By Rev. Mark H. Creech, Executive Director
Christian Action League
In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed into law a bill for the celebration of a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Martin Luther King, Jr. is best known for his peaceful civil rights activism. An African-American, King knew well the prejudice and social injustice committed against African Americans in the history of this country. King peacefully organized protest marches and even encouraged African-Americans to quietly go to jail if necessary. His highly moving and beautifully written speech about his dreams for civil liberty is, perhaps, the best-known public speech on civil rights ever given.
Reformed theologian James Danne, in Dictionary of Christian Ethics, marvelously defined the problem of racism. He wrote: “Skin color or different national origins are racial differentia. These differentia are incidental and relative to what constitutes authentic humanity. When these relative differences are turned into absolutes, race turns into racism. When the relative factor of white skin color is absolutized, white racism emerges. When Hitler absolutized Nordic origin, Nazism was born. When a feature of race incidental to our humanity is absolutized, the race possessing this feature exalts itself as a superior race, develops the consciousness that it is the historic bearer of a transcendent destiny to lead the world, by whatever required means, into its future. Its manifest destiny, however, is only manifest in its peculiar racial difference.”
Few things in life are uglier than racist attitudes and beliefs. It always troubled me that conservative evangelicals were largely silent during the battle for civil rights. In fact, some were erroneously attempting to justify prejudice by appealing to the Bible. The argument was that African Americans were the descendants of Ham. God had placed Ham under a curse and therefore this justified the subjugation of black people. Not only was this unbiblical, dishonest and mean, but it was a clear example of proof-texting — using the Bible for one’s own ends. It was a conclusion imposed upon the text, rather than a conclusion that could legitimately be drawn from the text.
Sadly, the problem is not simply one of the past. Still many conservative evangelical churches are some of the most segregated places left in the country. Two occasions that illustrate this fact happened during my own pastorates. While serving one congregation, I suggested the church include handing out gospel tracts during door-to-door visitation to the Black and Hispanic communities nearby. I was quickly informed by some of the church’s leadership such action would produce a controversy that would likely result in my resignation or dismissal. On another occasion at a different church, I invited an evangelist from a darker ethnic background to speak. A prominent and influential member of the church then told me, “You can be certain there will be some negative consequences for getting that ‘sand n#*#*#” to preach.'” These are not isolated instances. Currently, similar problems are quite prevalent everywhere in churches.
Racism in any form ought not to ever be named among the people of God. By definition racism exalts itself above God and projects itself as God. It is one of the grossest violations of the fundamental import of God’s law as stated by Jesus: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself” (Luke 10:27). The apostle James contended: “But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors” (James 2:9). Respect of persons — or “favoritism,” as the NIV translates this same verse — is inconsistent with God’s grace.
King’s dreams for racial equality in America have been long in coming. But Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is set aside to mark the significant and costly contribution that King and those of kindred spirit have made to the advancement of civil liberties.
In God’s eyes there has never been race, color, or national origin. All people groups are equally loved and possess the same natural rights, as well as the most important right – the right to be redeemed by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. Those who really know Christ and understand the Gospel will seek to take this truth across every cultural barrier.