Adult Bible Study

Pastor Michael P. Walther
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Collinsville, Illinois
July 5th & 12th 2020


On one hand racism is a simple problem and should be easy for Christians to fix. We know it is wrong to mistreat anyone just because they are different. God calls us to love one another. However, human beings are different from one another in some ways. Do we always work with those differences to show our love one another?   

  1. What Is Racism? 
    In our first class we will study the history of racism and the different ways people have interpreted and misused the differences between human beings. Some of our subtopics will be:

    Economics, Slavery, Evolution, Bad Theology and Racism
    Looking for a Scapegoat - Hatred Finds a Victim
    Prejudice, Discrimination, Segregation

  2. How We Can Work to Overcome Racism?
    In our second class we will how God's love for us and for all people helps us to resist the natural impulses of racism. Some of our subtopics will be:

    Guilt By Association Goes Every Which Way
    Selfishness and Passive Racism - Helping the Victims of Racism
    Are Some Remedies for Racism Racist


1. What Is Racism? 

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Livestream Video on our Facebook Group Page

The Biblical View of Race

Acts 17:26-28 (NKJV) And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’

This important passage shows the Biblical view of humanity. All human beings are descended from Adam according to the doctrine of Creation. 

Revelation 5:9-10 (NKJV) You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, And have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth.

John's vision of the redeemed shows that Jesus died for all humanity "of every tribe and tongue and people and nation." John 3:16 and 1 Timothy 2:4 and many other passages that affirm universal salvation also show us that Jesus died for all. 

Why Does the Bible Not Condemn Slavery?

The Bible condemns all sin starting with the two most basic commandments: Love God and Love Neighbor (Matthew 22:37-39). Slavery and racism are not necessarily the same thing. In the ancient world many people became slaves voluntarily because of poverty or debt, or as a result of war. The people of Israel were slaves in Egypt for over four hundred years. After the fall of Jerusalem many Jews such as Daniel were transported to Babylon where they were forced to work for their masters. The Israelites were required to free their slaves every seven years. Some slaves became permanent slaves voluntarily. Jesus and His apostles did not encourage a slave revolt knowing that that would lead to nothing but death for slaves. The Bible is chiefly concerned with the freedom from the slavery of sin and the new life of self-sacrifice and love for neighbor. That has always moved in the direction of eliminating all slavery. 

Wikipedia Article Christian Views on Slavery

The Development of "Racism"

Prior to the Enlightenment of the 1700 and 1800s the world was full of political, class, and ethnic power struggles. The Enlightenment brought a quest for equality to break down these artificial barriers. Thomas Jefferson penned the words in the Declaration of Independence: "All men are created equal," and used it as a prime defense for the dismantling of political and class oppression. But many people, Jefferson included, did not use it to push all the way to remove the oppression of slavery. Some found justification for slavery in the Christian faith arguing that certain races were condemned by God for subjugation. The curse of Ham, son of Noah, was thought to apply to African people. Others used the idea that slavery was good for Africans since they could become Christians and could be treated humanely. The emerging science of evolution gave ample justification for either the practice of slavery or for the future elimination of some races because they were biologically inferior. Thomas Huxley, often referred to as Darwin's bulldog, wrote the following in response to the surrender of the Confederacy:

The question is settled; but even those who are most thoroughly convinced that the doom is just, must see good grounds for repudiating half the arguments which have been employed by the winning side; and for doubting whether its ultimate results will embody the hopes of the victors, though they may more than realize the fears of the vanquished. It may be quite true that some negroes are better than some white men; but no rational man cognizant of the facts, believes that the average negro is the equal, still less the superior, of the average white man. And, if this be true, it is simply incredible that, when all his disabilities are removed, and our prognathous relative has a fair field and no favour, as well as no oppressor, he will be able to complete successfully with his bigger-brained and smaller-jawed rival, in a contest which is to be carried on by thoughts and not by bites. (The Reader, April 20, 1865)

Charles Darwin was a staunch abolitionist, and he supported William Wilberforce's efforts to end slavery in England. Darwin also did not believe that Africans were a separate human species as some evolutionists did. However, he did believe they were biologically inferior. He wrote:

Looking to the world at no very distant date, what an endless number of the lower races will have been eliminated by the higher civilised races throughout the world. (Letter to William Graham on July 3, 1881)

Stephen J. Gould (1941-2002), Harvard paleontologist, was also anti-racist. However he admitted: 

Biological arguments for racism may have been common before 1850, but they increased by orders of magnitude following the acceptance of evolutionary theory (Ontogeny and Phylogeny, Belknap-Harvard Press, 1977, pp. 127–128).

These are some of the factors that led to the development of modern racism and the belief that some members of humankind are lessor or inferior while others are superior. It wasn't just a matter of "who's king of the hill" as it was in the ancient world.

The Problem of Idolatry

As soon as we find some religious or scientific justification for racial inferiority or superiority, we have crossed a serious line with God. As The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod stated in 1996: 

Racism grounds the identity and security of human life in self rather than God, in creature rather than the Creator, apart from whom a human being has no identity or security. Self-indulgent pride in “race,” therefore, must be regarded as idolatry in one of its crassest forms. It is an attempt to be “like God.”  (Racism, A Christian Response, LCMS 1996)

Idolatry leads to all kinds of envy, hatred, prejudice, and tribalism. The real sin is that we don't love God, and we don't love our neighbor's as ourselves. We find some scapegoat or victim upon which we heap blame for all our problems caused by our own sin. Rather than dealing with our sin through repentance and forgiveness with God, it begins to control us and to lead us into all sorts of abusive behavior. This abusive behavior can fall along the lines of skin color, ancestry, or any other difference that we may wish to exploit. 

2. Overcoming Racism 

July 12, 2020

Livestream Video on our Facebook Group Page

Even if we reject bad interpretations of the Bible and bad science, we are still faced with psychological and spiritual challenges that contribute to the sin of racism. "The greatest of faults, I say, is to be conscious of none." Thomas Carlyle

Can you think of a time when you thought, spoke or acted in a racist manner?

Can you think of time when someone else spoke or acted in a racist manner toward you?

Prejudice by Association (Categorical Thinking)

If a person experiences abuse from several individuals who are associated with a certain group of people (skin color, language, religion, class, geography, etc.), they begin to associate that abuse with all the people of that group. We all do this. It is the necessity of categorical thinking. Our brains must make associations in order to operate efficiently. 

In 1954, Gordon Allport, in his classic work The Nature of Prejudice, linked prejudice to categorical thinking. Allport claimed that prejudice is a natural and normal process for humans. According to him, "The human mind must think with the aid of categories… Once formed, categories are the basis for normal prejudgment. We cannot possibly avoid this process. Orderly living depends upon it." (Wikipedia: Prejudice)

This problem occurs not only when we experience actual abuse, but also when we hear stories of abuse. Individual sins, past or present, become the basis for all kinds of false judgments and prejudice.

Carol Travis and Elliott Aronson, in their book, Mistakes Were Made But Not by Me (2016), say that when it comes to prejudice, “The brain is designed with blind spots, optical and psychological, and one of its cleverest tricks is to confer on its owner the comforting delusion that he or she does not have any.”

Prejudice by Selfishness

Our sinful nature causes us to "seek our own." But God calls us to a better way: "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others" (Philippians 2.3-4). This applies to all people regardless of the differences there may between people. In the New Testament we constantly see the theme of loving one another regardless of nationality (Jews, Galileans, Gentiles, Samaritans, Romans, etc.); rich or poor; vocation (tax collector, soldier, prostitute, etc.); and doctrine (Pharisees, Sadduccees, idolators). 

God's Love for All and Our Love for All

We have to overcome our fallen nature by God's grace. Every person must admit that I am, by nature, "a poor sinful being" (Lutheran confession of sin). Every person must believe: "This is a faithful saying worthy of full acceptance that Christ came to save sinners, of whom I am chief" (1 Timothy 1:15). This is the essential remedy not only for racism but for every form of sin. "We love," the Apostle John wrote, "Because He first loved us" (1 John 4.19). As we focus on our own inner struggle with sin, we are strengthened and led by God to love all people as God loves all people. "And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you" (1 Thessalonians 4.12). 

Overcoming Racism on a Personal Level

* Educate ourselves about the painful experiences of racism. Listen to stories.

* Overcome our fear of "differences." Try to treat everyone with the same level of care and concern.

* Be careful with our "mental categories."

* Come to the defense of those who are being mistreated because of prejudice.

Overcoming Racism on a Corporate Level

* Educate yourself about the history of racial laws (Constitution, Slavery, Treatment of the American Indians, The Civil War, Reconstruction, Treatment of the Japanese, Jim Crow Laws, Civil Rights, Immigration Laws...)

* Pray for our political leaders and for the enactment and enforcement of just laws.

* Engage in discussions and political advocacy as you are able. Don't be afraid of the postmodern tendency to shout down all opposition.

Do Some Remedies for Racism Go Too Far?

The same forces that give birth to racism (selfishness, hatred, self-superiority, projection of inferiority, categorical thinking) will work to undermine the remedies for racism. 

* The remedies for the injustice of racism should be about justice not revenge. (The example of Rwanda, “Left to Tell” by Immaculée Ilibagiza)

*Guilt by association/categorical thinking blames the injustice of part of a group on the whole group.

*Denying differences between people to achieve equality will lead to artificial, unjust, and unworkable "leveling" that will lead to failure. We can't deny differences. We need to find ways to work together with our differences and especially promote generosity.



Resources for Further Study

  1. "Racism: A Christian Response" This is a nice two-page summary to the problem of racism by The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.
  2. "The Church and Racism, Overcoming the Idolatry" This is a 56 page booklet published in 1994 by the Commission on Theology and Church Relations.
  3. The First Rosa  Rosa Young was a pioneer for civil rights in The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Her amazing story is a living example of how Christians can overcome the sins of racism.
  4. Critical Race Theory: What It Is and How to Fight It This article gives a good summary of Critical Race Theory. CRT is a response to the problem of racism. But it is not a Christian response. Racism, at its core, is a problem of hatred and a lack of love for neighbor. It does result in economic inequality among other problems. CRT does not address hatred, the core problem of racism. It strives to bring about economic equity in ways that can become just as hateful and unjust as racism.