Is Racism a Social Issue or a Gospel Issue?

Following the horrendous events that recently unfolded in Charlottesville, Christians around the nation are divided about how we should respond. Some argue that the issue of racism is merely a “social issue” and that the mission of the church is to preach on “gospel issues” only.

But, is it really that simple?

Does the Bible relegate the issues of racism, ethnocentrism, and racial supremacy to the category of “social issues?” Here are four passages in the Bible that show us that racism, ethnocentrism, and racial supremacy are not simply “social issues” but “gospel issues” that ought to be addressed both inside and outside of the walls of the church.

1. Peter’s Complicity

In Galatians 2, the Apostle Paul publically rebukes the Apostle Peter for drawing back from fellowship with the Gentiles out of fear of a Jewish Christian faction that believed that Gentiles needed to become Jewish before they could be fully included in the church. This “circumcision party” had made ethnic and racial identification an additional condition for Gentiles to become children of God. Paul quickly recognized that this form of ethnocentrism was antithetical to the gospel, and that Peter was guilty of silently complying with their sin: “…I saw their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel…” (Galatians 2:14).

2. Undoing the Work of Christ

In Ephesians 2:1-10, Paul describes the work of Christ that once and for all broke down the vertical wall that lies between a holy God and a sinful people. He continues in Ephesians 2:11-22 to explain that the work of Christ doesn’t stop there, but it even broke down the horizontal wall of hostility between people. Because the greatest division between Jew and Gentile has been torn down, the smaller divisions between various Gentiles have also been broken down.

Racism, therefore, is an attempt to rebuild that wall of hostility between peoples. It is an insidious attempt to undo the finished work of Christ. At the core, it is an anti-gospel.

3. Reversing the Great Commission

The Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 tells us that the mission of the church is to make disciples of all nations. This was a commission that Jesus gave to a group of Jewish men who, by tradition and custom, had learned to associate Gentiles as unclean and cut off from the promises of Israel. These Jewish men were called outside of themselves to bring the gospel to Samaritans and Gentiles, to even fellowship with them and intermingle with them. The Great Commission calls people to a centrifugal direction, always flowing outward to people who are different from yourself.

Racism, ethnocentricity, and racial supremacy are essentially centripetal, always flowing inward into one race, ethnicity, or people group at the expense and disenfranchisement of others. It is an attempt to reverse the direction of the Great Commission back into ourselves.

4. Contrary to The Great Hope

In Revelation 5:9-10, we see a vision of the great hope of the universe: an everlasting kingdom where righteousness reigns and sin and sorrow are exiled forever. The inhabitants of this kingdom are people “from every tribe and language and people and nation,” worshipping a risen, dark-skinned, Middle-Eastern God-man who is their Savior and Lord.

Racism, ethnocentricity, and racial superiority ultimately have a picture of heaven that is radically contrary to this great hope that Christians look forward to. The New Heavens and New Earth is not inhabited by a homogeneous group of people who look exactly the same, but rather, a beautiful tapestry of people of different hues and features.

Conclusion

Racism, ethnocentricity, and racial superiority are clearly not simply “social issues” that Christians can ignore. They are ideologies that seek to attack the gospel at its core. It is in the best interest of Christians to respond to these anti-gospel ideas with a robust picture of the gospel—a gospel that claims that all people are equally guilty before a holy God but who can be recipients of grace if they trust in Christ.

The beauty of the gospel is that the God who is one and yet three—unity and diversity—has created a kingdom where both unity and diversity is celebrated as various people worship a common Savior who bought them with his blood and united them with his body.

Photo of Timothy Isaiah Cho

Timothy Isaiah Cho

Timothy Isaiah Cho works for World Relief Southern California. He earned his B.A. in English Literature from the University of California, Berkeley, and his Master of Divinity from Westminster Seminary California. He is the assistant editor for Faithfully Magazine.

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