Christianity and Racism

Christianity and Racism
The April 2018 issue of National Geographic is a special issue on race. The history of Christianity and racism has been very bad, and that is unfortunate for many reasons. The most fundamental reason is that it contradicts everything the Bible teaches. The history of science has been just as bad as the Christian denominations in promoting racism and slavery.

Some have called Dr. Samuel George Morton “the father of racism” because he released studies of the skulls of various racial groups and related intelligence to brain size. Morton claimed that there were five races and that they varied in intelligence with Caucasians being the most intelligent, followed by Mongolians, southeast Asians, native Americans, and Ethiopians in that order. When Morton died in 1851, the Charleston Medical Journal praised him for “giving to the negro his true position as an inferior race.”

Such labeling and poor scientific reasoning contradict all the Bible says about humans. If we all came from Adam and Eve, then obviously we are all created in the image of God and are of equal value. The flood of Noah would have wiped out whatever major variations there might have been in human genes. The reason races exist is because God designed humans to live all over the Earth. Major racial criteria such as skin color, physical structure, and hair are features built into our DNA to allow for adaptation to climatic conditions.

The divisions of humans in the Old Testament were not due to physical differences. Joseph was an Israelite, but became a ruler in Egypt, as did Moses. The things that caused national divisions and conflict were over lifestyles, moral choices, and worship. The separation between the Jews and Samaritans is spelled out in John chapter 4. The Samaritan woman was amazed that Jesus would talk to her (see verse 9) and his disciples also were also amazed (see verse 27). The thing that separated the Jews and the Samaritans were the religious histories of the two cultures.

Christianity and racism should never be connected. The Christian perspective is that all humans are created in the image of God and have equal value. Acts 17:26 tells us that we are all “of one blood for to dwell in the face of the earth.” Galatians 3:28 tells us, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” It is sad that people who claimed to be Christians rejected the clear biblical mandate that we are all equal in God’s sight.

Atheists and skeptics will use the National Geographic article to denigrate Christianity, but the fact is that Christianity contradicts racism. A Christian trying to follow God’s word cannot endorse everything that people claiming to be Christians have done in the past. Christ opposed human-created divisions and prayed that His followers would be united (John 17: 20-21). True Christianity and racism are not compatible.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Human Species and Racial Differences

Human Species and Racial Differences
One of the oldest controversies among anthropologists is over whether a “splitter” view or a “lumper” view is the most accurate description of human history. As scientists study ancient fossils, they have to determine whether they should be split into different species of hominids or lumped into races of one human species. One of the famous splitters was Louis Leakey who attached a new name to every find he made. Because of his long and productive life in studying the fossils of Africa his names have stayed around for a long time.

Other anthropologists have suggested that many of the specimens with unique names were actually just racial variations. Races can look very different and yet still be one species. There is just one human species. Looking at the skeletal remains of a Pygmy and a Swede, one might conclude that they are two different species, but they are fertile with one another, and they are one species. Racial characteristics are usually related to climate. Skin color is related to how close to or how far from the equator ones’ ancestors have lived. Lighter skin color can absorb more vitamin D from limited sunlight, and dark skin gives greater protection from the harmful rays of the Sun.

All of this has been getting attention recently as scientists study the DNA of the remains of various humans. The London Natural History Museum has just released a study of the DNA of the so-called “Cheddar Man”–a human skeleton discovered in Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, England, in 1903. The study suggests that this person had dark skin, blue eyes, and curly hair. The theory is that the British landmass was connected to continental Europe and that humans migrated into the area with some of them coming all the way from Africa.

The Bible makes it clear that there is one human species. The apostle Paul said in Acts 17:26 God “has made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on the face of the Earth.” What distinguishes humans as a species is that God created us in His image which gives us the ability to worship and have creativity and a concept of self. Our physical characteristics which identify us racially are simply functions of genetic heritage and the environment in which we live. Racial prejudice comes from ignorance, and Christians should be leaders in demanding equality for all people.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Different Shades of Brown

Different Shades of Brown
Racial prejudice based on skin color is a function of ignorance. I am amazed that promoters of violence against black-skinned people have daughters who are using tanning booths to get darker. There is no inferior race, and there are no different species of humans. Acts 17:26 tells us that God “has made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth…” We are all just different shades of brown.

Many years ago the preacher of the Central Church of Christ in Birmingham, Alabama, invited me to participate in a television panel discussion. The format was a call-in where callers could ask questions for the panel to answer. On the panel with me was the black president of a small African-American college in East Texas.

The discussion took place during the time of racial strife in Birmingham. A caller asked if black people were evolved apes and white people were created by God in His image. I responded by pointing out that apes and white people have more features in common than apes and black people. This includes hair texture, jaw shape, skull shape, and even skin color when you look under the hair. This produced some antagonism from our host but was followed by the question of why black people are black and white people are white.

I took my hand and laid it on a white sheet of paper and asked if I was really white? The answer, of course, was that I wasn’t white like the paper. I was light brown. Then I asked my black friend to lay his hand on the same sheet of paper, and I asked if he was really black? The answer was obvious. He was just a darker shade of brown. I then made the point that we are all just different shades of brown, and we are all equally created in God’s image.

My black friend leaned over and whispered in my ear as we looked into some rather hostile people at the TV station. He said, “Ain’t neither one of us getting out of here alive.” I am glad to say that we did.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Racism Exhibit at Musee de l’Homme

Racism Must End
A new exhibit has opened at the Musee de l’Homme (French for “Museum of Man”) in Paris. The exhibit is titled “Us and Them” and attempts to explore the science of racism and prejudice. It’s an interactive exhibit that invites visitors to test their own prejudices. Visitors are asked to choose who they would sit next to in an airport lounge using different words to give the options. The exhibit presents the history of racism and the genetic, biological data showing there is no scientific justification for racism.

With the influx of refugees into Europe and immigration in the United States, this is an important issue. The exhibit is needed because all prejudice is the product of ignorance. The only system on planet Earth that is truly void of racial prejudice is Christianity. However, that is not what history shows. People have done horrible racial violence using the name of Christianity including the Ku Klux Klan, the Crusades, slavery, and the persecution of racial minorities in the United States throughout our history.

Racism contradicts the very heart of Christianity, but Christians have failed to live up to their own standards. Atheists continue to use this fact as a means of denigrating Christianity. I remember when I was a very young child and my father wakened me from sleep one night when we lived in Talladega, Alabama. He dragged me to the front window of our house which was on the campus of Talladega State Teacher’s College–an all-black college at that time. He pointed to a burning cross in our front yard. My father was one of two white professors at the school, and as he pointed to the cross, my atheist father said to me, “See, son, that is what Christians do.”

Jesus worked to break down hatred and prejudice of all kinds. In chapter four of John’s gospel, Jesus spent a great deal of time with a person who represented the classic example of racial prejudice. The person he spoke with was a Samaritan. Verse 9 is careful to point out that the prejudice against Samaritans was so intense that “no dealings were allowed with them.” In addition to that, the person was a woman. The Samaritan woman said, “How is it that you, a Jew, are asking me a woman…” In verse 27 the disciples “marveled that he talked with a woman.” There are many other incidents where Jesus broke down religious, sexual, and ethnic prejudice and addressed the needs of people–even if they were Romans or Gentiles.

The first century Church was made up of a mixture of people. In Galatians 3:28 Paul concludes a part of his message in which he condemns the recipients of his letter because they have “perverted the gospel of Christ” by allowing the prejudices and legalism of Judaism to re-enter the Church. His conclusion is that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Christians have missed a wonderful opportunity to be shining lights in the world when they have failed to accept the example and teaching of Jesus. Racism and prejudice have raised their ugly heads again and again. Let us not make the same mistake in the twenty-first century.
Reference: Science News, May 27, 2017, page 28.
–John N. Clayton © 2017