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Racism Is a Heresy

The initial response of Fox News to the murder of nine people attending a Bible study in a Charleston, South Carolina church was to question that the attack was racially motivated and instead claimed that it was an attack on Christianity. The friends who forwarded the video link countered correctly that it was a racist attack.  While Dylan Roof, the attacker, has not yet explicitly mentioned any religious motives, he appears to have been influenced by “Christian” white supremacists.  Thus, the reality is that it was both a racist attack and an attack on Christianity because racism is a heresy that opposes and perverts orthodox Christianity.

First, we need to define race, racism, and heresy.  Race is a method of classifying human groups based upon genetic differences that are reflected in certain physiological and biological traits.  The difficulties, even inadequacies in scientific terms, with the concept of race are that these differences are not as marked between various human groups as racists would like to think and that these groups can mix and modify the “race,” which is why racists opposed interracial marriage.

Racism is the belief that certain groups or races are inferior or superior based upon their genetic makeup.  Racism then defends as just segregation and other social and political forms of differential treatment of the various races.  Radical racism can go so far as to deny the full humanity of other races.  One should not include in the definition of racism the mere preference for certain cultural or physical traits of various people groups.  One is not a racist because he thinks Scarlett Johansson, Halle Berry or Li Gong is prettier.

Heresy had several connotations in the New Testament that reflected its cultural milieu.  One of these was false teaching (2 Peter 2:1), teaching that departed with destructive consequences from the central tenets of the Christian faith.  The understanding of heresy as a falsification of Christian truth became the dominant one and is how heresy will be used in this essay.

While not denying that racism is characterized by sinful practices and attitudes, it is important for the church to make clear that “Christian” racism is theologically false; that is, it is a heresy. As a heresy racism denies four fundamental tenets of the Christian faith: creation, salvation, ecclesiology or the nature of the church and theology proper or the Christian doctrine of God.  The various movements that support racism from a so-called Christian or biblical perspective show all the characteristic cultish misuse of Scripture in support of their views.[1]

Creation. Genesis 1:26-31 states the essential biblical understanding of the human person as created in the image of God.  All other distinctions within humanity are strictly secondary. Therefore, human beings, regardless of their biological and cultural differences, are equally the image of God and deserve to be treated with the justice and dignity due to their nature.  In condemning sinful speech James 3:5 says, “With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.”

Heretical white racists claim that only whites are descendants of Adam and Eve.  Other races are actually separate species.  They have two ways of doing this.  Some claim that other races descend from beings created before Adam and so were not made in the image of God.  While one can believe in the existence of pre-Adamite beings without being a racist, the idea that these beings were non-Caucasian and that Adam and Eve were is not only dubious on several grounds but also lacks biblical support.

On the other hand, some argue state that Eve united sexually with Satan and that the child that she bore to him is the father of the non-white races.  According to this interpretation, the white race comes from the union of Adam and Eve.  Needless to say this position is unsupported by the Scriptures and represents a perversion of biblical history.

Whether one holds to these particular and peculiar defenses of racism, racism fundamentally denies that all men and women are equal as created in the image of God.  It is thus a heresy that denies the Christian doctrine of creation.

Salvation. Christianity teaches that the death of Christ on the cross is the means by which God deals with human sin and that all who trust in Christ are saved regardless of other human factors, including race or ethnicity.  For example, in the dispute about whether Gentiles should be admitted into the fellowship of Christians on the same footing as Jews, the Apostle Peter stated, “God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34) and “We believe that we (the Jews) will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they (Gentiles) will” (Acts 15:11).  Paul also wrote that “God shows no partiality” based upon whether one is a Jew or a Gentile (Romans 2:11), but that all “by grace are saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). In fact, Paul declares that with regard to salvation all of these human distinctions are as worthless as manure or garbage (Philippians 3:8).

The biblical view of salvation makes it impossible to include one’s racial identity or any other human factor as a necessary component in the forgiveness of sins.  The close theological connection between salvation and the biblical understanding of the church leads racists to deny biblical ecclesiology or the doctrine of the church as well.

Ecclesiology.  Because faith in the saving work of Christ is the basis for being a member of the church, God’s people, Paul asserts, “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11). The assertion that race is a category to be considered for membership in the body of Christ not only lacks biblical support, but it is also explicitly contradicted by the Scriptures.

Racist theology denies the nature of the church as God’s people from all races and nations. Being anti-Semitic they claim that present-day Jews are not the Jews of the Bible.  The Jews of the Bible were white.  The ten Northern tribes that were taken into captivity travelled to the Caucasus and eventually spread over northern Europe.  As the chosen people, they are heirs to the promises of God.  In other words, the people of God consist of the white race.  Having no historical basis, indeed contradicting much that we do know from the Bible and extra-biblical history, such unsubstantiated claims should be dismissed as an attempt to evade the clear teaching of Scripture of the equality in the church of all those who believe in Christ.

Theology Proper. Ultimately, racism is idolatrous because it creates a false god who favors a certain racial group instead of the God who shows no partiality.  It is actually a form of self-worship because its adherents exalt their own racial identity to the exclusion of other humans as the image of God.

Pastorally, the church needs not only to teach that racism is bad, but also that it is false. Clear biblical teaching that explains the fundamental Christian truths concerning creation, salvation, ecclesiology and God should expose racism as a destructive heresy.  As with any other heresy, racism’s teachings should be excluded and those who adhere to its heresy should be removed or placed under discipline until they repent of their false beliefs and practices.

[1] For a more detailed explanation of these movements an easy starting place is the Wikipedia article “Christian Identity.”

4 thoughts on “Racism Is a Heresy

  1. Biblically well-balanced, thoughtful, and succinct! Thank you, Bill.

    …And doesn’t the sanctification process in the believer also challenge us to trust God to root out our own unfounded presuppositions and biases toward other ways of thinking and acting, whether they be racially related or not?

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