What Does the Bible Say About Racism? (Part One)
When we raise the question of what the Bible says about race someone might ask, “Wasn’t the Church supportive of slavery and didn’t Christians use the Bible to justify both slavery and racism?” Yes and No. On the one hand, there were churches in the slave holding south that used scripture to support the idea of slavery. The famous revivalist, George Whitefield, even became an advocate for slavery in Georgia in order to provide funding for his orphanage and ministry. Yet it is also true that the church, Christians, were at the very heart of the abolitionist movement. When it comes to the issue of race or racism, the more important question is “What does the Bible teach?”
In this post I will begin to answer that question under the heading, “What does creation teach us about racism?” In the next post we will examine what the fall of man teaches us about racism.
What does Creation Teach Us about Racism?
The Bible teaches that there is one human race. That we all descended from Adam. While it is true that some within the church have taught that there were other people beside Adam and Eve created (prior to Adam), this theology developed as a justification for slavery and races, not out of the text. It was generally considered heretical. Most people today who toy with this doctrine are unaware of its origin as a means of enslaving a whole ethnic group of people.
The bible is clear on this issue. Plants were made according to their kinds (Gen 1:11-12). Fish and birds were made according to their kinds (Gen 1:21). Wild animals were made according to their kinds; livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds (Gen 1:25). When we get to mankind, however, they were made male and female. But not according to their kinds. There is one human race.
Additionally, the Scriptures speak of no human tribes which descended from someone other than Adam. The development of the idea of race was specifically driven by the need for a capable labor force which is cheap and abundant. i.e. slavery. The more we perpetrate this false concept of race, the more we feed racism itself. Historically the idea of race was driven by scientific naturalists motivated not by science but by greed, hatred, and a sense of superiority. If we are going to root out racism, we must root out the very worldview which holds that there are different races.
If we are going to root out racism, we must root out the very worldview which holds that there are different races.
The moment one accepts the idea that there are different races within humanity, one immediately accepts the possibility that one is inferior and another superior. When you go car shopping you look at a couple of cars and what do you do? You compare and decide which is better. When it comes to people the Bible rejects all such thinking!
Modern racism has its roots in scientific racism or social evolution. These philosophies are behind the pro-slavery movement of America’s early history, Adolph Hitler and white supremacy, and it is the same philosophy which drove the racist founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger. The arguments for slavery, concentration camps, and abortion often sound similar because they are rooted in the same philosophies. Alan Jacobs tells this history well (Original Sin):
“When a man as prominent as Stephen Douglas rose to defend slavery on grounds like those of the scientific racists— ‘I positively deny that he [the Negro] is my brother or any kin to me whatever,’ he proclaimed in 1858, in one of his debates with Abraham Lincoln—many Christian leaders in the South repudiated him fiercely. One of the greatest of them, the Presbyterian James Henley Thornwell, insisted that ‘No Christian man…can give any countenance to speculations which trace the Negro to any other parent but Adam.’ And, to make the point more forcefully, Thornwell insisted that ‘the instinctive impulses of our nature, combined with the plainest declarations of the Word of God, lead us to recognize in [the Negro’s] form and lineaments, in his moral and religious and intellectual nature, the same humanity in which we glory as the image of God. We are not ashamed to call him our brother.’ Black people share with white people a common creation in the image of God and a common corruption inherited from Adam; and in this double sharing lies the truest fellowship, the profoundest brotherhood.”
Of course no one would suggest that since scientists have supported racism that we should reject science. Science wasn’t the problem anymore than Christianity was the problem. The problem is sinful human hearts. I will take that issue up in a part two of this blog post.
For more on what the Bible says about racism and our responsibility, click here for a sermon I did on this very topic from the book of Genesis.
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