There is a sad spectacle of Christians feuding in public over the question of “race”. There is a great thing that has been said and can be said on this question. Everyone (every Christian) agrees that the matter of racism is a sin — even though this has not always been acknowledged. And lest anyone doubt the matter, I find racism repellent, foolish and wicked.
The question over which Christians are chiding is the matter of what to do now with the fact of racism, both past and present. The version of the question (de jure) may be phrased, “How does Gospel respond to racism?”
I have purposefully not linked to a single article on any of the side of this matter. And frankly, I think a great deal of this dispute ignores a central fact of the Gospel and racism: the only “race” to which any Christian belongs is the race of the people of God.
In the unsigned Epistle to Diogenes, our author writes to his friend as to questions he has about this new religion of Christianity. Among the questions we read, “[A]nd why this new race [καινόν τοῦτο γένος] or practice has come to life at this time”. The Apostolic Fathers, ed. Kirsopp Lake, vol. 2, The Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge MA; London: Harvard University Press, 1912–1913), 351.
In 1 Peter 2 we read
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
One could easily trace through the matter of the people of God (quick version: Exodus 3, God uses the phrase “my people” for the first time. In Hosea 1, there is the judgment that Israel is no longer “my people”, but it comes with a promise that they will again be “my people.” In Isaiah 53, the Messiah dies of the sins of the people. In Ephesians 2 we learn that Jesus’ death and resurrection tore down the barrier imposed by the law, which previously marked the inside and outside of “my people”. Galatians 3 tells us that those of faith are the sons of Abraham. And thus persons of all ethnicities may be within “my people”).
The only race which Christians should concern themselves is the race of the people of God. For us
28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
Galatians 3:28–29 (ESV). The divisions which form the basis of our culture’s racial divisions are divisions which are inapplicable to us. If there is a remedy for that racism then perhaps this doctrine instructs us to first understand fellow Christians as members of this “chosen race”.
I fear we have made far too little of this glorious fact, and far too much of trivial differences which the enemy of mankind and God has exploited to cause so much sorrow and sin. Now I would not be surprised if someone considered me naive, or speaking from privilege or whatever else is dictated by the terms of engagement.
And perhaps I am naive: and yet, I cannot help but think that we Christians have made far too little of what is actually given us in the Gospel itself: not an implication, but a core truth: to be brought into Union with Christ is to establish a new identity (2 Cor. 5:17), to make one a member of a new people, to become a member of a “new race” a “chosen race”. And perhaps after we fully consider the explicit truth of the Gospel concerning race our understanding of the “Gospel implications” of race will become more manageable.