How Followers of Jesus Should Respond to Race

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Tuesday, October 10, 2017 0 comments

by Aaron Felty

A few weeks ago (here), I began writing about the Christian response to the “racial” divide. I am always reluctant to use the word “race” because it creates an unnecessary distinction between us as people. There is only one race, the human race, so strictly speaking to says races is inaccurate.

The running definition of race for students in the dictionary even includes the words divided. Race can be defined as a group of people who share a common culture or history. I would like to operate from that definition moving forward. When I mention race, I am talking about people who share a common culture or history.

I am a pastor at a church that is intentionally multi-ethnic. I know it seems like splitting hairs to use the word “ethnic,” but we do not believe we are different races. We have different cultural and historical backgrounds, but we all belong to one race. Genesis 1:27 says that God created us male and female in His image. There is no room for multiple images or distinctions by skin color, cultural background, or geographical location. We see in Genesis 11:1-9 that God scattered humans all over the earth because of their selfish ambition and maybe even racial pride. It is from this point forward that we experienced what we might call “racism” today. People groups fought over differences in how they lived in their particular region. Of course, not all cultural or regional practices are equal or to be lifted up (such as white supremacists or members of ISIS), but I believe the origin of modern racism had its roots shortly after the tower of Babel incident.

Why did God scatter them anyway? Genesis 1:28 gives us the answer. God told them to fill the earth, but they didn’t. The tower of Babel incident was a way for the earth to be filled. Ultimately, God’s plan was to create a place that had a variety of languages, cultures, tribes, and nations. In some ways this was God’s plan to display His beautiful creativity. Consider how boring life would be if the only culture was Swedish or African or Asian. Since God scattered people across the face of the earth, we have a picture of how He does not discriminate by geography, skin color, or culture. He offers us a view of His heart. God Himself inhabits and is reflected collectively by all the variety. We distort that variety and attempt to create a pecking order based on our political, military, religious, and/or cultural practices. Do not get me wrong, I do not believe all religions, politics, or cultures are equal; clearly that is not the case. The religious practice of honor killings is unfathomable, a political system that exploits the poor or only works for a few is deplorable, a military used to suppress its citizenry is abusive, and a culture that attacks another for not being like them is completely ungodly.

In my lifetime as a biracial person, I have never experienced such obvious and covert racial tension (remember my definition of race). It seems like many white people are exhausted trying to figure out what to call black people, what they can and can’t say, how they should address the racial tensions of the day, if their opinion even matters, and they often suffer from what some call “white guilt.” White guilt is the belief that white people are sympathetic to black causes because they feel guilty about what has happened to blacks in the U.S. up to the present day.

Many blacks are exhausted by the constant pressure of skepticism they feel in our society. Blacks feel mistreated or unfairly handled by the law. Occasionally black people have to behave a certain way so others are not afraid of them, they feel like their opinion doesn’t matter where the most power resides, and they feel left behind and minimized. Ultimately, they feel like the deck is stacked against them in nearly all areas of society: government (even though we just had a black president, most black people do not feel represented), education, finance, law, and health care.

I know people on either side will bristle at some of these things. I also have to say that I am not the authority on what white people or black people think; this is my experience based on 44+ years of life. It is not comprehensive and there are many reasons for all of these and perhaps some other important things I omitted. Please comment if you think I missed things or just want to add to this conversation.

So, how should followers of Christ respond? I believe one of the strongest responses we can have is to defend the cause of the marginalized or exploited. Martin Luther King Jr. said it powerfully from a Birmingham jail: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Jesus said in Matthew 25:31-46 that whatever you have done for one of the least of these you have done for Him. I want to list a couple things we could do today:

  1. Ask God to help you engage in conversations with people from different “races.” Ask good questions about their experience and simply listen. It all begins with prayer and conversation.
  2. Ask what someone like you could do, or share things you think you could do that would be helpful, and then ask their input. As you listen you may have ideas; share them and allow them to be critiqued.
  3. Provide alternative points when others engage in Godless chatter about people from different “races.”
  4. Do something! March, donate, serve, write, lobby, etc. 1 John 3:16-18, James 2:16, Luke 10:25-36, Matthew 9:36

My hope is to spur on conversation, not provide all the answers. I know that we are one race and it is in our best interest to defend the cause of those who are marginalized. That means we have to humbly acknowledge what being marginalized looks like and do what we can to provide remedies.

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