Paul speaks to racial and status distinctions in Galatians 3:28,
“…for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Paul is speaking to baptized believers about their spiritual equality in Christ. He is not speaking of function or addressing roles. In his time, Jews and Greeks did not lose their Jewishness or cease to become Gentiles; many remained slaves and it goes without saying that males remained males and females were still females. (Unfortunately, it’s necessary to make this point because some have tried to use Gal. 3:28 to justify women taking leadership roles in the church, in spite of Paul’s clear teaching in I Tim. 2:11-15).
So, Paul is speaking to the church and forbids making any spiritual or quality-of-person distinction whatsoever; we can infer that we are not to judge on the basis of race, nationality (cf. Acts 17:26), status or gender (need I say the gender of your birth? Ugh).
Other than Pokemon Go, race relations have dominated the latest news cycle more than any other subject, and for good reason. The events in Louisiana, Minnesota and Dallas (not to speak of the murder rate in Chicago and other major cities), have riveted our attention on the way human beings in America view and treat each other.
As a child of the 60s, who witnessed the civil rights movement up close, I was naively under the impression that the major issues had been addressed. I lived in LA (not Louisiana) at the time and the policy of segregation was foreign to me. I found it hard to relate to the images I was seeing on television of separate water fountains for black and white and of black young people being arrested for sitting at soda fountain counter.
The crisis became more real to me when, in 1965, I went to a concert at the Greek Theater and saw, in the distance, the smoke and fire emanating from the Watts district. I even heard gunshots during the concert.
Then, in 1968, two champions of civil rights, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated — the latter at the Ambassador Hotel, less than a block from where I was living at the time. This was after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. But you can’t legislate morality or spirituality, can you?
Several Southern Democrats (the “Dixiecrats”) opposed the Civil Rights legislation. I don’t mean to push a political agenda here, but it seems a reminder is in order: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was opposed by six Senate Republicans while 21 Senate Democrats opposed it. In the House, 96 Democrats and 34 Republicans voted against it.
But, race relations is not a political or “policy” issue, anyway; it is a moral issue — more accurately, it’s a spiritual problem. It’s hard to imagine that even churches in some parts of the country were segregated in the past. Perhaps even worse, as eminent historian Ed Harrell documents in his book, The Churches of Christ in the 20th Century, there was a kind of tacit segregation practiced by some preachers and members of churches of Christ. Black preachers who came to gospel meetings were sometimes ushered to pews other than the front pews.
James speaks to the ugly injustice of favoring one person over another based on the way he is dressed, let alone his color. He says people who do that are “judges with evil moments” (James 2:1-7).
Prejudice is an issue that goes to the heart of the gospel.
“For God so loved the world,that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16
God loved the world… not some of the world, not certain races in the world, but the world. There is no excuse for prejudice of any kind. People will say, “well, that’s the way they were raised,” or “he gets it honest,” or “those were different times.” All of those statements are probably true of certain individuals, but none of them excuse the prejudice and injustice practiced by them. It’s evil, regardless of its source.
In fact, the title of this article is faulty. I used it because it’s common to talk about “race relations.” The Bible doesn’t talk about “race relations” however. In fact, when we find it necessary to talk about relations between races, we are admitting that we recognize some difference between the races. But that seems to be the source of the problem.
Look at Acts 17:26 again: “…and he (God) made from one man every nation of mankind…” Paul asserts that there are different nations but that everyone came from one man (Adam). Yes, some of us have different features and some are men and women of “color” (although “white” is the absence of color and “black” is the sum of all colors… not sure if that means anything but it’s interesting to contemplate). Every race is beautiful in its own right — that’s what God intended. Yet, we all come from one source, one man and one woman.
That’s a wonderful thought, a great reminder that we are all equal in God’s sight because he created us.
Wait… this is a side-note, but it just occurred to me that the theory of evolution — at least Darwinism — depends on the principle that men are not equal, at all, but that we are the way we are due to “survival of the fittest.” Evolutionists must admit that their theory leads to the conclusion that there are groups of people who are more “fit” than others. That’s inherently prejudicial, regardless of their arguments to the contrary.
But back to the main point: Christians are blind or they are not Christians. They are blind to color, nationality, race, physical characteristics, abilities, or disabilities, talents, celebrity, age, education… what have I left out?
We cannot be blind to lifestyle choices or actions that are works of the flesh, although — as the common saying goes — we are to love the sinner while hating the sin (see Jude 23). But we must never forget Paul’s oft-quoted, sometimes unapplied, truth that “none is righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10; cf.. 3:23). In other words, we should not overreact, even to immorality; as we sometimes say, we shouldn’t expect non-Christians to act like Christians.” The ugly response of some so-called Christians to the shooting in Orlando is evidence that some just don’t get it. We love everyone, even our enemies — if we are truly following Jesus.
If we keep these things in mind, we’ll judge words and actions correctly — judging the words and actions themselves without imposing artificial, prejudicial interpretations on them because of the race, nationality or political leanings of the person.
I’ve touched a nerve in myself even as I write this. There are leaders of various political groups who I believe have proved that they do not have their constituent’s best interest at heart, but are mainly concerned with keeping their place of power — and I can barely stand to listen to them, no matter what they are talking about. Just hearing their voice makes me want to… let’s say, change the channel.
That’s a kind of prejudice — not racial, by any means, but individual. But it’s still prejudice and I need to be open to listening to these people without prejudice. Sometimes, they have something worthwhile to contribute. And if we get in the habit of writing off a priori those in the pubic square, whether it’s Trump or Obama, then we are likely to do that at the local church level as well. Prejudice is not limited to national politics or race relations, as we see in the James 2 passage. It can become a nasty habit.
So, let’s sum up. “Race relations” should not be an issue in the church since we are not accepted on the basis of race or any other characteristic over which we have no control. Likewise, racism, in any form, should be summarily rejected and condemned by all Christians.
That cuts both ways, though. It means we do not give anyone a “wider berth” due to their race or nationality, either. Political correctness has reached a ridiculous level and some people are hypersensitive — they will play a game of “Gotcha” if you use the wrong term to describe them (“Indian” is out, “native American” is in, unless you live in Cleveland. Here’s a little history lesson: From 1930 until 1972, Stanford’s sports teams had been known as the Indians, and, during the period from 1951 to 1972, Prince Lightfoot [portrayed by Timm Williams, a member of the Yurok tribe] was the official mascot).
Not all of the PC conventions are nonsense, of course, but many of them are and they cannot affect our application of Scripture or the need to be discerning in who we spend our time with and how we react to sin and falsehood. And you are not a racist because you didn’t keep up with some group’s desire to be referred to by another name on the rare occasion we find it necessary to refer to a person’s race or nationality. And I won’t even get into the frustrating double standard that is implied to speech.
Bottom line, Christians are not prejudiced toward any man or woman; we recognize the eternal truth that all men are equal, cut from the same cloth, and precious in God’s sight. We do make mistakes; our thoughts and words may get away from us at times, especially when we are the victims of prejudice or hear hateful language from some members of our society that the mainstream media ignores (examples are legion of the selective use of inflammatory language by media on both sides of the political spectrum).
Let’s avoid unrighteous judgment while keeping judgment in mind. I mean the final judgment when we will stand before Christ and give an account of our lives (II Corinthians 5:10). Let’s be able to stand before him with clean hands and a pure heart, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, “with malice toward none and charity for all.”