The United States has been infected by the disease of racism from its very inception. In the pages ahead, we will take a brief tour of prejudice, hatred, and distrust on American soil. The tour will be short, and the places we visit are not by any means exhaustive, but along the way we will see much of the fruit of Darwin's garden.
But please remember that racism is a consequence of a cycle of distrust and hatred with many facets. So, while the effects of Darwinian thinking should not be underestimated, they are not the only cause of the racism we endure today. Long before Darwin's ideas, we find incidents like the Trail of Tears, when in 1838 the Cherokee Nation was forced, as part of the Indian Removal Act, to begin a migration of over 800 miles. (In the process, 4,000 men, women, and children of the 15,000-member Cherokee Nation died from hunger, disease, exhaustion, and hypothermia.)
At the central core of racism, we find the sinful hearts of men living in a fallen world. This fundamental problem has no earthly cure. There is no speech that can be given, no law that can be passed, and no publicity campaign that can solve it. Only the truth of God's Word combined with the strength of God's Holy Spirit living within us can bring us victory over this sin.
The concept of race has cultural implications that blur the truth. Rachel Anne Dolezal, a former civil rights activist, became nationally known for claiming to be a black woman while having no known black ancestry. Her slightly darker skin and curly hair made her claim believable.2 What makes her case unusual is that she did so by simply self-identifying herself this way, without genealogical study or even DNA results. Self-identification has become popularized recently in regard to sexual orientation, but in the past, family history was used to determine ethnicity and how people could refer to themselves in terms of "race." How did the United States develop a color-coded concept of race and a devaluating of people of darker skin tones? Steven Bradt in a Harvard Gazette article featuring the research of Harvard University psychologists helps us in understanding some of the historical confusion created by an erroneous concept of race. Brandt writes, "The centuries-old ‘one-drop rule' assigning minority status to mixed-race individuals appears to live on in our modern-day perception and categorization of people like Barack Obama, Tiger Woods, and Halle Berry."
Bradt further clarifies, "In the United States, the ‘one-drop rule'-also known as hypodescent-dates to a 1662 Virginia law on the treatment of mixed-race individuals. The legal notion of hypodescent has been upheld as recently as 1985, when a Louisiana court ruled that a woman with a black great-great-great-great-grandmother could not identify herself as ‘white' on her passport."
Such an untruthful concept of race has profound social and cultural implications even until today. Bradt quotes Sidanius, co-author of the research project, "One of the remarkable things about our research on hypodescent is what it tells us about the hierarchical nature of race relations in the United States. . . . Hypodescent against blacks remains a relatively powerful force within American society." Finally, Bradt writes that the co-authors "say their work reflects the cultural entrenchment of America's traditional racial hierarchy, which assigns the highest status to whites, followed by Asians, with Latinos and blacks at the bottom."3
Note the Darwinian racial hierarchy. The church is right to reject secular answers to spiritual problems. However, the church is wrong when it fails to teach and demonstrate biblical answers to the problems. While we proclaim a gospel for all people, our relationships and friendships, especially within the church, too often expose our lack of biblical diversity.
So, in the secular world we should not be surprised when racism rears its ugly head. We should not be surprised that federal governmental policies and local civil rights movements have not been able to suppress it entirely. When appropriate, we can heed the call to social action and to political activism that can aid us in suppressing racism.
Racism in the American Church, however, whether it stems from Darwinism or elsewhere, grows when the misinterpretation and misapplication of Scripture causes cultural division rather than biblical unity. To that end, much can be done. God's Word is "living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword" (Heb. 4:12). When that truth is interpreted properly and applied with passion, I see bright hope and optimism in the battle against the darkness of racist and evolutionary thinking.
For almost 50 years I have been passionately promoting reconciliation among various ethnic and cultural groups, especially within the Church. I am an African American, and my wife is "white." We have six children, four biological and two adopted. Through marriage, our family has increased its ethnic and national diversity. We have four grandchildren. Our 37-year-old son has been a quadriplegic since February 1998. I have served as president of a Bible college that is ethnically and culturally diverse. Twenty-four hours a day I live within a diverse environment, and I love it.
As I contribute to this book, I am concerned that you understand that Ken and I strive to base our views upon faithful and accurate biblical wisdom:
The challenge is that historically the Bible has been used by many to justify the slavery of African Americans! From the time this country was being established, this is what some of their arguments have sounded like:
Such thinking became the foundation for "white superiority" and segregation of the so-called "races." But while the Bible acknowledged and regulated slavery, there were some striking differences between race-based slavery and biblical instructions for believers. Neither the Old nor New Testaments attaches racial stigma to slaves. (For example, the Egyptian bondage of the children of Israel resulted from their number, not because of skin color.) Slavery in the Bible was very different from slavery in America.4 Still, slaveholders argued that the principle of slavery was justified for three basic reasons:
The debate within the Christian community over slavery led to splits within major denominations. Many of the splits left the more fundamental/evangelical groups supporting race-based slavery, while more liberal groups were abolitionists.5 For example, the issue of slavery divided the Baptists into two groups in 1845: Southern Baptists (who were pro-slavery) and American Baptists (who were abolitionists).6
Race-based slavery led to fractured relationships between "blacks" and "whites" within churches and denominations as well. This tension reached a peak one Sunday when African Americans were forbidden to pray in the presence of Caucasians. This event led to the founding of the historic Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The history of the church states:
Amid this dark period in our history, we must not forget the sparks of light that brightened the darkened sky like shooting stars. A monumental shift in governmental policy took place on January 1, 1863. When Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, it was a landmark that altered the course of racism in the United States. Due to a multiracial effort, slavery had been made illegal. This legal victory came at the cost of staining U.S. soil with the blood of its own sons and daughters and set the country in a new direction.
In honesty, however, the legal abolishment of slavery did little to unify the church across racial/ethnic lines.
It is very interesting to note that during this same season of history, Darwinian theories were beginning to make their way to American shores. Without the legal ability to enforce slavery, many people turned to the theories of Darwin to justify racism in its many forms. They began to use evolution as justification of their views that African Americans were an inferior "race" and a "sub-species" who were not really fully human and not deserving of fair and equal treatment. Jim Crow laws, for example, were often fueled by evolutionary ideas:
Jim Crow laws were laws that imposed racial segregation. They . . . sprouted up in the late nineteenth century after Reconstruction and lasted until the 1960s.
Prior to the enactment of Jim Crow laws, African Americans enjoyed some of the rights granted during Reconstruction. . . . However, rights dwindled after Reconstruction ended in 1877. By 1890, whites in the North and South became less supportive of civil rights and racial tensions began to flare. Additionally, several Supreme Court decisions overturned Reconstruction legislation by promoting racial segregation.
The Supreme Court . . . ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment did not prohibit individuals and private organizations from discriminating on the basis of race. However, it was the Supreme Court's decision in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) that led the way to racial segregation.
In 1896 the Supreme Court . . . held that "separate but equal" accommodations did not violate . . . rights. . . . The Court provided further support for separate accommodations when it ruled . . . that separate schools were valid even if comparable schools for blacks were not available.
Southern states passed laws that restricted African Americans access to schools, restaurants, hospitals, and public places. . . . Laws were enacted that restricted all aspects of life and varied from state to state.8
The laws built an official government system of segregation between those of differing skin shade. Here are just a few examples:
The South became a checkerboard of "black" and "white" as African Americans were segregated from Caucasians on public transportation, in schools, and in the church. Adult males were even prevented from exercising the right to vote. By 1910, the Jim Crow way of life was fully established in every state in the former Confederacy. This legitimized and further institutionalized racism against African Americans.
But this wasn't just a governmental, civic problem. The fundamental/evangelical church was foundering in this sea of racism, and some of these struggles continue today. For example, a number of both Old Testament and New Testament Scriptures have been used to say that God forbids interracial marriage. These theories have been taught as truth in many Christian groups, and until fairly recently, it was even taught at a respected Christian university. I have sought to examine a number of these biblical texts within their context in my book Prejudice and the People of God.9
Due to beliefs that interracial marriage was at worst sin, and at best unwise, many fundamental/evangelical leaders supported segregated communities and segregated churches. In 1956, evangelist John R. Rice expressed the following thoughts:
In 1961, M.R. Dehaan expressed his view about interracial marriage with these words:
It should be acknowledged that Rice and DeHaan were seeking to deal with cultural realities of their day. Both expressed concern about oppression of African Americans, but they also supported, at least for their time, the segregation of the so-called human "races."
During this time, African Americans were subjected to great injustices in the land of the free. From Jim Crow laws to scientific experimentation, African Americans were denied many of their basic rights as United States citizens and given little of the respect they deserved as human beings.
This caused a growing mistrust between African Americans and the mainstream fundamental/evangelical Christians. While the African Americans suffered and struggled, the Church was largely silent and indifferent to their plight. The reaction of African Americans to the outright racism and silence was predictable. As the Bible says: "A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city, and contentions are like the bars of a citadel" (Prov. 18:19).
Some became hostile against the Bible and Christianity. The Black Muslim leader, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, in Message to the Blackman proclaimed:
Muhammad further asserts, "The Holy Qur-an is a book which white Christianity never has and probably never will introduce to the so-called Negroes. They love for you to read the book (Bible) which they have fixed for you and desire that you never be able to understand it."14
Many African-American believers began to deeply distrust the biblical scholarship of their Caucasian brothers and sisters. But some, rather than throwing out the Bible, were driven to search the Scriptures for themselves, to see what it said about the so-called "races" and the freedom and affirmation that the Scriptures proclaim for all human beings.
Motivated by a combination of frustration regarding current conditions and a dream for a different future, they began to unite and take their cause to the streets.
The rays of the Alabama sun had already begun to heat the pavement beneath the feet of the marchers when they started to move. The air, thick with southern humidity, was filled with a mixture of joy, celebration, and defiance. Five hundred started the march that day. Five hundred had had enough-enough of the intimidation, enough of the discrimination, enough of being treated as sub-human second-class citizens in a country that claimed to be free and equal.
They carried no weapons except the determination in their hearts. They asked for nothing special; they sought only to proclaim the truth that all men had been created equal. They wanted only to claim the right they had to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In particular, as legal citizens of the greatest democracy on the planet, they were moving toward the capital of their state, seeking only the right to vote.
But that day, they had moved too far. Seeking to bridge the gap between their rights as human beings and the rampant discrimination that encompassed their families, they pushed beyond what the oppressors would tolerate. Historians remember that day as "Bloody Sunday." At Edmund Pettus Bridge, the billy clubs, tear gas, and bullwhips of state and local law men fell upon the defenseless marchers. That Sunday, the blood flowed, the bone was broken, and the flesh was ripped and tattered. . . . On that day, the marchers encountered "a bridge too far," a racial canyon that could not be crossed due to a political and judicial system designed to deny certain citizens their constitutional rights because of the shade of their skin.
The bridge where defeat was experienced still stood waiting for the next attempt to cross. On March 21, just two weeks later, 3,200 marchers again began to move through the Alabama morning. By the time they reached the capital, their singing ranks had swelled to over 25,000. On August 6, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to overcome legal barriers that prevented African Americans from exercising their right to vote.
The climax of the struggle against Jim Crow laws and discrimination was the passage of the Civil Rights Act. With the stroke of a pen, legalized segregation and discrimination became history. Not long after, so-called "interracial marriages" were illegal in many states until the Supreme Court declared such legal restrictions to be unconstitutional in 1967 in the case of Loving v. Commonwealth of Virginia.
But a mere change of law never means a change of heart.
Many believed that with the signing of the Civil Rights Act the bridge had been crossed and racial wounds had been healed. Clearly, the roots of racism go deeper than the laws of the land-even in the Church. Some African Americans who acknowledge the oppression and exploitation of African Americans by Caucasian Christians express their hostility more at "white" scholarship than the Bible and Christianity as a whole. Latta R. Thomas explains:
To understand this wave of Black hostility toward the Bible, one needs to give deep thought to the fact that for several centuries in Western countries the Bible has been used - and to a degree still is - as an instrument for supporting Black oppression and exploitation.
[T]o reach the minds and hearts of Black people in America . . . who have some honest doubts and suspicions due to the ways the Bible has been misinterpreted and manipulated to support Black oppression. Black people must find out for themselves . . . what the Bible is really about. For it is a book in which it is recorded that the God and Sovereign of all history is always in the business of creating and freeing a people to clear the earth of injustice, bigotry, hatred, human slavery, political corruption, tyranny, sin, illness, and poverty.15
Thomas argued that it was necessary to investigate biblical themes that address the plight of many blacks. Such an emphasis could not be trusted to "white" scholars. Distrust of "white" leaders and scholars was voiced by other "black" leaders such as James H. Cone, who wrote:
A "white" and "black" scholarship around biblical themes most advantageous to respective groups was emerging. As a prominent Christian hiphop artist, Lecrae's decision to follow this trend drew a lot of attention in the news.17 As God's Word, rather than the wisdom of men, is planted in the souls of men and women, the seeds of truth begin to take root and grow.
True and lasting cultural change can occur when a proper theology is accepted by all.
During his speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Senator Barak Obama stated, "There is not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America."18 He became the 44th President of the United States from January 20, 2009, to January 20, 2017-the first person of darker skin to assume the presidency. On November 4, 2008, during his acceptance speech, President Obama, before a massive, diverse, joyous, and tearful crowd, said that although it was a long time coming, change had come to America. Yes, part of the change that has come was the realization of the dream that no longer would we be judged by the color of our skin but rather by the content of our character.
A hopeful President Obama stated, "Americans . . . sent a message to the world . . . we are and always will be the United States of America."19 Although President Obama has walked across the chasm that separates people by virtue of the color of one's skin, on the bridge of political change we are still dealing with the infectious disease of sin that resides in the hearts of all fallen humankind!
Up to 2019 we remained divided, not united. We have witnessed the birth of Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, White Lives Matter, All Lives Matter, as accusations of police brutality against African American males filled breaking news headlines for months. Likewise, immigration issues and border security discussions are heated and divisive. The dream of a united America has rapidly become a nightmare of a divided America. From social media to personal contact, it is rare to observe respectful conversations leading to united efforts to move forward, even within the church.
As a new generation of believers begins to lead the church, we are seeing definitive progress, but we still struggle with living together. On the cover of a series of reprinted Indianapolis Star articles from February 21–28, 1993, entitled "Blacks & Whites: Can We All Get Along?" is the following quote: "There aren't any race relations. We are two different communities in two different worlds that have hardly anything to do with each other."20 In 1997, Tom Brokaw hosted a powerful documentary on Dateline NBC entitled "Why Can't We Live Together?" Brokaw looked at race relations and explained the hidden realities of racial separation in America's suburbs. Still today, racial extremists' faulty interpretation of Scripture is used to justify their racism, just as Darwin used faulty interpretation of scientific fact to justify evolution. Various Christian groups still claim that the Bible supports white superiority and segregation. Extreme examples include the Ku Klux Klan and the Kingdom Identity.
Julian Bond, an African American civil rights leader, said, "For many years, the KKK quite literally could get away with murder. The Ku Klux Klan was an instrument of fear, and black people, Jews, and even ‘white' civil rights workers knew that the fear was intended to control us, to keep things as they had been in the South through slavery, and after that ended, through Jim Crow. This fear of the Klan was very real, because for a long time the Klan had the power of Southern society on their side."21
While the laws of the land have changed, the heart of the Klan has not, and it continues to misuse the Holy Word of God to support its claims.
The Christian Identity Movement is a white supremacist and religious group that shares much of the Ku Klux Klan ideology. In the doctrinal statement of the Kingdom Identity Ministries (which sounds very fundamental/evangelical), the group affirms the authority of Scripture, the Trinity, salvation by grace, and other theological points. A closer look, however, reveals a deadly virus when the group addresses the issue of race:
Their use of the Bible and Christian terms weaves a deceptive web that binds many into racist attitudes and segregationist actions. The Christian Research Journal reported:
The article went so far as to define the group as:
Note that they affirm special creation and refuse to bow to the culture of secular pluralism and dare to stand on Scripture. The problem, however, is that they use the Bible to try to support their pre-existing discriminatory and racist beliefs. The verses they use to "prove" their position are either taken out of context or severely misinterpreted.
While some creationists are racist in spite of the biblical evidence, controversy within the scientific community shows how racism is inherent in evolutionary thought, and even the most respected of scientists are not immune. Geneticist Dr. James Watson, who with Dr. Francis Crick worked out the structure of DNA (a remarkable achievement for which he was awarded a Nobel Prize) is one such scientist. During his visit to Britain in October 2007, Dr. Watson created a storm when he made comments on genetics that contained connotations of racism.26 That Watson is an expert geneticist is beyond doubt. Where he comes unstuck is in his reliance on the belief of evolution. The remark that offended was this:
This statement was made in the context of his implication that those of African extraction are less intelligent than those of European extraction. His views have been rightly condemned by other evolutionary scientists. In the same newspaper article, Professor Steven Rose of the Open University, said, "This is Watson at his most scandalous. . . . If he knew the literature in the subject he would know he was out of his depth scientifically, quite apart from socially and politically."
Most evolutionists would share Rose's non-racist views and would be equally shocked by Watson. Nevertheless, it is only fair to point out that Watson is actually being more consistent with evolutionary belief than Rose. As soon as one believes that human beings have evolved from creatures of lesser intelligence, it is an easy corollary to assume that some people groups are more evolved than others. Watson repeated these views in the newspaper The Independent on October 19, 2007, while protesting that this was not a comment on the "inferiority or superiority" of any people group. Yet we contend that a comment on the supposed intelligence levels of different people groups is clearly a value judgment.
Contrary to the belief of evolutionists, there is only one race-Adam's race. And Adam's race includes "black" people and "white" people-all human beings everywhere.
On the legal front, important steps have been taken in the right direction but not always. An article in the Indianapolis Star ran the headline "Law to Segregate Omaha Schools Divides Nebraska." It went on to explain:
Though we share a common faith, the shade of our skin and the contours of our face still lead us to division and disunity.
The virus of religious racism needs a strong antibiotic immediately. Should extreme groups like the KKK be completely eradicated, the Church would still be plagued with the disease of racism. Groups like the Kingdom Identity do not represent mainstream fundamental/evangelical thinking (although there is a resurgence movement among them).29
There still persists an "us versus them" mentality, and the vast majority of churches are still segregated. Much of the fundamental/evangelical church still struggles with trusting relationships. Despite the proper biblical teaching of humanity's unity in the first Adam and Christians' unity in the Last Adam, we still see too few authentic relationships cross ethnic lines. Furthermore, materials addressing interracial relationships, including marriage, are scarce! Much of our diversity agenda can be condensed to "How I can get my share of the American dream and some for my people?" Such an attitude is somewhat understandable as long as there remain grave and obvious disparities along cultural and ethnic lines.
Rather than beginning with the truths and commands of Scripture (which are clear and pointed regarding our relationships with our fellow human beings), the Church has been sucked into the depravity of worldly thinking when it comes to our relationships with those who look different than us. Until we are willing to embrace the Word of God as truth, beginning from Genesis chapter 1, we will be continually drawn into the philosophies and hatred of the world system.
The challenge facing today's Church is to inject the healing serum of truth into the body of Christ. This involves not only the proper interpretation of Scripture (many have already crossed that bridge) but living out the scriptural revelation of a diverse body united in Christ. The deep wounds of racial conflict that still persist can only be healed by the application of biblical principles regarding grace, love, peace, and forgiveness.
Race relations are like a perpetual wound that some argue is worsening rather than healing. Indeed, eradication of the disease has proven to be an elusive dream. Racism in the United States has moved from a deadly epidemic to a serious, but stable, disease. Compared to recent ethnic wars, genocide, and ethnic cleansing throughout the world, the United States is better off than many countries in addressing diversity. Yes, there are some positives we must acknowledge:
Many are pregnant with vision for multicultural churches and ministries. Crossroads Bible College started Crossroads Bible Church in 2001 as an extension of our mission statement: Training Christian Leaders to Reach a Multiethnic Urban World for Christ. We believe that God has a desire for churches that represent the biblical diversity of heaven. Crossroads Bible Church is living out the college mission with ethnic, economic, educational, and generational diversity within a biblical moral foundation.
Other organizations are doing similar things. The international Christian men's movement, Promise Keepers, states, "A promise keeper is committed to reaching beyond any racial and denominational barriers to demonstrate the power of biblical unity." The late Ken Hutcherson and the Antioch Global Network committed to planting multiethnic churches. Numerous denominations and fellowships are seeking to address the racial divide. Out of our history, great hope is emerging.
But let there be no doubt, widespread change and reconciliation begins with the heart-a single heart-your heart. Societal progress will come as individuals from both sides cross the bridge in a new unity with a new understanding of God's intent. One such individual is Tim Streett, who allowed the truth of God's Word and the power of His Spirit to lead him across the bridge in spite of deep personal tragedy:
At fifteen years old I witnessed the murder of my father in a robbery by three men. . . men of a different color than me. Dad was a chaplain in the Army and had raised me to believe in the power of God to change lives and redeem them. There were many rough times over the next twenty years, but looking back, the hand of God was clearly at work, even when I wasn't paying attention to Him. Eventually God led me into the ministry and to a work focused on Reconciliation. While I could talk about it, I didn't really know what that meant until God asked me to take a step of faith and obedience that put me way outside my comfort zone.
Twenty years after my father's death, I stood at the gates of a maximum-security prison. On the other side of those gates was the man who drove the car the night my father was killed. I had written to all three men involved, but Don was the only one that responded and accepted my offer of a visit. As one set of gates closed behind me and another set in front began to open, I looked down at my shoes. My mind was flooded with Scripture and the Lord said to me that I was following in His footsteps for the first time. Through the miraculous working of the Holy Spirit in the years since, Don is now out of prison, married, and working to help other ex-offenders transition successfully back into society.
I know that the Lord calls us to "Go" and to go where we may not want to. But He blesses us in our obedience and in so doing brings glory and honor to His name.30
Where is your heart in regard to racism, Darwinism, and making a change in this world? Change is coming, but only you can do your part, only you can build bridges of unity, understanding, and respect with those around you. Just like the marchers experienced in 1965, you might face serious obstacles and opposition. But in the chapters ahead, Ken and I will give life-changing information and ideas that, if you are willing, will lead you to take definitive action. We will investigate some of the Scriptures that clearly paint a worldview radically different than the secular/Darwinist view that has fueled so much racism in the past. We will show you how this biblical worldview is strongly supported by the best and most up-todate scientific facts.
We have much to learn from our history, but our history is in the past. The time to look forward is now. Each of us must act within the sphere God has given us and not wait for someone else to change the system. And whether in personal actions or systemic change, we must look to the Cross of Christ to bridge the racial gap.