Racism in the Church – Why 2008 still feels like 1908

I remember when I used to attend a “God-Box” church (my term for megachurches, or churches that aspire to be megachurches – termed “God-Box” because everything comes preprogrammed, so there really is no need for God) the youth minister had a brilliant idea. Though the church was situated in the ghetto area of town – as though it is possible for a small plains town to have a ghetto – it was predominately white and middle to upper class. The congregation hardly reflected the demographics of the area.

The youth minister decided to take a bold leap of faith and start reaching out to the area. The result was the youth group began to be infiltrated with more black students, Hispanic students, and Asian students. This didn’t go over so well, culminating with the pastor suggesting that they go to a church that is “more suitable for their type.”

Racism still exists today regardless of movement or denomination. The most conservative churches are still mostly white or mostly black. The most die-hard liberal churches fall under the same problem. Even the “third way” Emergent movement is overwhelmingly white – even after a decade of influence and growth.

The Reverend Wright scandal of this year’s election has merely brought to light what many have known for years – the Christian community is still segregated in practice and in theology. Why is this?

I would say that American Christianity suffers from racism because of a few reasons:

1)   They have bought into the humanistic idea of race. During the Enlightenment, people who were of a different color were often viewed as more evil. Thanks to evolutionary development, up until about the 1950’s, scientists believed that the races developed differently when it came to knowledge (in fact, this is still a common myth, as seen through Reverend Wright’s rant). Thus, “black” people like to worship a certain way and “white” people like to worship another way. The two, so the myth goes, can never be reconciled – we have simply evolved in a different manner.

2)   American Christians have dropped the ball on teaching the importance of the imago Dei (image of God). This theological point is extremely significant in “race relations” – it teaches that the color has nothing to do with who the person is. All men and women, despite the color of their skin, have been made in the image of God. This means that all are equal, all come to knowledge the same way, and all are capable of both great and terrible things.

3)   American Christians have forgotten to love. Notice that in Christ’s parable of the Good Samaritan, He used a race that was absolutely hated by the Jewish people in order to prove His point – love conquers all. Is this not the point of many of Paul’s epistles? In Romans 1-8 he is making the plea to the Jewish believers to accept the Gentiles that both Jews and Gentiles are fallen sinners, but both are also capable of salvation. Is this not the plea he makes to the Galatians in saying that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile? The Bible never addresses race relations in depth because it is simply assumed – if you follow the greatest commandment (love your God with all your heart, soul, and mind) and follow the second greatest commandment (love your neighbor as yourself), then logically you will love people regardless of their race.

4)   It’s not a “white” issue or a “black” issue, or any other ethnic issue – it’s a human issue. One of the greatest heresies ever propagated on this earth is liberation theology. This theology dares to take one race and declare it has salvation while denying said salvation to all other races (even condemning some simply for being a certain color). Note what James Cone, a famous black theology proponent, writes in his book A Black Theology of Liberation:


“Black theology refuses to accept a God who is not identified totally with the goals of the black community. If God is not for us and against white people, then he is a murderer, and we had better kill him. The task of black theology is to kill Gods who do not belong to the black community … Black theology will accept only the love of God which participates in the destruction of the white enemy.” (p. 27)


Now, how is this any different from a Ku Klux Klan pastor saying that God is against the black people? The short answer is – it’s not.

American Christians need to learn to abandon this idea of a “white culture” or a “black culture” and realize that, though there are differences, Christ has called us to look past those differences. The early church would have been composed of highly different cultures, ranging from Ancient Near Eastern (primarily from Jewish believers), Hellenism (in the East), and early Northern and Western European culture. Yet, despite the differences in language, culture, and color these Christians sent out missionaries, worked together, and considered each other family.

Ultimately, we do need to recognize that there are differences in certain cultures (but race is not automatically related to culture – just because someone is white does not mean he comes from the “suburbanite culture”), but more importantly we need to recognize we worship a Christ that is bigger than any culture and has called us to transcend such petty and unnecessary differences in pursuit of glorifying Him.