholds the dignity of man. Hamilton is suggesting that man as the image of God gives us a view of man that upholds:

First, the equality of all men. The nature of man as God’s image is one and the same in all humans regardless of the colour of the body possessing that nature. William Dryness points out that the image of God is grounded in the human body and not just the soul.[12]

Second, the dignity of all men. Dignity covers a wide breadth of meaning but I am using it in the sense of nobility and worth. Even the most ugly and unattractive of humans are dignified simply because they are expressions of God’s image which is dignified. Ultimately, true humanness and dignity is not about how white or black or brown we are, but how much we display the image of God. In Christ the dignity of man shines ever so brightly.

The doctrine of man as God’s image therefore gives us a vision of man that,

  1. i) transcends gender. In Gen 1:27, the image of God is not restricted to just the male or to just the female. The true expression of the image of God is reflected in both the male and the female together.[13]
  2. ii) transcends colour. Man, regardless of his skin colour is a full expression of the image of God. Just as light is undefiled even when it comes into contact with the foulest pollution and enters into the innermost recesses of darkness and rottenness, taking on no darkness, contracting no stain, but remaining bright and unmarred; even so the image of God remains unaffected by the racial specifications of the bearer of that image. Sin may have the ability to affect the complexion of the image of God in man, race on the other hand does not. The image of God therefore remains intact regardless of the colour of body bearing it.

iii) transcends culture. In Acts 17:27, Paul refuses to acquiesce in the religious pluralism of Athens or applaud it as a living museum of religious faiths. Instead, the city’s idolatry provoked him to jealousy (verse 16) for the honour of the living and true God. So he called on the city’s people to turn in repentance from their idols to God. But Paul seems to have had a respectful acceptance of the diversity of cultures. He seems to be teaching us that the richness of each particular culture should be appreciated, but not the idolatry, which may lie at its heart. Our common origin in Adam and in the image of God must warn us against using diversity as a means of boasting or belittling. Our cultural differences are good and important, but secondary to our basic relationship as members of the same family, and sharers of the same image – the image of God.

In other words, the image of God is in essence one but has the capacity to accommodate itself to different forms of gender, colour and culture.

We also observe in Genesis 1:31 that God saw that what he made was very good. It is interesting to note that when God created the various aspects of the world, he saw that it was good. But after he created man, the superlative ‘very’ precedes the adjective ‘good’: ‘He saw that it was very good’. God looks at his work of creating man in particular as a very good work. Like God, we must learn to acknowledge the work of God as a good work. And like David, we must acknowledge that God has made all men and us fearfully and wonderfully (Psalm 139:14). If we learn this, we will have fewer problems related to self-esteem and to racism.

(3) We must view the whole of humanity as proceeding from one primary human progenitor

In Acts 17:26 we read that God, ‘… made from one blood all the nations of men to dwell on all the face of the earth’. That means that all men come from one set of parents, namely, Adam and Eve. This is also made clear in Genesis 1:28 where, after creating Adam and Eve, God blessed them and said to them ‘Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.’ In Gen 3:20, Eve is referred to as the mother of all the living and Adam is identified everywhere in the Bible (ie Rom 5:12) as the head of all humanity. Furthermore, all men are spoken of as the sons of Adam or man (Psalm 11:4; 145:12; 1 Sam 26:19; 1 Kings 8:39).

It follows, doesn’t it, that because all the peoples of the earth emanate from one blood, all the peoples of the earth are related. They are one family. It is therefore correct to speak in some sense, of the brotherhood of all men because ultimately, there is really only one race – the human race. The term race does not appear in the Bible. The Bible refers to differing peoples in terms such as family, tribe, people and nation. It groups people according to familial relationships and then into nationalities. An example of familial relationship is found in Genesis 10, where the genealogies listed are grouped by family and tribe. It should be noted that nowhere are the sons of Noah associated with race or color. An important passage on this matter is found in Genesis 10:5:  ‘By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations’ (Gen. 10:5).

As mentioned above with reference to Acts 17, the fact that God ordained cultural and ethnic differences must warn us not to exalt the value of one group over another, nor to demean one group under another. We are from one blood and that should be more important and more decisive for our relationships than our cultural differences.

Readers will also be interested to note that the fact of the fall of the human race is the basis of the whole Pauline system (Rom 5:12ff; 1Cor 15:21ff), and beneath the fact of this fall lies the fact of its unity in Adam. Because all men were in Adam as their first head, all men share in Adam’s sin and with his sin in his punishment.

That we are from one blood is also the basis for the entire plan of redemption designed by God in Christ for the salvation of the fallen human race. B.B Warfield commenting on this matter wrote, ‘The unity of the old man in Adam is the postulate of the unity of the new man in Christ’.

(4) We must learn from the example of one of our prominent forebears who demonstrated the relative unimportance of race in the contraction of human relations such as marriage

Here I have in mind the example of Moses when he married an Ethiopian woman apparently with God’s approval. In Numbers 12:1 we read ‘ Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman.’ Here, we see that Moses, a light skinned Jew, apparently married a Cushite and was approved by God. Cushite woman means a woman from Cush, a region south of Ethiopia, and whose people where known for their black skin. We know this because of Jeremiah 13:23, which says, ‘Can the Ethiopian (the very same Hebrew word translated ‘Cushite’ in Numbers 12:1) change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can you do good who are accustomed to do evil.’ Attention is here drawn to the difference of the skin of the Cushite people. But Moses didn’t seem bothered about the difference because he no doubt had a better understanding of the value of man (regardless of their colour) than Miriam and Aaron had. Furthermore, God clearly appended his signature to Moses’ action by reprimanding Miriam and Aaron and visiting Miriam with judgment. When we have a high view of man, it will not matter in what colour skin they are coated; rather, in as far as marriage relationships go, we will be more concerned about whether our prospective spouses belong to the Christian race.

(5) We must also note that Christ exemplified in his life what our attitude should be toward others regardless of their racial makeup

To begin with,

  1. a) Christ shared in our humanity (John 1:14; Heb 2:14). In so doing, God (and Christ is God) underlined the dignity of humanity. It’s important to note that for Christ, what was important was not so much sharing in the racial details of his people (which of course he did), as in their humanity. He did not speak so much about being a son of David as he did a son of man (Heb 2:14). In this way he was elevating humanity regardless of its particular racial expression.

Another point is that,

  1. b) Christ related to all men, whether Jew and Gentile, in a manner that was dignified.
  2. i) He obviously related to the Jews. It was to them he came (John 1:12), and in their nature and culture that he was brought up (Luke 2:21-24) And it was to them that he chiefly ministered while he was he on earth. Although many of them did not receive him, he nonetheless related to them graciously and lovingly. He healed them; he fed them and ministered to them in ever so many ways.
  3. ii) He also related to non-Jews. Christ gracefully accepted the Samaritan woman. He asked for water and talked to her even though she was from a different ethnic group (John 4). Furthermore, Christ valued the Syro-Phoenician woman’s faith notwithstanding her ethnic identity (Mark 7:26).
  4. c) Christ took the sin of the world (John 1:29). The world in question consists of all that the Father has given to him, drawn from all the people groups (Rev 5:9). He valued their souls equally, whether they be Jew or Gentile. He shed one and the same blood for all of them and similar benefits will accrue to all of them as a consequence (John 3:16).
  5. d) Christ sent his disciples to make disciples of ‘all nations’ (Matt 28:19, 20). On the eve of his departure to Heaven, Christ sent his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations. Christ’s vision and passion was to swell his Kingdom with men drawn from every nation, language and clan. He himself declared in John 12:32, that when he is lifted up (crucified), he will draw all men to himself. This reveals a complete indifference to race on the part of Christ in the matter of accomplishing his purpose in redemption. Finally,
  6. e) Christ will entertain and will be served and worshipped by all peoples in his heavenly and eternal kingdom. In Rev 5:9, we don’t get the impression that he will have different compartments for the various race groups in his Kingdom. Rather, all the peoples, regardless of their racial extraction, will be in the same place and the same choir, and their business it would seem will be to worship him who delivered them from sin (no doubt the sin of racism included).

The attitude that was and is in our Master must be our attitude in the matter of racial attitudes and relations.

Conclusion

If biblical principles are clear on the dignity of the human race, how has the human race found herself in a position where she is indulging in and encouraging racism? The answer is not hard to imagine:

  1. a) First of all, behind all racist thinking and action lies the devil. The devil is intent upon destroying the beauty that God created in humanity. God meant humanity to be united in diversity; Satan wishes to see humanity divided and destroy itself. He wants to undo God’s very good and turn it into very bad. We all must watch against his influence.
  2. b) The other reason why racism rears its ugly head is the presence of sin in our hearts. Jeremiah 17:9 says, ‘The heart of man is desperately wicked and deceitful.’ Who can understand it? Sin in our hearts daily fights against the purposes of God, and where man should have been loving his neighbour as God demands in his law, sin within pulls him in the direction of hating and ranting. Sin is what keeps us from welcoming mixed churches. Sin is what holds us from entertaining inter-racial marriages. Sin is what makes us have a bad feeling when a member of a different race is moving into your neighbourhood. Sin is what makes us to camouflage racist attitudes with smiles and shows of outward friendship towards members of a different race, when inwardly there is hatred and resentment for them.
  3. c) If you are guilty of racism, whatever form it takes, remember that there is an answer. Christ came to take away sin, including the sin of racism. He came to set it at naught so that it would not master us, and accumulated for us an eternal weight of punishment. He can free you from it now, if you will repent and call upon his name.
  4. d) Remember also to cleanse your mind of all the prejudice and error that you may have grown up with and clothe yourself with the truth of the Bible. Only a true biblical theology can deliver you from racial pride and prejudice. And when study your Bible correctly, you will find that because God is a God of Creation you can’t but affirm the unity of the human race. Because God is a God of History you can’t but affirm the diversity of ethnic cultures. Because he is the God of Revelation, you can’t but affirm the finality of Jesus Christ. And because He is the God of Redemption, you can’t but affirm the glory of the Christian church in which all men regardless of their language, clan, nation or race are indwelled by one Spirit and are under one head – the Lord Jesus Christ.

Ronald Kalifungwa is Pastor of Lusaka Baptist Church, Lusaka, Zambia

[1] Reproduced in Andrew Hamilton, ‘Taxonomic Approaches to Race,’ The Occidental Quarterly, vol. 8, no. 3 (Fall 2008), p 17.

[2] John R. Baker, Race (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974) p 24, 28.

[3] Jonathan Marks, Human Biodiversity: Genes, Race, and History (Hawthorne, N.Y.: Akldine, 1995) p 50.

[4] American Heritage College Dictionary, accessed 6/6/2017.

[5] Dictionary.com/browse/racism, accessed 27/4/2017.

[6] Robert Lee Holz, ‘Race Has No Basis in Biology, Researchers say’, Los Angeles Times article quoted in: Ken Ham, et al., One Blood, The Biblical Answer to Racism (Green Forest: Master Books, 1999) p 52.

[7] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth, 1958) p 203.

[8] John Gill, online commentary: www.biblestudytolls.com/commentaries/gills-exposition -of-the-bible/1-corinthians-11-7.html (accessed 19/4/2017).

[9] Berkhof, p 206.

[10] R.C. Sproul, Everyone’s a Theologian. An Introduction to Systematic Theology (Sanford: Reformation Trust, 2014) p 101-3.

[11] Ian Hamilton, quoted in: Paul Brown, ‘The Image of God in Man’, Foundations, A Journal of Evangelical Theology, issue 45 (London: British Evangelical Council, 2000).

[12] S.A. Kulikovsky, Creation, Fall, Restoration. A Biblical Theology of Creation (Fearn: Christian Focus Publications, 2009) p 138.

[13] Kulikovsky, p 138.

2020-06-12T16:07:48+00:00