The Church and the Racism Debate

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Although the topic of racism is far more popular south of the border, matters of racism are discussed in Canada as well. Questions about racism cross the web through blogging, online magazines, and discussion groups. In such a cultural moment, many Christians begin to look for churches that are actively engaged in what is often called “social justice.” And as everything has a cultural term to describe it, many of these churches are described as ‘woke churches’. Google Dictionary defines ‘woke’ as “alert to injustice in society, especially racism.”

I argue against the use of the term ‘racism’ because it stems from Darwinian science of evolution. Instead we may talk about ethnic groups, nations, or families of the world. We all come from Adam and are affected by his sin, the world was divided even further at Babel, and the Church is the project of the Holy Spirit to reunite the nations/families of the earth in Jesus Christ and in Him alone. As a result of this, skin colour doesn’t matter. Being found in Christ does matter. All those who have been baptized have put on Christ (Gal. 3:27). This means that external divisions are broken down (Gal. 3:28). If we belong to Christ, then we are of the same family of the earth, re-united in Christ (Gal. 3:29).

I prefer to distance myself from a cutesy terms like ‘woke’. Some might describe me as a white, male, Christian, young, straight, with viewpoints that largely fall in the sphere of what might be described as “conservative”. To some this may seem strange in that for the first 18 years of my life I grew up in communities where I was a visible minority in both New York City and Toronto. My neighbours had backgrounds from China, India, Italy, the West Indies, etc. My family was one of two Northern European families on the entire street. There were many immigrants from the provinces of Gujarat and Punjab (in India) in the immediate area. From there I spent four school years in Idaho and a year in Grande Prairie (AB) which are both quite Northern European in background. And then I landed back in Hamilton (ON), which again, is a multi-ethnic area. My love for Christ and His Word means that I must be clear that I am a Christian first and foremost.

I believe that the Church is called, not to be ruled by cultural moments and fads and fashions, but by the Word of God. Because of the diversity of the area, I grew up in a local church that has leaders with backgrounds primarily in India and in the Netherlands. The membership in the church has backgrounds from India to Pakistan to Nigeria to Holland. I grew up knowing a number of pastors with Dutch last names, but also last names of origin from India and Guyana. One of my first internships was with Pastor Ramkissoon and Pastor Beukema. But the guiding principle for such leadership in the Church is not inclusivism or multiculturalism, but standards for biblical leadership that are laid out in the Word of God. Jesus is Lord and His Word is authoritative.

Churches of European and various other ethnic backgrounds should be self-aware of how ethnocentrism is perceived within our highly polarized society. We should also be aware that Christ has called us to bring the gospel to all nations (Matt. 28:19-20). That being said, the goal of the church is not to be multiethnic, but to worship God. Peace between ethnic groups then, only comes at the cross of Jesus Christ. The hostility between us and God has been killed at the cross of Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:16), and now we share in the same commonwealth and promises of the gospel (Eph. 2:12-13).

What standards must I abide by in the war on injustice? Injustice has been perpetrated, that cannot be denied. But we should remember that this problem in history should not be reduced to a matter of skin colour, since the Irish were treated very poorly also through slavery in the history of the United States. We must not respond to injustice with injustice. We must remember the promise of the just rule of Christ in Psalm 72. But we must remember that this justice is defined by the Word of God, not by the class warfare of Marx. We must be aware of our own bias, but then we should place our biases under the light of Scripture before we turn to the next fad and fashion in our cultural moments. And then we should pursue the multi-ethnic nature of the Kingdom of Christ (Matt. 28:16-20).

Identity politics are confusing. Conferences and posts on social media won’t do much to end racism. Learn your theology of justice from Moses, not from Marx. Invite the immigrant and/or the refugee down the street over for dinner. Use the coffee shops in the neighborhood. Give your neighbor a ride to church on Sunday and then a ride to the employment office down the street during the week if they are still struggling to find work. Learn about their culture, rather than pretending you know everything because you took a ‘woke’ university course. Just be you and let them be themselves. If you are going to make a joke about ethnicity, laugh the hardest at yourself. Learn from both foreign and North American intellectuals. Be a positive force in society by sharing the gospel and promoting righteousness, and not by picking a side just because somebody is a minority. If you are a Christian, your identity is hidden with God in Christ (Col. 3:3).

The best advice at our cultural moment is straight out of Ecclesiastes 12:13. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.


Photo by Henry Be on Unsplash

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