Racism of Church of Christ members is a relatively small problem today, according to It’s There in Black and White (2020), written by four male ministers, two black and two white, who claim to offer “scriptural answers” to questions about racial tension.
Racism is “uncommon” in individual members, and the authors “seldom see or hear anything that would hint of racism” in their travels to many Church of Christ congregations.
Systemic racism does not exist in the Churches of Christ, they declare without explanation, and they disagree on its existence in American culture. Similarly, the authors, Glenn Colley, Ben Giselbach, Hiram Kemp, and Melvin L. Otey, disagree “on white privilege and its prevalence or lack thereof in American society.”
Today, such rare individual racism and having separate white and black congregations near one another are the two racial problems lingering in the Churches of Christ, the authors conclude.
The lone female voice in the book testifies briefly in support, a black Churches of Christ member who has “never witnessed racism, or any consequences of racism … happen in the church or among brethren” and “outside the church, … did not experience any kind of prejudice from white people ….”
Stark Contrast With Other Scriptural Efforts on Race
The book stands in contrast to an open letter published last year and signed by over 300 Churches of Christ ministers decrying systemic racism and urging ministers to abandon “hollow words,” to take action against racism—particularly against police violence and selective enforcement against African-American persons—, and to advocate for fair and equitable treatment for black lives.
The book also stands in contrast to recent scriptural analysis of racism by other ministers and theologians. Indeed, the authors of It’s There in Black and White appear generally unaware of others’ scriptural insights regarding racism, as there are virtually no recent theological treatments of racism cited or discussed in the book.
It is difficult to imagine many books on race and scripture written in recent decades leaving out Amos 5:18-24, including “let justice roll down like waters,” and Micah 6:1-8, including “what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy,” but this one does.
Defining Away Racism
A major flaw running through It’s There in Black and White is, under its framework, a person is not engaged in racism unless the person believes their own race is inherently superior and the person has enmity toward a person of a different race. Racism, the authors claim, is a form of Biblical enmity, defined by the book as “hostility; hatred, ill will; animosity; antagonism” towards another person.
Very few white Christians believe they are a white supremacist or think they act with hostility, hatred, ill will, animosity, or antagonism toward black persons, though.
The corresponding is true for black Christians.
The problem of Christian racism is thus reduced to almost nothing by the book’s definitional framework and discounting of systemic issues.
It Isn’t Just Feelings of Superiority and Enmity
The book includes no or little discussion of racism as other forms of sin, none of which require a person to believe in the superiority of their race or to have such enmity for others — such as “oppression,” negligent inaction instead of being a “neighbor,” “favoritism,” “judging by appearance,” lack of “love” (not simply active hate), not following Jesus’s example, not actively engaging in “hospitality,” not opposing harm, and failure of “justice” and “mercy.”
Many Christians, knowingly or unknowingly, engage in, cause, or support major racism problems that reflect these other forms of racism and sin.
Examples include segregation, discrimination, and inequities in education, housing, employment, and medical care today, biased policing, criminal-justice inequities, mass incarceration, unconscious bias, attacks on voting rights, and social discrimination.
The book asserts it speaks to Christians about the church—the body of Christ, all Christians—and how to keep racism out of the body. But Christian action and inaction relative to these other forms of racism and to major racism problems largely go unaddressed in the book.
Such Christian action and inaction hurts others, including members of the body of Christ and their families.
Comfort Book for Churches of Christ, Diligent Need to Look Elsewhere
If Churches of Christ members want to reinforce that they are part of the right religious group (one free of systemic racism) and that they, as individuals, are not engaged in racism or supportive of it since they believe they lack feelings of superiority or hatred based on race, then this is the book for them.
But if church members want to diligently consider race and their duties as part of the body of Christ in view of scripture, they will need to look elsewhere.
Much is left out of the book, but far-right and fundamentalist talking points are advocated there as “scriptural answers” with dubious justification —
Planned Parenthood and the “pro-abortion movement” are guilty of racism today, people should not apologize or repent for past racism in which they did not themselves directly engage, Critical Race Theory should be rejected, MLK Day and Black History Month should not be celebrated or observed by a church congregation, rioting against racism will keep people out of heaven, and others.
Racism? Or Just “Love” and Scripture-Following?
The book’s narrowly defining racism has a broad impact.
Christians engaged in even clearly racist actions, like advocating laws barring interracial marriage, will explain those are not due to a belief in superiority or any enmity. They will state they believe the Bible, as part of “God’s order,” prohibits black and white people from marrying one another and their actions are based on lovingly following their conviction on scripture.
Similarly, Christians advocating the “Curse of Ham”—including that the Bible requires black people to be the slave and servant of white people— explain they do not hate black people. They claim that recognizing that God asks black people to serve and not lead white people does not make black people “unequal” or “inferior” to white people. They follow the interpretation that God designates people of different races for “different roles.”
White Christians discouraging their children from relationships with black children explain that they do not hate all black people and that they feel, while black people are not inherently inferior due to their skin color, “black culture” is inferior and promotes drug use, theft, and promiscuity. They do not want their kids near it.
Also, some forbid such relationships to avoid the possibility their child marries a black person, not due to a belief in superiority or hate, they explain, but because of how difficult interracial families have it and they do not want their kids or grandkids to have to go through that.
Even More Racism?
Many white Christians support politicians favoring narrowing voting opportunities, such as requiring picture ID and limiting early voting, while knowing such policies are designed to lessen the number of black persons voting and disproportionately impact black persons. Those Christians explain it is to “protect the vote.” These voting policies are not oppression — an unnecessary or unjust exercise of power by a controlling group, here a political party, toward a minority group — even if any alleged fraud such policies might solve is essentially non-existent today, they contend. It’s politics, not hatred or superiority, they say.
White Christians who cross the street, clutch their pocketbooks, or lock their car door when black persons are coming toward them say they do not do so because they feel inherently superior or hate black people, but because they have heard that statistics show crimes in that area are most often committed by black people, so it is a loving thing to protect one’s family.
Few Christians Engage in Racism?
Compare these white Christians’ actions just described — from favoring barring interracial marriage to locking the car door when black persons approach — to the book’s narrow definition of racism.
With none of those Christians feeling they are inherently superior due to the color of their skin or having hatred or similar feelings towards black persons due to the color of their skin, none of those actions constitute racism? Racism — when considered in all its forms — is uncommon among Christians?
Simply raising the issue of racism in the church is commendable. The book condemns racism as it defines it. Encouraging attention to the gospel, scripture, and Jesus in addressing racism is a welcome feature.
Racism should be addressed from the pulpit and in Bible classes, the book says. It suggests racism is disunity and should be discussed honestly, with an open mind. The book is short, mostly speaks plainly, and its question and answer format makes its sub-topics accessible.
The book teaches that interracial marriage is not prohibited by scripture. Moreover, it advocates considering “walking a mile” in the shoes of others. It is fair to label as inconsistent or hypocritical certain behaviors by Christians regarding race, including silence regarding “problems of racial hate and discrimination” in the United States and our communities, the book explains.
Notably, the book advocates reconciliation, a key in healing. It acknowledges Christians have sometimes been silent regarding racial hate and discrimination. It explains that claiming to be “color blind” can fail to recognize particular challenges faced by a specific group.
Often, though, when the book appears to begin a productive analysis relating to race along such positive lines, it adds or intertwines limitations, caveats, or vague and ambiguous declarations.
As an example of the latter, Galatians 3:28, one of the most cited verses in the book, includes, “There is neither Jew nor Greek,… there is neither male nor female ….” It is cited to support statements in the book that black and white persons are “equal” and that black persons are “valued,” “loved,” and “not inferior” (or something similar) and to oppose discrimination against people based on race.
But, despite Galatians 3:28, nearly all Churches of Christ completely bar girls and women from speaking, leading, and actively serving in the assembly, all while asserting they are “equal,” “valued,” “loved,” “not inferior,” and not discriminated against based on sex and that those doing it are not sexist or engaged in sexism. Indeed, the book’s male-centric language and paucity of female voices and sources stand out.
If prohibiting people from speaking and from various offices and service opportunities based on one immutable characteristic (sex) is considered by a person to be “equality,” “love,” “not sexism,” etc., then what do their assertions of “equality,” “love,” and “not racism” relative to another immutable characteristic (race) mean?
Participating in Oppression?
The authors say near the end of the book that “those who participate in oppression … must repent to be right with God,” but do not describe the contours of such participation.
Does participation in oppression of black persons include ignoring the existence and influence of systemic racism and white privilege?
Does it include advocating views that support politicians and policies that continue racial inequality in voting rights, criminal justice, education, and other systems?
Does it include prioritizing not being perceived as divisive in my congregation above advocating for justice and mercy for others?
Does participation in oppression include remaining silent and inactive on these matters?
Are you participating in the oppression of black persons? Am I?
My criticism of It’s There in Black and White is meant to further God’s kingdom and all of our work in that regard. The authors should be appreciated for giving attention to racial issues, working together, sharing their experience, making several productive points, and challenging us to think about race and scripture.
Unfortunately, the book’s positive contributions are far outweighed by its substantive flaws, including its overly narrow racism definition, failures on systemic racism, male-centric approach, dearth of theological sources considered, ambiguities, and non-engagement with racism in the form of a variety of kinds of sin.
Such flaws tend to promote more Christian comfort and inaction on racism than understanding and action.
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Sources & Notes
Endnotes for this article are marked below by a brief quote of some of the text in the relevant paragraph or phrase:
“relatively small problem …”: See, e.g., pp 35-36, 83-84, 87 (in “individual heats and lives” of church members, “we are convinced it is uncommon”; “[s]ystemic racism does not exist in the Lord’s church today”; “we seldom see or hear anything that would hint of racism in the church”; “unlikely that racism is a pervasive problem in the church today”; “still problems in the church today”; “not as extreme as they were …, but more progress can and must be made”).
Race is a “social construct,” and the idea of separate races is unbiblical. Skin color is an “immutable characteristic” that plays no part in a person’s worth.
“Individual racism “uncommon” and “seldom see or hear anything that would hint of racism” among its members”: pp. 84, 87.
“Systemic racism …”: p. 84. Systemic racism is a major issue, and the book rejects it out of hand relative to the church and declines to consider it in the book otherwise, apparently due to disagreement among the authors, with no discussion. For a discussion of systemic racism from a biblical perspective, see, e.g., www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=764309650975385&ref=watch_permalink.
Oddly, while declaring that systemic racism does not exist in the Churches of Christ today and disagreeing about its existence in society, the book authors cite as one of only two points of racial division in the church the existence of a “black church” and a “white church” in the same community. Does this exist and continue to exist due to current individual belief in inherent superiority of a race and enmity? Or due to systemic racism?
“disagree on …. systemic racism,” “white privilege”: p. 63. Systemic racism is sometimes referred to as “institutional racism.”
“two racial problems lingering in the Churches of Christ”: pp. 83-84.
“lone female voice”: pp. 8-9. The book’s male-centric language, use of male-focused Bible translations, and paucity of female voices and sources stand out. See, e.g., pp. 6 – 11 (1 of 9 voices cited is female); pp. 13, 16, 30, 33, 91-92. Despite the Bible referring to Eve as “the mother of all the living” (Genesis 3:20), for example, the book refers only to Adam.
open letter published last year: https://christianchronicle.org/letter-of-concern-by-ministers-leaders-of-churches-of-christ-decries-racial-hatred/
Also see, e.g, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/17/us/george-floyd-protests.html; https://christianchronicle.org/fred-gray-on-injustice-and-his-hope-for-the-church/ (Fred Gray: “African Americans have suffered so much from slavery until now and are still suffering. If White churches don’t realize that and if they can’t believe there is something wrong, then I think there is something wrong with their Christianity.”); https://christianchronicle.org/a-conversation-with-fred-gray/ (Fred Gray: “Racism is still alive in this country to a great degree, and it is also alive in the church whether we realize it or not.”); see also http://etd.fcla.edu/UF/UFE0019542/key_b.pdf.
Also see, e.g.,: https://christianchronicle.org/we-still-have-two-brotherhoods/; https://religionunplugged.com/news/2020/6/15/church-of-christ-ministers-write-letter-calling-for-justice; https://christianchronicle.org/an-open-letter-to-members-of-the-churches-of-christ/; https://digitalcommons.pepperdine.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1030&context=leaven; https://www.facebook.com/147938345223635/videos/763451067782043; http://www.cocws.org/workshop; https://www.northlake.org/anti-racism-resources/.
“virtually no recent theological treatments of racism cited or discussed in the book”: See, e.g., pp. 91-92 (works cited). Readers might consider Chanequa Walker-Barnes, I Bring the Voices of My People: A Womanist Vision for Racial Reconciliation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 2019); Willie James Jennings, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origin of Race (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press 2010); Willie James Jennings, After Whiteness (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 2020); Barbara A. Holmes, Joy Unspeakable: The Contemplative Practices of the Black Church, Second Edition (Minneapolis: Fortress Press 2017); Mercy Amba Oduyoye, Beads and Strands (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books 2004); Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith, Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America (Oxford University Press 2000).
Also see A Collection of Scaffolding Resources from students at Princeton Theological Seminary (which cites: The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism (Jemar Tisby); Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the U.S. (Lenny Duncan); Disunity in Christ (Christena Cleveland); The Cross and the Lynching Tree (James Cone); Reconciliation Blues (Edward Gilbreath); Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America (Michael Eric Dyson); Trouble I’ve Seen (Drew G. I. Hart); Dear White Christians (Jennifer Harvey) (I have not read all of these)); Shippensburg University resources list for the Church and racism.
“leaving out Amos 5:18-24 … and Micah 6:1-8”: See, e.g., pp. 95-96 (“Scripture Index”).
Aspects of racism discussed in the book that some might argue are cultural: Critical Race Theory, slavery, abortion, Planned Parenthood, social activism, civil disobedience, riots and looting, reparations, and others.
“under its framework …”: See, e.g., pp. 3, 14-15, 22-24, 25 (“A person who believes a particular race is inherently superior to another is a racist and shows enmity in his heart ….”; “Racism involves a belief in the superiority of one race over another along with the attendant prejudices and discriminations that flow from that belief.”; “Racism, prejudice, and bigotry are sins that fall under the biblical umbrella word enmity, which is hostility, hatred, or antagonism toward another person.”).
The authors inexplicably use part of a narrow definition of racism from one abridged dictionary, uncritically, and leave out that the same definition continues, stating “behavior or attitudes that reflect and foster this belief,” such as “racial discrimination or prejudice,” is also racism. And the authors inexplicably ignore the rest of the definitions provided by the very dictionary they use, including “the systemic oppression of a racial group …” and “a political or social system founded on racism and designed to execute its principles.” That is, even according to the dictionary the authors cite, racism does not require belief in superiority of a particular race or enmity, but instead includes behavior without such a belief, behavior like racial discrimination against a person (whether malevolent or so-called benevolent discrimination) and includes systemic racism. See “Racism,” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/racism. This is an abridged dictionary.
Compare also the authors’ definition of racism with the Oxford English Dictionary entry for “racism,” which includes: “Prejudice, antagonism, or discrimination by an individual, institution, or society, against a person or people on the basis of their nationality or (now usually) their membership of a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized. Also: beliefs that members of a particular racial or ethnic group possess innate characteristics or qualities, or that some racial or ethnic groups are superior to others; an ideology based on such beliefs.” Discrimination, for example, by a person or system against a black person on the basis of their racial or ethnic group is racism without the person or system believing that they are superior or having hatred toward the person discriminated against.
Also see Oxford English Dictionary entry for “prejudice” (n), which includes: “Preconceived opinion not based on reason or actual experience; bias, partiality; (now) spec. unreasoned dislike, hostility, or antagonism towards, or discrimination against, a race, sex, or other class of people.”
Thus, racism includes holding or acting on a preconceived opinion about a black person due to the color of their skin (as opposed to, for example, due to actual experience with the individual). This, likewise, does not require a belief in one’s superiority or enmity.
The definition that Google shows when asking it to define racism is “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a person or people on the basis of their membership in a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized….” See https://www.google.com/search?q=define+racism. Google cites “Definitions from Oxford Languages.” I searched for the presence of such a definition in any Oxford Languages dictionary, but could not find it. That does not mean, of course, that it does not exist. It stands out, though, that this definition leaves out the “by an individual, institution, or society” of the OED definition, being otherwise like it, thus leaving out a clear notation that racism is not just something attributable to an individual, but can be attributable to systems. It might be that Google is using a collegiate abridged or other more-limited dictionary. I suppose it is self-evident that Google does not intend to provide complete definitions, but depends on the additional search results to do so, but it could be clearer. Google’s definition includes systemic definition but not explicitly, while OED is explicit. In any event, this definition, too, does not require a belief in the superiority of one’s own race or enmity.
A major weakness of the book is its definition of racism, one requiring an individual belief in the superiority of a particular race and individual enmity (hostility, hatred, or antagonism). Virtually every Christian would consider their action (or lack of action) as not racist under such a definition. Racism solved.
“corresponding is true for black Christians …”: The corresponding is true for Christians of other races, too, but the reviewed book focuses on black and white, so this review does, too.
Interracial marriage: See, e.g., Hannah Pape, “Christian Opposition to Interracial Marriage is Still a Problem,” Sojourner (October 9, 2019); Michael D. Brown, “Despite school sentiment, Harding’s leader said no to integration,” Arkansas Times (June 6, 2012); https://s3.amazonaws.com/rr-audio-files/podcasts/_assets/race/John-Weaver/What-The-Bible-Teaches-About-Interracial-Marriage-and-Reproduction-Part-I-by-Robert-McCurry-John-Weaver-Kinism-Reconstructionist-Radio.pdf; Barclay Key, “Race and Restoration: Churches of Christ and African American Freedom Struggle,” Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Florida (2007); “The Catholics and Interracial Marriages,” Gospel Advocate, Vol. LXXXIX, No. 29 (July 17, 1947), 508 (considering black person’s “social status,” warning that Roman Catholic efforts will do away with laws against interracial marriage and that such marriages will increase). Note that about 40% of people in Alabama voted against dropping the law banning interracial marriage in 2000, with many majority white counties in favor of keeping it. Every majority black county voted in favor of the change. Many majority white counties voted against it. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2000_Alabama_Amendment_2. This was just about 20 years ago. What percentage of white Churches of Christ members in Alabama do you estimate voted against it?
“largely ignores racism in its other forms of sin …”: The book mentions “love,” for example, but focuses its discussion almost entirely on not having enmity or superiority. See, e.g., pp. 3, 14-15, 18, 22-24, 25.
“oppression”: See, e.g., Isaiah 1:17; Isaiah 11:1-9; Luke 4:18-19. Oppression includes, for example, engaging in or being subject to unfair or inequitable treatment or exercise of authority or power that is prolonged in action or effect.
“negligently doing nothing instead of being a ‘neighbor'”: See, e.g., Luke 10:25-37. The book includes the Good Samaritan story but misses the import of aspects of it. Major differences between the religious leaders who walked by and the Samaritan who helped are: (1) the religious leaders lacked compassion for the injured person’s plight (note the injured person had been injured by someone else!); and (2) the religious leaders failed to act, failed to aid the injured person. The text does not say that the religious leaders felt superiority or enmity. The text does not say that the Samaritan overcame a feeling of superiority or enmity. The other two, the religious leaders, did not love the robbed and injured person, not because they had enmity for him but because they failed to act and to have compassion.
So it is with racism. White Christians sometimes lack compassion — lacking sympathy, not being moved by others’ distress or suffering, or not having a desire to alleviate it — for the plight of black persons. Christians sometimes fail to act. This lack of compassion might reach the level of enmity (hatred, etc.) for black persons or it might not. Either way, it is a sin. Jesus says plainly that the difference between the religious leaders and the person who had love for their neighbor was that the religious leaders lacked compassion, as they ignored the distressed and suffering man, and the religious leaders failed to act to help the man.
“favoritism”: See, e.g., James 2:1-13. The book cites and discusses the James 2 passage and the Good Samaritan story together, and puts them in a context of not having animosity for another person. It puts them in context of animosity or hatred between the Jews and the Samaritans (pp. 18-19) and uses the passages to assert that a godly person must not have their group’s historical animosity for another group of people, and instead the godly person must not show favoritism (partiality) based on things like culture (and, presumably, the book implies, race) in loving one’s neighbor.
The Samaritan demonstrated the non-partiality of James 2 relative to loving others, the book explains, by not having animosity towards a Jewish person—by overcoming historical animosity between Samaritans and Jews—and instead treating the fallen stranger like he would have wanted to be treated. (20)
But one is not partial only when having animosity for another. One is engaged in the non-partiality of James 2 with simply discriminating against a person based on race, with or without animosity, enmity, or believing oneself is superior. Treating the way one wants to be treated is not a question of non-partiality. Non-partiality is simply non-discrimination, regardless of whether one has animosity toward the person discriminated against or not. The non-impartiality of James 2 does not just mean not having animosity towards a black person, for example. The impartiality of James 2 includes not discriminating against a person due to the color of their skin, regardless of whether one acts without animosity or a belief in their own racial superiority.
“judging by appearance”: See, e.g., John 7:24.
“lack of “love” (not simply active hate)”: See, e.g., 1 Cor 13:1-13; 1 John 4:7-8, 16.
“follow Christ’s example”: See, e.g., Matthew 16:24; Matthew 20:25-28; John 13:13-16; 1 Corinthians 11:1.
“hospitality”: See, e.g., 1 Peter 4:9; Matthew 25:34-46; Hebrews 13:2.
“failure to oppose harm”: See, e.g., Isaiah 11:1-9.
“‘justice’ and ‘mercy'”: See, e.g., Micah 6:8; Psalm 33:5.
Problems reflecting other forms of racism: Those problems caused and supported by white Christians negatively impact black Christians, as well as non-Christians, for example. See, e.g., Steve Gardner, “NC Christians and Voter ID: On Racism, Sin, and the Good Samaritan,” Authentic Theology (October 23, 2018); Steve Gardner, “NC’s Voter ID Law is Intentionally Racist, Rules U.S. Court of Appeals: Racism on the Ballot as a Constitutional Amendment,” Authentic Theology (October 17, 2018). See also Steve Gardner, “White Evangelical Christians and Racial Issues: Divided by Faith (Part 1 of 2),” Authentic Theology (November 11, 2016); Steve Gardner, “White Evangelical Christians and Racial Issues: Divided by Faith (Part 2 of 2),” Authentic Theology (November 17, 2016).
“Planned Parenthood’s actions …”: See pp. 52-53. As proof, the authors cite that black women are more likely to get an abortion, one third of “all aborted babies are black,” and about 4/5 of Planned Parenthood clinics are in predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods. They also claim that the founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, believed that black people were “unfit” to reproduce. Ibid.
“… should not apologize ,,, and people should not apologize…”: See, e.g., pp. 41-42 (e.g., “statements that urge the the churches of Christ need to apologize for past racism are misguided”; “His Word doesn’t allow for the universal church to express an apology for the sins committed by those who have died.”; “There were obviously racial problems in the past in congregations made up of people who are now dead and gone. No one today, black or white, can repent for those people or apologize for them ….”). The book explains it is acceptable for Christians to denounce racism of other church members in the past, however. Ibid.
“Critical Race Theory”: See, e.g., pp. 47-49. This rejection clashes with the book’s request for “unity” and non-division. Southern Baptist leadership’s recent similar rejection of Critical Race Theory caused multiple black leaders, members, and churches to disavow the Southern Baptist Convention and to leave the group. See, e.g., https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2020/12/23/black-pastors-break-southern-baptist-critical-race-theory/.
“MLK Day and Black History Month…”: See, e.g. pp. 53-54.
“rioting …”: See, e.g., p. 56.
“Cultural preferences” is not racism, and there is nothing wrong with “having greater affinity for various aspects of one culture over another.”
Interracial marriage: See, e.g., Steve Gardner, “Interracial Marriage: Banned, Citing God’s Will, Until Just 50 Years Ago This Week,” Authentic Theology (June 17, 2017).
“Encouraging attention to the gospel …”: See, e.g., pp. 18-20.
The book explains: Prejudice, along with bigotry, fall under the biblical definition of “enmity,” which the authors define as “hostility, hatred, or antagonism towards another person” and declare a sin. “There is no room in Christianity for racism or ethnic prejudice.” (Galatians 3:26-28; Acts 10:34-35; James 2:1) Having a racist ideology is a sin because it violates Jesus’s command to love one’s neighbor. (citing Luke 10:25-37) Every human being is made in the image of God and has equal value and infinite worth. (citing Genesis 1:26-27)
“… reconciliation”: p. 80.
“… anecdotal evidence”: p. 76.
language meaning: See, e.g., Steve Gardner, “The Churches of Christ Language Problem on Race,” Authentic Theology (June 16, 2020).
“… participate in oppression … must repent to be right with God”: p. 81.
Racism has existed and does exist in the church, the body of believers. I don’t think this is disputable. Many Christians engage in and support racism, knowingly or unknowingly, against both other members of the body and against others. I describe some examples in the review, starting at the section titled “Racism is Not Racism…” and going on for about 9 paragraphs.
Systems have been put in place that inherently benefit one racial group while disenfranchising or otherwise hurting another. Systems of segregation in housing and education are probably the easiest examples to see. The effects of things like red-lining, restrictive covenants, social discrimination, etc. as well as follow-on sins like failure of compassion, failure to treat like a neighbor, failure to engage in hospitality, failure of mercy and justice, etc., are significant. Systems of voting restrictions are also easy examples to see, too (e.g., voter ID).
Such things are carried out and supported by Christians, whether by their inaction or action, and they hurt black members of the body.
As to “social justice” and “Biblical justice,” I think the justice about which the Bible speaks necessarily includes things like mercy; actively working against favoritism and oppression; compassion for and action to help people who are injured, poor, meek, hungry, incarcerated, etc.; hospitality; etc., for everyone, all of which appear to be goals of what I think most people generally mean when they refer to “social justice,” so I see a lot of overlap between the range of the terms.
This article introducing a Christian expression of social justice is helpful to ministers thinking about such things.
Excerpt: “Esau McCaulley, a New Testament professor at Wheaton College and a contributing writer for New York Times Opinion … described a distinctly Christian vision of social justice …. The Christian social justice vision also emphasizes the importance of memory. The Bible is filled with stories of marginalization and transformation, which we continue to live out. Exodus is the complicated history of how a fractious people comes together to form a nation. … McCaulley doesn’t describe racism as a problem, but as a sin enmeshed with other sins, like greed and lust. … The concept of sin gives us an action plan to struggle against it: acknowledge the sin, confess the sin, ask forgiveness for the sin, turn away from the sin, restore the wrong done. If racism is America’s collective sin then the tasks are: tell the truth about racism, turn away from racism, offer reparations for racism. … New life is always possible, for the person and the nation. This is the final way the Christian social justice vision is distinct. …” https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/18/opinion/social-justice-christianity.html
Note that connections to Curse of Ham, black persons, and slavery likely go back to at least the 3rd and 4th century: https://bibleinterp.arizona.edu/sites/bibleinterp.arizona.edu/files/docs/Hampdf_0.pdf (“We can see this in the earliest evidence of an explicit link between blacks and slavery in the context of the Noah story. This is found in the Syriac Christian work known as the Cave of Treasures, dating in its present form from the 6th-7th century at the latest, but originally going back to the 3rd or 4th century. … the work explains that Canaan’s “descendants were reduced to slavery, and they are the Egyptians, the Mysiens (musaye), the Kushites, the Indians, and the abominable ones (musraye)” (Ri, 62-63). The ones cursed with slavery are dark-skinned peoples, a point made clear in the Arabic version (around 750 CE) of the work, which expands Canaan’s descendants to include all blacks: [Noah] was angry with Ham and said, “Let Canaan be cursed, and let him be a slave to his brothers…. [Noah] increased in his curse of Canaan. Therefore his sons became slaves. They are the Copts, the Kushites, the Indians, the Musin (mūsīn), and all the other blacks (sūdān). Similarly, in the later Ethiopic version: “…. they are the Egyptians, the Kuerbawiens, the Indians, the Mosirawiens, the Ethiopians, and all those whose skin color is black” (Goldenberg, Black and Slave, 76-78).”)
Racism toward Jewish persons was featured in Church Fathers’ writings.
On Origen’s racist theology: https://academic.oup.com/jts/article/71/1/164/5817418 (also citing ” On early Christian references to black (skin) colour, see P. Mayerson, ‘Anti-Black Sentiment in the Vitae Patrum’, HTR 71 (1978), pp. 304–11; Robert E. Hood, Begrimed and Black: Christian Traditions on Blacks and Blackness (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994); David Brakke, ‘Ethiopian Demons: Male Sexuality, the Black-Skinned Other, and the Monastic Self’, Journal of the History of Sexuality 10 (2001), pp. 501–35; Gay L. Byron, Symbolic Blackness and Ethnic Difference in Early Christian Literature (London and New York: Routledge, 2002); Kwesi Tsri, Africans Are not Black: The Case for Conceptual Liberation (London and New York: Routledge, 2016), pp. 42–63; Clare K. Rothschild, ‘Ethiopianising the Devil: Ὁ Μέλας in Barnabas 4’, NTS 65 (2019), pp. 223–45.”)
Updates: Through 3/1 (typo edits, paragraph and sentence structure edits, clarifying edits, move paragraphs and sentences, combine paragraphs, additional cites, shorten paragraph)
The picture is of the article author’s copy of It’s There in Black and White.