This is the second article in a series on racism in the church. You can view the first article here.
Two Sources of Racism
If you are going to shepherd a racist heart then you need to understand the primal inclinations and desires of that heart. Racism is a sin that results from other sinful dispositions. There can be many root causes for racism, but today I want to talk about what I believe are the two main sources: Superiority and Fear. If we cannot understand the hearts of our people, then we can never effectively lead them. So I want to take a look at these two sources of racism, and very briefly look at some places the scriptures speak to them.
One of the most blatant sources of racism is a sense of superiority. Pride is a dangerous vice on its own, but when it extends to a pride in your race it morphs into racism. We have the natural inclination to exalt ourselves. We naturally see less of our own faults and more of the faults of others. Jesus addressed this very idea when he tells us to remove the plank from our eye before we try to remove the speck in others eyes. The feeling that your skin color somehow makes you special or better than anyone else is antithetical to the character of God.
First, God created mankind equally in his own image.
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
There is no distinction given to us in scripture that God ever favored one race over the other. All mankind bears the image of God, and because of that all mankind is worthy of dignity and respect. When we declare someone to be inferior to us because of their race or ethnicity then we have maligned the image of God that he has intrusted in them.
Second, God is no respecter of persons.
34 So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.
In Peter’s address here in acts we see that God has shown no partiality. He has welcomed gentiles and the Jews. God desires the gospel to go out to all nations, and that includes all races.
11 For God shows no partiality.
Not only does God not show partiality in who he sends the gospel to, but he also shows no partiality in his righteous judgment. God will hold all men equally accountable. He doesn’t have different levels of judment and accountability for different races.
Not only does God not show partiality to the world in general, but he also removes any partiality within the church through Jesus Christ.
26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave[g] nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Paul here makes some outstanding declarations about the unity to be found in the body of Christ. Anyone who is a believer by faith has put on Christ. Paul then addresses 3 types of distinctions that are made null in Christ. First, the distinction of ethnicity. There is neither Jew nor Greek contradicted the Jewish understanding that they were made acceptable to God under the law. It also spoke to the ethnic and racial divides between them and the gentile nations. In Christ, there can be no distinction of race. Second, the distinction of class. There are no distinctions in Christ of social class or standing. Slave and free alike stand equal under God’s grace. Third, the distinction of sex. This verse is not talking about gender roles or complementarian vs. egalitarian understandings of gender. This verse shows us that both men and women stand equally under the grace of christ. No matter the distinction that may be made anywhere else in the world, as it pertains to our sonship to God, we are all equal.
The temptation for the racist motivated by superiority is the temptation to declare your own race somehow more worthy of sonship, or to claim you are somehow more of a son to God than another race. This mentality leads to people believing “black churches,” “white churches,”hispanic churches” etc. are natural and right. These people seek to segregate the body of Christ and wickedly divide what Christ paid his precious live to bring together.
Fear is sometimes connected to superiority. The person who has placed themselves as superior to other men will constantly fear hostility from those he deems lesser. While he claims his superiority is a natural right (based on race) he instinctively fears that it can be taken away, stolen from him by force. I would also point out that fear itself is not intrinsically sinful. Fear of the Lord is commanded and admonished repeatedly in scripture. It is actually fear of the Lord that will conquer any fear of man. Fear of man always leads to sin. We see this as far back as Abram and Sarai in Genesis.
11 When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, 12 and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live.
Clearly Abram feared the Egyptians more than God, and it led him into sin. But Jesus challenges this natural inclination to fear man more than God in Luke 12.
4 “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. 5 But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! 6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. 7 Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.
Jesus is great at pointing out the bigger picture. Here he positions someone who can kill us physically against the one who can cast us in Hell forever, which is eternal spiritual death. It’s as if Jesus looks at us and says, “The worst they can do is kill you.” So in light of this we should fear the Lord. This righteous, reverent fear of God spurs us on to holiness, and necessarily will combat the sin of racism.
So how does a shepherd address and lead the racist hearts in his flock? There are two ways I can think of (without getting in to the plethora of practical applications). First, if there is not direct conflict over the matter, the shepherd can consistently and biblically address the root causes of racism in the hearts of his flock. Consistently teaching on equality and unity when it appears in the scripture will help mold the sheep who is submissive to God’s Word. A sheep that is confident in its shepherd will not fear the wolf, or the rushing stream, or the thief in the night. Shepherds must lead their flock to fear the Lord, and be confident in his providence. Second, if the issue is a source of conflict, the shepherd must stand firm and call the flock to repentance. If racism is directly affecting the life and function of the church, or if it is directly affecting the great commission purpose of the church, then it must be dealt with directly. The method and manner of these two approaches is completely subjective to your situation. I highly recommend seeking wise counsel from other pastors and spiritually mature men if you are dealing with racism in your flock. It is not a battle to go alone into. Remember that the Holy Spirit is able to melt the heart of stone, and guide the child of God to repentance. It is not your job as shepherd to coerce or force repentance for the sake of appearances, but it is your job to faithfully preach the Word, care for the souls of your flock, and pray for the Holy Spirit to guide them.
Next time I will talk about my experience with racism in my church. Until then.
Soli Deo Gloria