Making Progress Against Racism

By Phillip G. Kayser · 4/18/1999

Suggestions on Where We Could Make Progress On Racial Reconciliation.

Outline for Seminar for the Omaha Racial Reconciliation Pastor's Group.[1]

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another

– Prov. 27:17

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds

– Heb. 10:24

love in the truth

– 2 John 1

walk in the truth

– 2 John 3


My heart's desire is to see true unity in the body. I am very appreciative of the efforts toward racial reconciliation being done by Abide Network, church leaders, lay people and various organizations.[2] I am convinced that we have the same goals (see Affirmations sheet) even though we might have differences on how to achieve that. Racism is a sin and all Christians and all churches should seek to work at

  • opposing racism on the civil, church and individual levels

  • helping those afflicted by racism

  • modeling what unity and equality in Christ is all about

Presuppositions from which my viewpoints arise

(and which help to explain disagreements we might have on approaches to eliminating racism).

I agree with brother Raleigh Washington that "the problem is not skin; the problem is sin." It is my opinion that some of the attempts at promoting racial reconciliation unwittingly fall into the error of seeing the problem as skin rather than sin, and consequently frustrate the godly goal we are seeking to achieve.

Scripture alone must determine what is sin, whether the sin is racism, chauvinism, discrimination, or something else - and Scripture is adequate for this purpose (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Any addition to God's law is legalism which Scripture rejects (Matt. 15:1-20; Mark 7:1-23; Colossians 2:20-23). Sincere people at times unwittingly add to Scripture and thus bind consiences where they ought not to be bound. Sincere people also at times contradict Scripture in the name of compassion.

Scripture alone can determine what is a crime, and what penalty a crime may have (Heb. 2:2) since "there is one Lawgiver" (James 4:12), "the only Potentate, King of kings and Lord of lords" (1 Tim. 6:15). Biblical penalties continue to stand as the perfect definition of justice (Heb. 2:2; 1 Tim. 1:8-10; Rom. 13:1-5;etc.) A government official must administer God's justice (Romans 13), not his own. I believe there are racial sins which Scripture makes criminal and we have not, and I believe there are racial sins which we have criminalized which Scripture does not.

In Scripture, not all sins are crimes punishable by the state. For example, laziness, prayerlessness, unkind words, overeating and lustful thoughts are not crimes punishable by the state, but they are indeed sins.

A crime is by definition a sin which has a civil penalty attached to it in Scripture. (Scripture teaches a limited role for government.). A civil responsibility is one which Scripture says is a responsibility.

The Bible says that we may not take away even one tittle of the law till heaven and earth pass away (Matthew 5:17-19 ) nor may we add to the law (Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32).

The church is called upon to discipline members who engage in racist behavior if they do not repent (Matt. 18:15-20). Even if the state refuses to implement Biblical justice, there is no excuse for the church failing to do so. Furthermore, brother should not take brother to a secular court (1 Corinthians 6:1-7), but should seek to settle it within the church.

Problem areas that need to be discussed

I believe sincere people (both black and white) violate some of the above principles in their zeal to promote healing and compassion.

In the name of "love" and "tolerance," many churches fail to take the sin of racism as seriously as they should. Reconciliation takes precedence over worship according to Jesus (Matthew 5:23-24), and therefore He commanded us to follow specific steps whether I am at fault (Matthew 5:21-24) or the other person is at fault (Matthew 18:15-20). This process finally ends in excommunication if there is no repentance because such attitudes are inconsistent with our Christian faith (Matt. 18:17). If the church was serious about discipline, there might be a lot less racism.

People (of various colors and on different continents) have tried to justify racism from the Old Testament. This is unjustified for the following reasons:

Racism was clearly and repeatedly condemned in the Old Testament

You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother. You shall not abhor an Egyptian, because you were an alien in his land.

– Deut. 23:7

Cursed is the one who perverts justice due the stranger, the fatherless, and widow." And all the people shall say, 'Amen!'

– Deut. 27:19

Summary: Racists were under God's indignation (Mal. 3:5) and judgment (Ezek. 22:7,29-31). The one who was a stranger, alien or sojourner was to receive equal protection under the law (Ex. 12:49; Lev. 24:22; Numb. 15:16). Private citizens and the church were commanded to care for and sustain strangers (Deut. 24:20). They were not to vex or oppress them (Ex. 22:21), but were commanded to love (Deut. 10:19), relieve (Lev. 25:35), protect (Ex. 23:9) and satisfy (Deut. 14:29) the stranger and alien. He was to get special attention during times of need (Lev. 23:22; Deut. 24:17-19) and was to share fully in the blessings that God poured out on the church (Deut. 14:29; 16:11-14). We need to remember that when Christ gave the parable of the Good Samaritan, He was instructing Old Covenant people in how they were failing to live out the Old Testament!!

It needs to be remembered that non Jews were outside the church until they became Jews

In the Old Testament, to be a foreigner from Israel was to be a foreigner from God.

remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.

– Eph. 2:12

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household,

– Eph. 2:19

The call to separation from unbelief is the same today as it was then

Come out from among them and be separate, says the LORD. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.

– 2 Cor. 6:17

Note that this is a quote from the Old Testament.

...undefiled, separate from sinners.

– Heb. 7:26

Notice how similar the New Testament calls to separate from apostate religious teachers are to the Old Testament calls to separate from religious paganism

  • "avoid them" (Rom. 16:17)
  • "from such withdraw yourself" (1 Tim. 6:3-5)
  • "and from such people turn away" (2 Tim. 3:5)
  • "do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds" (2 John 10-11)
  • "expose them" (Eph. 5:11)
  • Identify them by name (1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 1:15; 4:14)
  • "come out from among them and be separate" (2 Cor. 6:4-18)
  • a pastor should "rebuke them sharply" (Tit. 1:13)
  • "do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?" (1 Cor. 5:6)
  • "Note that person and do not keep company with him" (2 Thes. 3:14)
  • "put away from yourselves that wicked person" (1 Cor. 5:13)

Within the church, descendants of Abraham and non-descendants were on an equal footing.

In the face of discrimination by others, God defended Moses for his marriage to an Ethiopian (Numb. 12:1ff.). Is it likely that the same God and the same man Moses would institutionalize racism? This is not logical.

God allowed for racial intermarriage in the cases of Rahab, Ruth and Uriah because these people became believers. Gentiles frequently "became Jews" (Esther 8:17) (= became believers) showing that true Jewishness was religious more than ethnic. Unbelieving Jews were said to be Gentiles in both the OT (Isaiah 1:10; Ezek. 16:46,48,49,53,55,56; etc.) and the NT (Rev. 11:8; Rom. 2:28-29; 9:6-7; Rev. 2:9). "Israel" was predominantly Jewish but also included those from the "mixed multitude" (Ex. 12:38; Numb. 11:4), Midianites (Numb. 10:29-32 with Judges 1:16; 4:11), Egptians (Lev. 24:10) and Gibeonites (2 Sam. 21:1-9). Intermarriage was only forbidden if the person held to a non-Jewish faith (Ezra 9-10; Neh. 13:23ff).

Racism developed as people applied religious separation to ethnic separation. Thus they criticized Moses' Ethiopian wife.

Outside the church, aliens and foreigners were to be treated with love and respect

Equal justice and opportunity before the law (see "racism was clearly and repeatedly condemned in the Old Testament" above, and "In the political realm" below).

The command that we love those racially different (even if unbeliever)

The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.

– Lev. 19:34

He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing.

– Deut. 10:18

"And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt."

– Deut. 10:19

They were even to love their enemies and not be overcome by reverse prejudice:

If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty give him water to drink.

– Prov. 25:21

If you meet your enemy's ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again. If you see the dokey of one who hates you lying under its burden, and you would refrain from helping it, you shall surely help him with it.

– Exodus 23:4-5

You shall not take vengeance nor bear a grudge.

– Lev. 19:18

I believe the statement that "all American whites are racist to some degree" is itself a racist statement since it judges by the color of one's skin rather than by one's actions

In saying this I am not denying the need for whites (and blacks) to confess the racial sins of the bride of Christ or of our nation since we are all covenantally related to church and state. (I, for example, confess the bride's apathy, participation in abortion, racism, etc. even though I may not be personally guilty.) But I reject the notion that I am personally a racist simply because I am white. That is judging me on the basis of my skin, not my sin.

In my mind that trivializes the seriousness of racism and gives whites an "out" for their sin.

Sin is an act of the will (whether individual or corporate), not a product of genetics. We are not responsible for our genes, though we are responsible for the sins we commit.

This attitude could ironically lead some whites to give up pursuing reconciliation since it becomes definitionally impossible to stop being racist (one can't change the color of one's skin). 1 Corinthians 10:13 says that whites can't use the excuse, "I can't help it. I'm made that way." Paul says that there is always a way of escape from sin.

This could ironically lead some whites to justify their racism since responsibility is removed from their actions (which they can do something about) to their race (which they can't do anything about).

Inducing guilt is a means of control. This viewpoint gives whites a helpless feeling and builds a wall of division that can't be torn down. Reconciliation becomes definitionally impossible.

In the political realm

Opposition to government imposed affirmative action should not be construed as racism. (Note that some take a similar approach to affirmative action in the Affirmations that does not violate the Biblical principles below.)

Scripture indicates that preferential treatment may not be given to anyone by the government. Government is not an agent of mercy, but of justice. Magistrates were warned "your eye shall not pity" (Deut. 19:21) and were instructed to "judge the people fairly... do not... show partiality... follow justice and justice alone." (Deut. 16:18-20). I believe the church is an agent of mercy, but the state needs to be color blind, social blind and economic blind. It must administer justice irrespective of who is before it.

The poor were not to be favored

...and do not show favoritism to a poor man in his lawsuit.

– Exod. 23:3

Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.

– Lev. 19:15

The rich were not to be favored

Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits.

– Exodus 23:6

The majority was not to be favored

Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd.

– Exodus 23:2

an Israelite could not be favored over a person of another race

Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt.

– Exodus 23:9

And I charged your judges at that time: Hear the disputes between your brothers and judge fairly, whether the case is between brother Israelites or between one of them and an alien. Do not show partiality in judging...

– Deut. 1:16

no preferential treatment for the "unempowered"

Do not show partiality in judging; hear both small and great alike. Do not be afraid of any man, for judgment belongs to God.

– Deut. 1:17

Cursed is the man who withholds justice from the alien, the fatherless or the widow.

– Deut. 27:19

The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the alien, denying them justice.

– Ezek. 22:29

There are many blacks and whites who are opposed to affirmative action because we believe it violates a "color blind" justice in government. Indeed, there are many scholars both black and white who believe that government mandated preferential treatment for minorites actually promotes racism and unjust discrimination. See for example:

  • Charles Murray, "Affirmative Racism: How Preferential Treatment Works Against Blacks," in The New Republic (December 31, 1984), pp. 18-23.

  • Thomas Sowell, Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality? (New York: William Morrow and Co., 1984).

  • Thomas Sowell, Black Education: Myths and Tragedies (New York: David McKay Co., 1972).

  • Walter E. Williams, The State Against Blacks (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1982).

  • J.A. Parker, ed. The Lincoln Review (a quarterly black journal published by The Lincoln Institute for Research and Education, 1735 DeSales Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036).

It is often thought that opposition to welfare is racist or at least prejudiced against the poor. But the reason for my opposition to welfare has nothing to do with racism. It is the belief that the Bible does not allow the government to be involved in welfare. Government messes up when it is involved in that for which it was not created. The church is God's welfare tool.

In the philosophical realm

In college I was taught that to insist on logic is imposing Western culture on other cultures. But I believe all the rules of logic are given by God in Scripture and reflect the image of God in man. In trying to be faithful to Scripture by thinking logically, I should not be labelled as Colonialist or ethnocentric. I am Biblocentric and theocentric.

In the cultural realm.

It has been expressed to me that my theological view that women should not be pastors is the same kind of discrimination involved in racism. I disagree. I am convinced by Scripture that women cannot be pastors (1 Cor. 14:34-35; 1 Tim. 2:11,12; 3:2). Though they are equal before God, God has given them different roles.

In summary, we will be able to progress much faster if we talk about and work on the things which are truly racist, and refrain from name calling on the areas which Scripture does not call racism.

Appendix: Affirmations and Denials On Racism

Taken from the Christian Worldview of Family and Helping the Hurting.[3]

Number 35

We affirm that all humanity is created in the image of God and must be treated accordingly; that God will fulfill His purposes through people of different races and cultures; that racial favoritism and prejudice are sinful and abhorrent to God, causing great human deprivation and suffering; and that the Church has a special responsibility to teach and support the Biblical principle of impartiality and to take the initiative to eliminate racial favoritism, including existing laws and traditions.

We deny that the Bible condones any form of racial prejudice or teaches that any race was or is of less worth or dignity than any other race.

Number 36

We affirm that racial prejudice should be openly admitted and renounced, and that vicarious repentance and restitution should be made by all Christians for present sins and the sins of their forefathers.

We deny that racial prejudice will disappear of its own accord, and that it can be dealt with behind closed doors.

Number 37

We affirm that racial prejudice exists within systems of employment, housing, financial and lending practices, government, education, and business.

We deny that the Church has exerted unified, consistent, or effective assistance to those suffering from prejudices, and that most of society’s leaders have initiated significant efforts to alleviate social iniquities.

Number 38

We affirm that in Christ there is only one Church, and that God desires Christians to take the gospel to people of different races, cultures, and heritages, uniting them in Christ.

We deny that there is any justification or excuse for the existence of racism in the Body of Christ.

Number 39

We affirm that black Christians, as well as white Christians, have a responsibility to reconcile the division between blacks and whites and among black Christian families and nations, and that Jesus Christ can bridge the gap between races in the Body of Christ.

We deny that the white Church bears total responsibility for bridging racial gaps.

Number 40

We affirm that Christian media leaders must repent of and make restitution for racist policies, and that they must make a serious effort to reach the minority communities and to seek minority ministers and leaders to stir up their communities with the gospel.

We deny that restitution, particularly in the form of providing reduced rates, time, program development, television equipment, and jobs in all media, has been made, and that minorities are unable to produce quality programming and write substantial material to stir up their communities to revival.

Number 41

We affirm that present leaders in minority communities who put politics first renege on their spiritual and primary responsibility to lead their communities to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and to make disciples of their communities under His lordship.

We deny that political action alone can bring justice and peace to minority and racial relations.

  1. These notes are presented as is. They were distributed at a racial reconciliation meeting at which I was a presenter.

  2. See the attached affirmations and denials by the Coalition on Revival. These are affirmations related to the sin of racism that I believe we should be able to make without hesitation. They include statements of what actions individuals, churches and governments can take to stop racism.

  3. From book 9 in the Christian Coalition's Foundations series -