The following is an excerpt from my new book, The Bible and Racism. It is available on Amazon and is a 200+ page exploration of what the Bible teaches about race and Jesus’ call for His church to be fully unified – every tribe, tongue, color and nationality worshiping together on earth as in Heaven. I would be honored if you would take a look at it! The excerpt below, from 14, contains 10 great thoughts on race and racism from a variety of Christian writers, pastors, and leaders over the years. These are some of the most powerful quotes on race and racism that you can find, and I hope they are encouraging to you!
This post will simply be a large collection of excellent and challenging thoughts on race from faithful followers of Christ. You or I might not fully, 100 percent agree with every thought expressed here, but all of these passages are from solid and faithful Christians, and all are presenting ideas that should be grappled with. I might include a brief amount of commentary on a few of the quotes, but they will stand on their own by and large. The reason for including all of these quotes is to #1 spur you on towards godly and biblical thinking about race and #2 to demonstrate that there have been faithful voices in the worldwide church since the first century that have powerfully and passionately proclaimed good truths about race. Some might think (with reason) that the church in the past has been too often racist. While it is true (and inexcusable) that there have always been racists in every period of church history, I believe it is also true that those Christians who have known, proclaimed and lived biblical truths about race have outnumbered those who haven’t.
1. Sometimes we get a gem amongst the news, and to my mind there was a gem contained in a Reuter’s telegram, from Rio Janeiro, May 10th:—“The Brazilian Chamber of Deputies has voted the immediate and unconditional abolition of slavery in Brazil.” My heart rejoiced as I read that paragraph. I hope it does not mean that this vote can be defeated in some other Chamber, or the abolition be prevented by some other power; but if it means that slavery is to be immediately and unconditionally abolished in Brazil, I call upon you all to thank God, and rejoice in his name. Wherever slavery exists, it is an awful curse; and the abolition of it is an unspeakable blessing. All free men should praise God, and especially those whom Christ has made free, for they are “free indeed. (Source: 1888 Charles Spurgeon sermon, “Freedom at Once and for Ever,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 40 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1894), 349.)
I love Charles Spurgeon very deeply, and I especially love the fact that, even though he was a “product of his time,” he was not blinded to the Bible’s clear anti-racist teachings and their implications. Slavery is indeed an awful curse, and came about through the curse of Genesis 3 in the garden. Some might even say that slavery is man’s attempt to remove the burden of God’s curse in the garden (“you shall sweat for every drop of food you eat”) from himself and put it onto somebody else.
2. If you’re reading through the Bible and you get to Joshua 7 — especially if you’re a white American, especially if you’re Western person — you go “What?” In Joshua 7, a man named Achan, an Israelite — they’re coming into the promised land, they are strictly told you were not here for plunder — Achan takes some plunder, a robe, some wealth, takes it for himself, hides it under his tent. He breaks the law. He goes against God’s will, goes against the law for the Israelites. When it’s discovered, he’s not just punished, but his entire family is stoned to death with him. Western people — especially white Americans — say, “Wait a minute, he did it. They didn’t do it!” Now let me just get right off and say this. Most people and most other cultures, most other centuries understand why that happened. If you’re a New Yorker and you have some objection to some part of the Bible that you find offensive, I want you to realize it’s your cultural location that’s causing the offense… That if you can do something bad, the fact that you can do it, what helped you become the kind of person that can do it, was to a great degree your family. Your family produced you directly or at least failed to keep you from becoming that, and therefore at least actively or passively, your family participates in your guilt.
Most people, most places, Americans — especially white Americans — don’t understand that. Most people, most places recognize that because you’re not the product of your own individual choices, you are the product of a community. Not only are you the product of a community to a great degree, but that you by even participating in that community are producing other kinds of people with their particular kinds of character to because of your interaction with them. Joshua 7 says that there is corporate responsibility inside a family. I’ll take it up a little higher. In Daniel 9, now we’re talking about corporate guilt and responsibility inside a whole race or a culture because Daniel, in Daniel 9, confesses sins — repents for — and says it’s his responsibility to repent for sins that his ancestors did that he didn’t do it all. I mean I still hear it, though especially years ago when I lived in the South. I heard white people say, “Yeah, it’s a shame what slavery did, but I never owned any slaves so why in the world does anybody think that I as a white person now had any responsibility to that community over there at all? I didn’t own slaves.” But here is Daniel feeling a responsibility for and repenting for things his ancestors did. Why? Because he knows that the culture that he’s part of produced the sins of the past and he’s still part of that culture. He senses the responsibility and the Bible senses the responsibility. He senses the connection. (Pastor Tim Keller, 2012 message. Source: http://www.desiringgod.org/)
Tim Keller, if you are not familiar with him, is not a liberal theologian. He is a conservative, biblical, complementarian pastor in the Presbyterian Church of America, which is one of the most theologically conservative denominations out there. You might not agree with the dynamic that Keller is proposing here, but I believe that he has made a very good biblical case for what he is asserting, which is that we are, in part, defined by our culture and responsible for our culture.
3. Posterity is concerned in the actions of their ancestors or predecessors, in families, nations, and most communities of men, as standing in some respect in their stead. And some particular persons may injure, not only a great part of the world contemporary with them, but may injure and undo all future generations of many individuals, families, or larger communities. So that men who live now, may have an action against those who lived a thousand years ago; or there may be a cause which needs to be decided by the Judge of the world, between some of the present generation, and some who lived a thousand years ago. Princes who, by rapine and cruelty, ruin nations, are answerable for the poverty, slavery, and misery of the posterity of those nations. So, as to those who broach and establish opinions and principles, which tend to the overthrow of virtue, and propagation of vice, and are contrary to the common rights and privileges of mankind.—Thus, Mahomet (Mohammed) has injured all succeeding posterity, and is answerable, at least in a degree, for the ruin of the virtue of his followers in many respects, and for the rapine, violence, and terrible devastations which his followers have been guilty of toward the nations of the world, and to which they have been instigated by the principles which he taught them. And, whoever they were, who first drew away men from the true religion, and introduced and established idolatry, they have injured all nations that have to this day partaken of the infection.
Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 2 (Banner of Truth Trust, 1974), 471.
For those that might have struggled with Keller’s idea (above) that we can be somehow responsible or involved with the sins that our ancestors have committed, you might be surprised that Keller’s understanding comes from Jonathan Edwards, a pastor and writer used mightily of God in the First Great Awakening. Edwards wrote fairly extensively about the evils of slavery and of man-stealing and abuse, but himself owned slaves. His son, however, came to greater understanding of truth, and released all of the Edwards family slaves six years before the American Revolution, and almost 100 years prior to the Emancipation Proclamation.
4. Tell me what you think, but I’ve come to the conclusion that the Christian Church desperately needs to be discipled regarding “race,” racism and justice. I once thought the most significant deficiency in Christian theology (at least in the West) was a deficiency in the theology of suffering. But I think there’s more ink used to help people with suffering than there is to help people think of themselves primarily as Christians and radically apply their new identity in Christ to fallen categories like “race” and insidious sins like racism.It’s tragic that the country’s biggest sin is racism and the Church’s biggest omission is racial justice. The tragedy gets compounded when one remembers that some quarters of the Church were once the strongest supporters of this sin. That means we’re working our way out of a deficit. The roots of racism are tangled with our faith. And this means we can’t assume some neutral stance, being formally against this sin but practically uninvolved. The root keeps creeping. We had better be weeding the garden of our faith and growing one another up into the fullness of Christ with attention to this anti-Christ called “racism.”Over and over the question I get from genuine and well-meaning Christians is, “How can I think about…?” Or, “What should I do about…?” Those are discipleship questions that desperately need answering in every local church—assuming we don’t want the roots of racism to find any soil in the body of Christ.
(Source: Thabiti Anyabwile https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/thabitianyabwile)
Thabiti, as an African-American pastor, writes a lot about race. I used to sort of naively think that it was more important to use all of our energies and ink focusing on Jesus and His gospel over and above anything else. I still believe that to be the case, but the fact is that the good news of Jesus has implications and practical impacts, which means we must write about issues like race and racism, and grapple with how the Word of God calls us to act in regards to them. I absolutely agree with Thabiti that the church has been complicit in racism too often in the past, and it has diminished and damaged our shining of the gospel. We do indeed need biblical discipling in the areas of race, racism, and justice. We need to think about it more, write about it more, pray for racial unity more, and walk out biblical racial justice more and more. I am hopeful that this book represents one very tiny step in that direction.
5. [You might say] “I got me some slaves and slave-girls.” What do you mean? You condemn men to slavery, when his nature is free and possesses free will, and you legislate in competition with God, overturning His law for the human species. The one made on the specific terms that he should be the owner of the earth, and appointed to government by the Creator – him you bring under the yoke of slavery, as though defying and fighting against the divine decree. You have forgotten the limits of your authority, and that your rule is confined to control over things without reason! Why do you go beyond what is subject to you and raise yourself up against the very species which is free, counting your own kind on a level with four-footed things and even footless things? [You say, ] “I got me slave-girls and slaves.” For what price, tell me? What did you find in existence worth as much as this human nature? What price did you put on rationality? How many obols (a unit of currency) did you reckon the equivalent of the likeness of God? How many staters did you get for selling that being shaped by God? God said, Let us make man in our own image and likeness. If he is in the likeness of God, and rules the whole earth, and has been granted authority over everything on earth from God, who is his buyer, tell me? Who is his seller? To God alone belongs this power… God would not therefore reduce the human race to slavery, since he himself, when we had been enslaved to sin, spontaneously recalled us to freedom. But if God does not enslave what is free, who is he that sets his own power above God’s?” (Source: Gregory of Nyssa’s Homilies on Ecclessiastes. 335.5, 335.6, 336.6) 300s AD
What a powerful challenge – and sound logical argument – from Gregory of Nyssa, who wrote the above circa 375 AD. If only the Confederate champions of slave-owning had genuinely grappled with Gregory’s Scriptural and rational arguments here.