How the Bible Destroys the Foundations of Racism

P&R Publishing has recently re-released No Flesh Shall Glory: How the Bible Destroys the Foundations of Racism, originally published in 1959. The book is written by C. Herbert Oliver, a civil rights activist and Presbyterian minister whose courageous voice offers profound insight into racism and related issues facing the church and society today. In honor of Black History Month, the team at Core Christianity wanted to share the following excerpt from Oliver’s book:


True harmony among men depends on agreement. Where there is no agreement, there can be no harmony. Where there is little agreement, there is little harmony. Where there is broad agreement, there is great harmony. Two soloists make a duel, not a duet. 

But there can be no genuine agreement unless there is genuine understanding. Two individuals cannot be called friends if they are not acquainted with each other. And the degree of the friendship is determined by the depth of the acquaintance. If the acquaintance is shallow, the friendship will be shallow. If the acquaintance goes deep, then it is possible for the friendship to go deep and to develop into a profound mutual understanding.

While harmony depends on agreement, and agreement on understanding, in human relations the most basic ingredient of good understanding is association. Without association there can be neither understanding, nor agreement, nor harmony among men. Segregation strikes at the very heart of good human relations, for it rules out the kind of association necessary to improve human relations. 

Having seen that harmony among people distinguished by accident of color or features cannot be achieved without association, it remains to discover just what is involved in such association. Mere association without a goal would be meaningless. But what should the goal be?

The goal should not be racial dominance. The whole emphasis of the writer is to expose the false foundations and the inevitable collapse of racial tyranny.

The goal should not be amalgamation. To strive simply for amalgamation shows a lack of depth in one’s ideals. Simple amalgamation is only external. Good human relations spring from within. Amalgamation might conceivably be a by-product of good human relations, but as an end in itself it is an unworthy ideal. 

The goal should not be integration if by integration is meant the working together of “races” whose racial ideas are left undisturbed. These “races” would then be working together in spite of their racial ideas, a relationship that can hardly be called harmonious. The success of “integration” depends upon the rejection of all forms of racism. The destruction of segregation must be preceded by the destruction of the ideas upon which segregation is based. Integration can succeed only as the minds of men are set free from the narrow bounds that a racist ideology requires. To replace a white racist ideology with a black racist ideology is not the road to good human relations. What we need is not another race ideology, but freedom from all racism.

Integration must not therefore settle down into the stifling atmosphere of a racial stalemate of “you follow your racial aspirations and I’ll follow mine.” The offspring of such an attitude is racial competition, and racial competition fosters an attitude of racial elimination. Unless integration, therefore, transcends the narrow limits of race it is doomed to failure.

The question still remains, “What should be the goal of our striving?” The ultimate goal should be the glory of God. All that falls short of this glorious end is worthless as far as our relationship to God is concerned. All the works and strivings of men should be in praise of God for His wonderful goodness to the children of men. And even this would not begin to exhaust the debt of love and praise we owe Him. Should men bring about the most perfect society the world has known, and yet fail to do it in praise and honor of the Almighty God, by Whom, through Whom and to Whom are all things, all their efforts would be futile as far as their relationship to Him is concerned.

Our immediate goal should be good human relations. I emphasize human relations as over against “race relations.” “Race relations” leaves racial ideas intact. The concept of human relations rises above the restrictions that a psychology of “race relations” necessarily imposes. It opens the door of the mind to a higher relationship–one fruitful of genuine harmony. Such a view involves a number of concepts and attitudes, basic among which are:

   1.  The recognition of the image of God in all human beings.

   2.  The realization that all men are neighbors in the biblical sense of that term.

   3.  The love of one’s neighbor as one’s self.

   4.  The rejection of all forms of racism.

   5.  A stress on similarities rather than differences.

   6.  A readiness to praise the accomplishments of others.

   7.  A willingness to accept one’s own limitations.

Perhaps many reading this will ask themselves, “Will it work? Can you get people to cooperate in the manner described?” But the prime question is not “Will it work?” but “Is it right?” We put the cart before the horse when we begin with the pragmatic philosophy of “whatever works is good.” A great deal of injustice can parade under this banner. We must first settle the question “What is truth?” and only after this question is settled may we address ourselves to the question “What is duty?” When the true way is discovered, then we are obligated to walk in it.

Truth that is stable must be anchored to a stable standard. The Bible is such a standard, as the Bible alone reveals the true God, as well as the will of God for all men. Our procedure should therefore be to find the true view of human relations and to follow it faithfully. 


This is an excerpt adapted from C. Herbert Oliver’s book, No Flesh Shall Glory: How the Bible Destroys the Foundations of Racism, Second Edition. Published by Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing. 2021. 

Photo of C. Herbert Oliver

C. Herbert Oliver

C. Herbert Oliver (ThM, Westminster Theological Seminary) was a civil rights activist and pastor. Along with other local ministers in Birmingham, Alabama, he founded the Inter-Citizens Committee in 1960 and documented over a hundred civil rights violations until 1965. He served as pastor of Bethel Orthodox Presbyterian Church of Ludlow-Smyrna and Houlton in Maine before moving to Brooklyn, New York, where he was pastor of Westminster Bethany Presbyterian Church from 1967 to 1992 and where he currently resides.

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