Pastor Bob O'Bannon
After the events in Charlottesville this past weekend, most rational people have found themselves sickened by the overt displays of white supremacy that we all observed. But I wonder how many people have thought very carefully about precisely why white supremacy is wrong. Is it wrong simply because people shouldn’t think of themselves as better than others? Is it wrong simply because it has fueled horrible atrocities in the past? Or is it wrong simply because we as a society have decided it is wrong?
Answers to these questions will fall to varied and arbitrary opinions in the absence of an authoritative, foundational source of truth. In a totally secularized, atheistic worldview, there really isn’t any ground on which to oppose racism, since in that view, there is no transcendent being outside of humanity to consign worth and dignity upon any human being, white or black. It is the Christian worldview that provides a coherent and firm foundation for believing that white supremacy is wrong. There are three ways this is made clear:
1. Creation. In the beginning, God created the entire universe within the span of six days. On the sixth day, we find that God saved the best for last: His crowning creative achievement was the making of man and woman in his own image (Gen. 1:27). The entire created order is beautiful and magnificent in numerous ways, but nothing in God’s creation is quite like the human person. And the reason is because all men and women possess and project something about what God is like.
Later in the New Testament, when Paul preached at the Areopagus in Athens, he said, “(God) made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth…” (Acts 17:26). This tells us that all human beings, no matter what nation they come from, are descended from the same person (Adam) and therefore bear the image of God equally. Because of this teaching, there is no ground for one race to claim superiority over another.
People get easily confused and sometimes conclude that since all races are of equal value, that all species should be considered of equal value too. But in the Christian worldview, this does not follow. Even though I love animals, as a Christian I fully embrace “human supremacism” — not that humans are supreme over God, but that men and women possess inherent value that is superior to plants and animals. But this is very different from white supremacism, which has no basis in the Christian doctrine of creation.
2. Redemption. Racism didn’t start in America. Reading the New Testament, you will find that there was intense animosity between Jews and Gentiles all the way back in the first century, when these two different ethnic races despised each other and refused to associate with each other. While there are significant differences between the tensions that existed between Jews and Gentiles in the first century, and the tensions that exist today in America between whites and blacks, they do have something in common — they both have involved hatred that is/was based in racial and cultural differences.
When Jesus died on the cross, he accomplished something wonderful and amazing — forgiveness of sins, adoption into the family of God, and a righteous standing before the Father based not on moral performance, but on faith alone. But something else was accomplished at the Cross. According to Eph. 2:14-16, the Gospel broke down the “dividing wall of hostility” that existed between Jews and Gentiles, making the two races into one, thereby “killing” the hatred that existed between them. In other words, one of the results of the Gospel should be the end of any notion of racial supremacy.
Not every Gospel-believing church is going to display the same amount of racial diversity as others. Local congregations can’t really manifest anything more than the same kind of diversity that exists in the communities where God has placed them. But, as R.B. Hays has written, “All manifestations of racial divisiveness are betrayals of the truth of the Gospel."
3. Restoration. Christians look forward to a day in the future when Jesus will return to the earth, cleanse the world of all evil and pain, and wipe away every tear from the eyes of his people (Rev. 21:1-4). Then will begin the final and eternal state, when God’s people will dwell with one another in a perfected society on a glorified new earth (2 Peter 3:13) that will be finally purged of all forms of evil, sin, hatred and racism. And Rev. 5:9 tells us that this redeemed people will include individuals from “every tribe and language and people and nation.”
Sometimes it is asserted that the ultimate display of diversity and acceptance is that we would all be “colorblind.” But the Bible doesn’t tell us to live in a fantasy world where we try to convince ourselves that racial distinctives don’t exist. Instead, we look forward to a world when racial and cultural distinctives are not eliminated, but fully redeemed as the only sufficient way to fully capture the glory of the Creator.
Richard Mouw puts it like this: “There is no one human individual or group who can fully bear or manifest all that is involved in the image of God, so that there is a sense in which that image is collectively possessed. The image of God is, as it were, parceled out among the peoples of the earth. By looking at different individuals and groups, we get glimpses of different aspects of the full image of God.” How much more will this be the case when Rev. 5:9 is full realized!
Because of these three theological reasons — creation, redemption, and restoration — Christians can and should say with confidence: “white supremacy is morally wrong.” And they have a firm foundation on which to say it.
Having said this, there is no special place in heaven for those who condemn racism the loudest. People on all sides of this issue are getting enraged, their hearts getting harder and harder, the divisions getting deeper and deeper, as one side judges another for not viewing this issue the right way. How sadly ironic it would be if people so concerned about hate groups would become haters themselves. Be aware — it’s not impossible for you to become what you despise.
That’s why we need the Gospel. It is the only thing that can soften hard, embittered hearts. Those who hold to white supremacy have not committed the unforgivable sin. They also have been created in the image of God, no matter how much we might despise the views they hold. They also need the redemption that only comes by the blood of Jesus, no matter how much they might want to deny it to others. And the restored new earth will be populated not only by a diversity of races, but also by people who have been cleansed and redeemed from a diversity of sins (1 Cor. 6:9-11) — and the sin of white supremacy will be numbered among them. Even that sin, which is clearly denounced on the pages of Scripture, is not beyond the reach of God’s grace.