The legendary American poet and activist, Maya Angelou, once wrote, “Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future, and renders the present inaccessible.” As we consider how our presuppositions affect our view of the world, it becomes increasingly clear that ideas have power. Power to distort. Power to divide. Power to destroy. This power is only potent when we fail to take false ideas captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:3-5). Race is a false idea used to establish a caste system in America. It is as if race functions as a metric to determine an individual’s worth. Our impulse is to deny this because we know what ought to be true: our worth is found higher and deeper than our skin. However, denial of the false idea is insufficient. Taking this thought captive requires action. As puritan preacher John Owen says well, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” The burden of our prejudices confuse, threaten, and hinder the mission of the Church. The Truth sets us free (John 8:32).
We ought to be the same.
All human beings bear the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). For the believer, salvation — complete with the inheritance gained through Christ — is nondiscriminatory (Acts 10:34-35). Indeed, all followers of Jesus are clothed in His righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21). Whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, white or non-white, we are one in Christ (Gal. 3:26-28). In our salvation we are judged not by status, gender, ethnicity, or race, but by faith, a gift of God through which we gain the righteousness of Christ.
In the eyes and design of the Creator, no particular race is innately more righteous than another (Rom. 2:11), and no one in Christ is condemned (Rom. 8:1). There is no question we ought to operate by these truths; however, in the eyes and design of mankind, partiality reigns. Racism is a fruit of our inability to believe the gospel and walk in obedience within a racialized society. We are divided and racial tensions, blurred with political ones, are undeniably high. This reality should not be ignored or denied simply because it ought not be. We must be sober-minded and watchful because our enemy seeks to destroy us (1 Peter 5:8). We need to address racism with gospel action. We must speak the truth to one another in love because too easily we are tossed by the waves of culture, blown around by deceitful teaching, captivated by worldly philosophies. We find ourselves conforming to the ways of the world because we trust their plans more than the plans of God (Eph. 4:14-15; Col. 2:8; Rom. 12:2; 1 John 2:15). Let us take on the myths of worldly kingdoms with the liberating truth of the Kingdom of God (2 Cor. 10:5-6).
We must identify the specific myth of racial superiority.
If our hope is to see how the gospel addresses the lie of racism in America, understanding the lie is a necessary starting point. It is unhelpful to deny the biblical and historical reality of sin and refuse to consider how it affects society today. Likewise, it is unwise and unhelpful to assume we are immune to believing lies. Understandably, it may be challenging and perhaps uncomfortable, for some to consider and concede to racism’s roots in white supremacy, but unless this is done there can be no justice. Without justice, there can be no reconciliation. There must be a clear and specific repudiation of this evil, but ending the lie calls for more than words of condemnation. It requires proclaiming and embodying the truth. Racial supremacy is impossible where the gospel is believed and Jesus is worshiped supremely.
In a racialized society, ethnic distinctions coalesce over time as people are compelled to exchange ethnic identity for a racial one. In a previous post I attempted to offer a framework for seeing ethnicity by God’s design and race as an egocentric construct of humanity. In light of this, it is important to note there is no “white” ethnicity; rather, white people have a varied ethnic representation (e.g. English, Irish, German, Swedish, Slovenian, etc.). Within the construct of race, however, whether intentionally or not, “white” has been designated as supreme.
History reveals this stratification of racial groups functioned to justify atrocities committed against Indigenous, African, Asian, and even some European image-bearers, and this lie has been leveraged for the purposes of mankind in the centuries since. White supremacy, as a false idea — among other man-centered ideologies and idols — has a profound effect on the American experience and society because it is, more often than not, assumed to be true by those within the society. This is because standards of beauty, intelligence, vernacular, behavior, social interactions, etc. are established by the majority culture.
This subconscious, and sometimes conscious, belief, contributing to the birth of our nation, has successfully established whiteness as the standard by which all other races are measured. This is admittedly more complex than a few sentences can cover, but for the sake of brevity, it is not helpful to think in terms of “people with white skin” because whiteness is not synonymous with “white people.” [This is evidenced by the historic oppression of white-skinned ethnic groups such as the Irish (who are now considered white), as well as non-white ethnic groups pitted against one another (which is based on proximity to whiteness but does not directly involve any “white people”).] Rather, whiteness, the social construct, functions as a concept by which a racial paradigm is stratified. As a concept, whiteness is either desired or despised, consciously and intuitively, by white people and non-white people alike. Therefore, one does not need to have white skin to embody whiteness. It is an idolatry that comes with a hunger for power and privilege in a society that empowers and privileges those willing to serve and sacrifice to this false god. Without a concerted effort to intentionally and explicitly combat this paradigm, we naturally believe and comply with its lies.
If we attempt to objectively observe history, it seems the walls of the American kingdom harbor an environment where racism is free to thrive. Rather than being abolished, racism has adapted (e.g. genocide, slavery, Jim Crow, white-flight/redlining, disproportionate incarceration, etc.). Rather than being condemned, racism has been coded with dehumanizing, demonizing, and/or criminalizing language and actions towards a particular people (i.e. It is much easier to say we hate thugs, deplorables, monsters, and rioters. It is easier to justify inhumane treatment if someone is seen as subhuman.). These are the results of treating symptoms without destroying the lie. The symptoms can be addressed by the temporary remedies of mankind, but the lie is destroyed only by the Truth.
Racism divides, but gospel belief brings hope for unity.
Believers are spiritually transformed by gospel belief; however, our bodies experience this world according to the rules of society. We are united by a common spirit but often divided by our different bodies. Race was created according to our bodies and perpetuated to serve systems of racism. Naturally, the status quo falls in line with the expectations of the majority culture or the group with the greatest cultural power. For people in a society governed by people unlike them, the consequences of those differences can be severe.
The sovereign Lord may be the Father of all, but, starting with the first two siblings (Gen. 4:8), His children have a history of murderously seeking to rule over one another. Systems within the kingdoms of mankind work to this end without exception. There may be displays of benevolence by the common grace of God, but where Jesus is not seen as King, man will seek the throne. The true enemy is found within these realms. He is “the prince of the power of the air,” not our fellow man. Those we think are against us are merely following his lead, just as we all once did (Eph. 2:1-3). We are at war against an enemy who delights in our division and devastation. He seeks to divide and subsequently rob us of the fullness of what God has for us. The more diverse we can be, the healthier we are—the more like Jesus we are (1 Cor. 12:12-31). Our enemy knows this and he is skilled at working against it. If he can get us to forget who we are, we will inevitably search for belonging and identity outside of Christ.
Therefore, we must repent and believe the gospel again and again and fix our eyes on Jesus, the source and the perfecter of our faith. In Him, we find both who we are and who we ought to be. This looks like a pastor freed from the burden of changing hearts and fearing failure, a victim freed from the burden of seeking revenge, the weary finding rest, the disheartened finding hope, the despondent finding joy. Then, as ambassadors of the Kingdom, citizens of Heaven, we are able to observe and experience expressions of divisive ideology with a hope beyond the futile agendas of mankind. Jesus is our hope.
The gospel is the story of redemption and the restoration of all things, and its power lies in the person and work of Jesus, who makes all things new. He put on flesh as a man. He counted others as more significant than Himself. He was a servant to the point of death. Then, on the cross He became sin as a wrath-bearing substitute for His people. Embodying the very thing that divides, He unites His people by giving His righteousness to all who believe. Love and mercy met justice on the cross. Jesus was destroyed… so it seemed. But it was sin, not Jesus, remaining in the grave. Retributive justice gave way to restorative justice in the resurrection of Jesus, and that is our ultimate hope.
Jesus killed racism and His people continue that work.
Jesus has already put the sin of racism to death, but the work is not-yet done. This is how sanctification serves His people. We have salvation that is already but not-yet fulfilled. Christ came to restore broken things and proclaim His Kingdom. A Kingdom in which all things are made new. Jesus was about His Father’s business while on the earth. His very presence brought liberation. He is still doing this transformative work in the world through the Church—the Body of Christ.
Living in light of the gospel requires more than proclaiming hope in a future reality where the work is done, and it does not allow for ignoring the consequences of sin or denying a present reality of suffering (i.e. prescribing a Color-blind Theory that ignores race and consequently denies justice). The mission of the Church is about seeing the gospel saturate all of life. This “good news” changes our being and our doing, and therefore, it changes our society. Where injustice exists the people of God are called and compelled by love to do what is right (Isaiah 1:17; Pro. 31:8-9; Micah 6:8; Ps. 106:3; 1 John 3:7). Our ultimate hope is in the return of Jesus, but while we wait, we are to be light in the world pushing back the darkness.
Perhaps, those who seek to preclude racial justice from Kingdom work are unaware of how racist ideas, like the myth of racial supremacy, are deeply embedded into the ethos of the American culture and identity. The construct of race has transcended abstraction. Despite being a made-up idea, race has been embodied and embraced as a core identity, and this gives life to racism itself. It lives in our bodies. Which means rather than deny it, or merely denounce it, we must put it to death.
Dead to racism, alive in Christ.
Even as the people of God, sojourning on Earth, we are shaped, rather deformed, by our environment in countless ways. This requires us to submit ourselves to death, as living sacrifices, confident in the resurrection of Christ. In this act of worship, we are transformed because our minds are renewed by the Spirit (Rom. 12:1-2). We cannot be sure what exactly will remain when we emerge to live again, but we can be sure sin is losing its power as we walk in new life and identify with Christ supremely (Rom. 6:3-8).
We are being conformed to the image of Jesus, and though much will be redeemed, some things must be destroyed. The things that divide His Church, the things that serve to merely build the kingdoms of mankind, must be crucified and left in the grave. Certainly, this will require pain and discomfort along the way, but our hope tells us the sacrifice is undoubtedly worth it. Putting the flesh to death, individually and communally, means we share in the resurrection of Christ individually and communally. Jesus, the embodiment of the gospel, has put sin to death, and we are to not submit ourselves again to it. We ought to have a holy impatience with sin. Racism has socioeconomic manifestations, but it is foremost and unequivocally sin. It is a sin that destroys, and it must be slain in our sanctification again and again. We must kill racism, or it will keep killing us. This is where the work begins.
Where do you need to repent, believe the gospel again, and fix our eyes on Jesus today?
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