Racism denies the power of God...

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(Note: Here's an excellent comment that was intended by its writer, Lucas Weeks, to go under the posts on racism. I've made it a main entry, though, so no one will miss it.)

I am very thankful for this discussion on racism. First, it has reminded me of the importance of distinctions. There is a powerful temptation to gloss over and ignore distinctions because they are often the source of strife and bitterness. This is seen in the "battle of the sexes", the tension between different races or nations of people, the fighting between religious groups, and so on.

One option is to see the distinctions themselves as the source of the problem, and then to bend all of one's effort towards destroying those distinctions. I think that those who have opposed Tim on this blog have correctly pointed out this tendency in our own culture. Some of what they have said about the relationships between men and women (including husbands and wives), between people of different races, and between religious groups is correct.

For example, it is true that God very specifically decided that the Israelites would be His chosen people. Furthermore, He did indeed command them to avoid mixing with other groups of people, wanting to keep the distinction between them and the other groups clear and well-defined. Jesus himself made it clear that his earthly ministry was meant for the "lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt. 15:24).

So does that mean that the interpretation of Galatians that was presented by Rondel Rumburg was accurate? Well, yes and no. He has a number of arguments that I'd like to address.

First, Rumburg writes:

(Galatians) is a long way from no difference in salvation in the spiritual realm to destroying all differences in race, authority or sex in the physical world. The result of such an interpretation would be anarchy. To force the interpretation of complete equality on this verse in such a general sense is catastrophic. Nowhere does the verse declare everyone in the physical realm equal in Christ, but it does say all the saved are one in Christ.

Rumburg correctly points out that the thrust of Galatians 3 is that justification is found only in Jesus Christ, regardless of whether you are male or female, Jew or Greek. And he is also correct in pointing out that every person in the world is not strictly "equal". But he is carefully and deliberately wrong when he tries to suggest that faith in Jesus doesn't change the nature of the relationship between these various groups in the physical world in a fundamental way...

Galatians 3 and 4 speak about how both Jews and Greeks, male and female, slaves and free are one in Christ Jesus, and how they are now all sons of God.

Ephesians 2 also speaks about justification by faith in Jesus alone, but it also echoes the Galatians passage in regards to reconciliation:

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both (Jews and Gentiles) one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing hostility (Eph. 2:13-16).

The specific issue that led Paul in Galatians to deal so forcefully with the Judaizers in the first place was that they hypocritically refused to eat with Gentiles. Sure, I'll grant that justification by faith is a central issue, but you cannot deny the fact that asking Jews and Gentiles to eat together has everything to do with how people of different races and cultures ought to relate in Jesus Christ. So, no, Galatians 3 and 4 do not destroy the distinctions that exist between races, male and female, and slave and free. But the passages do mean that, by Gods grace, we can see and acknowledge the very real distinctions between people and yet respond with "faith working through love" (Galatians 5:6b).

Second, Rumburg also argues that to act as if the differences between races don't exist, or that they are bad and should be done away with, is to charge God with error, since he was the one who created races in the first place.

I agree that distinctions and differences ought to be acknowledged. And where a particular race or sex or class is prone to a particular sin it ought to be called out and addressed. It is true that God created races, and no, I don't charge him with error.

Finally, Rumburg also argues that the distinction between races that was upheld in the Old Testament continues now and into eternity:

The "nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it" shows that the distinction is maintained or perpetuated into eternity. God was the one who divided by lands, languages, races and nations (Gen. 10:5; Deut. 32:8; Acts 17:26). God condemned those who would remove these distinctions (Deut. 7:3; Ezra 9-10; Neh. 9:2; 13:3, 23 ff [see Neh. 9-13]). Miscegenation or racial interbreeding is not the way of God as His Word bears out in the passages just mentioned and others (Judges 6:5-7; Num. 25:1-9; Deut. 7:1-6).

While it is true that racial distinctions were recognized and maintained in the Old Testament, it is disingenuous to act as if there is nothing in the New Testament that changes the way that races ought to interact. Not only do the passages in Galatians and Ephesians speak to this issue, but Acts 10 and 11, in which Peter is led to eat and fellowship with Gentiles, is also pertinent: "So Peter opened his mouth and said: 'Truly, I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him." There are clear and specific reasons for God's commands for the Jews to avoid interbreeding in the Old Testament, and they simply are not applicable in the same way to us today.

Overall, my point is that Christians must indeed have the discernment to see and acknowledge the very real differences that exist between people, but they must also feel the weight of the commandment to respond to these differences with love. This love might include stern words of rebuke and correction, as in Paul's admonishment to the Cretans, but it never justifies racism.

Those opposed to Tim have written about the high levels of crime and sexual chaos among black Americans as an example of how they need to be dealt with "differently". Well, faith requires that we trust God to give us wisdom for issues that come up in our time, rather than trying to force them into the mold of the battles of the last generation. And so, yes, perhaps the problems that plague the African-American community will need to be addressed in ways that haven't been tried or even thought of yet.

Now, a white guy like me might very easily try to deal with the problems of the African American community (or the problems in Africa, for that matter) by planting himself down in a black community in a self-righteous way. Trust me, many, many missionaries were incredibly self-righteous when they landed in Africa to do their work. This kind of self-righteousness must be avoided. However, making a principle of avoiding those that are different than we are, and particularly of avoiding those who are caught in sin, is another form of self-righteousness. It is the self-righteousness of "The Pharisee (who) stood and was praying this to himself: 'God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector'" (Luke 18:11). And a similar self-righteousness causes believers to try to go "out of the world", something that Paul explicitly spoke against in 1 Corinthians 5:10.

When you are drawing lines in the sand between yourself and others, there is no greater distinction than that of "enemy". And, in fact, the idea of an enemy is especially powerful because the label can be applied to whatever distinction you find the most reprehensible (be that male/female, Jew/Greek, black/white, democrat/republican, etc). Jesus' command to "love your enemy" is therefore very peculiar. He didn't say "don't have enemies", which would have been a commandment to destroy the classification altogether. Instead, Jesus established the existence of enemies all the more by acknowledging their existence and ubiquity. In this way, Jesus commands us to actually sit and think "who are our enemies?"

But then Jesus asks us to do the impossible: once we have a list in our minds of who we would consider our enemy, he then commands us to love them!

(Jesus said) "You have heard that it was said 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:43-48).

How is such love possible? Only by the power of God working in us through faith in Jesus Christ.
If you have gotten this far with me, please, I beg you, understand that this is the crux of the entire matter. 2 Timothy 3:1-5 says:

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.

Much of what has been said here has "the appearance of godliness," but it denies the very power of the gospel, which "breaks down the dividing wall." It is precisely this power of God that gives Nick Raia hope that he might have a godly impact in a community where he may very well be in a minority, and it is only this gospel of Jesus Christ that gives me the hope that I might form true bonds of brotherhood with the Ghanaian kids that I'm hanging out with this summer in Accra.

One more comment and I am through. I used to wonder how it happened that so many of the churches in Germany put up with the vitriol of the Nazis for those who were different in the thirties and forties, and this discussion has helped me to see how that was possible. I do not mean to call those who are opposing Tim here Nazis. I want to say very explicitly that they are not. What I will say, though, is that they represent a small, but firm, step in that direction.

Am I being too harsh?

No. The reason this point is so crucial for the readers of this blog, both those in favor and those opposed to Tim, is because it helps to teach us about the nature of deception. A couple verses down in that same passage from 2 Timothy, Paul writes, "Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith."

Now, these two characters are not specifically named anywhere in the Old Testament, but it is believed that these two men were the magicians in Pharaohs court who copied Moses' miracles. The point is that a good deception is always very close to the truth of the matter, and so we ought not to be disconcerted with how the arguments raised are so incredibly close to the truth. We Christians are so often shocked and chagrined that the worst lies are so very close to the truth. But that is the way it has always been! I must admit that many of the arguments have been very appealing to me, but I must also stress that they have consistently been a form of godliness that denies the power of God.

One of these days I would very much like to have a discussion about slavery and the Bible, but it looks like that discussion will need to wait for another day.