Race … and All That Stuff
“Hands up! Don’t shoot!” “Check your white privilege!” “Black lives matter!”
Over the last several years, as racial tensions have ramped up, I have begun wrestling with the questions raised by events, incidents, protests – you name it – and what these questions mean for the Christian.
But questions about race were just the starting point. Others popped up in my mind. Are all cultures alike or can a Christian prefer one culture to another? What about nationalism? Does the Bible teach that it’s wrong for nations to exist, and thus, should we pursue some form of globalist melting pot? As a Christian, can I love my country or is that a form of idolatry?
So, for the next few weeks, I’m going to take my inner wrestling to the blogosphere. I will tackle issues like culture, race and ethnicity, diversity and pluralism, and nationalism. Hopefully from a biblical perspective.
However, I am starting with two principles that I hope will prevent no small amount of confusion as I write on these topics.
First, the church is not the world. Got that? Corollaries would be: (1) Earth is not heaven. (2) This age is not the age to come. (3) What is isn’t necessarily what will be.
Why is this important? Because many Christians tend to err when they enter these waters. Some start with the assumption that, if the Bible says something about the church, then it must also apply to more earth-bound institutions or temporal issues. For example, many Christians will take biblical texts about individuals giving to the poor and apply them to the role of government. (See also my blog on the immigration debate.)
Other Christians make the mistake of dismissing the things of this life because they aren’t heavenly in nature.
Obviously, there is a vast gulf between earth and heaven, and between what is and what will be. Sure, the heavenly reality will be the permanent, eternal existence for which every Christian should long. However, that does not necessarily invalidate the earthly reality.
For example, marriage is an earthly reality, created by God to fulfill His purposes while the human race inhabits the earth. But in the eternal age, marriage will not exist. Jesus said: “For in the resurrection [the redeemed] neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:30).
In other words, it is something that is good now, even if, in eternity, it will be no more. Therefore, in principle, just because something exists only in this age does not necessarily make it evil.
On the other hand, something that is good according to God’s creative design can be misused, even in this life. Staying with the example of marriage, it can be twisted (polygamy), nullified (same sex marriage), or abused (illegitimate divorce and remarriage). None of those things invalidate the divine purpose for marriage, but just because God ordained something to exist in this age does not necessarily make it good, either, once men and women get through mucking it up.
This is true about a host of things that make up life on earth, such as sex, money, human government, etc.
Second, as always, the Bible is our guide. Scripture aids us in determining whether some of these things have a divine origin and are being handled according to divine purposes. Sex, for example, is divine in both origin (as a created characteristic of human beings) and purpose – unless it is perverted (twisted). Scripture teaches us what those perversions look like.
Take the issue of race. Racial characteristics are benign. It is not a sin to be white. It is not a sin to be black. Race – like height, hair color, left or right-handedness – is just the way God has made distinctions within humanity.
This is why I believe it’s wrong to make moral judgments about races. Some black people assert, “White people are oppressors.” Well, yes, in American history, some white people held slaves. But that wasn’t a product of whiteness or else all white people would’ve had slaves. And it would’ve been impossible for white people to end slavery in America, because their whiteness – having caused their affection for slavery – would’ve also prevented them from ending it.
We look to the Bible in order to judge the matter of slavery, but that’s not a judgment on the issue of race. We must make this distinction.
On the other hand, some white people insist, “Young black men are thugs.” Well, yes, some young black men commit crimes. But that is not a product of blackness or else all young black men would be criminals. Moreover, if criminal involvement is linked to race, how would it ever be possible for young black men to turn away from a life of crime?
We look to the Bible in order to judge the matter of crime, but that’s not a judgment on the issue of race.
These are all fairly easy examples for Christians. But things like culture and nationalism, well, those are a bit more dicey. Are these benign, like race? What does God’s word teach?
There’s only one way to find out.