“Race” “racism” and biblical language

“Racism” is not Biblical language.

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True, but it just means “race-based partiality,” essentially. There’s no reason that we can’t use words like that, unless they become unhelpful.

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Except that by using un-Biblical language, we give opportunity to those who hate God and hate His Gospel to creep in unnoticed and redefine our very moral code. There are 1000 churches whose live-streams you could watch tomorrow where un-Biblical definitions of “racism” lurk like hidden reefs in their love-feasts.

You Baylys have done the Lord’s work at keeping the Biblical word “sodomy” in the language. “Racism” is its mirror-image.

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This alternative term doesn’t solve anything, as it still misses the point. Humanity is not made up of multiple races, therefore the term is still non-sensical. There is only one race of men, and it is Adam’s race. Our race is surely made up of multiple ethnicities (i.e. nations, cultures), but there truly is no such thing as racial distinction. And just because the level of melanin in our skin differs doesn’t mean we belong to a different “race.”

By even conceding to use the language of “racism,” we are actually joining the secularists in telling a lie about the reality of the human race. We’re granting them a false premise that does not comport with reality, and in doing so, we betray our own confession — namely, that all of mankind descends from the one man, Adam.

There is no way to solve the problem of “racism” without first and foremost going back to the beginning and establishing that the notion of “race” within mankind is, in itself, both sinful and non-sensical.

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Ken,

I see this type of argument a lot, but it really doesn’t hold any water. Carl Linnaeus, writing in 1735 (over 100 years prior to On The Origin of Species) divided humanity into four races - whitish, reddish, tawny, and blackish - with notes about the temperament and ingenuity of each. I think the collapsing of humanity into these broad groups was an enlightenment thing, but it wasn’t based on evolutionary reasoning. If you read ancient Roman or Chinese accounts of people they encounter on their borders the descriptions are full of discussion of those groups in language that we would consider highly racially charged. It is simply obvious that genetically distinct people have different phenotypes, and due to cultural isolation these phenotypes are often correlate with distinct cultural practices. People have always noticed.

These differences don’t justify racial animosity, vainglory, or preferential treatment, but I don’t think it helps to deny their existence.

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It also seems like the Indian caste system has been aligned with skin color. It may not primarily be about skin color, but it’s “color racist” to a high degree.

If there is no such thing as a race, then why can any sighted American tell, to 90+% confidence, which continent most of another American’s ancestors spent most of their time on since the confusion of Babel? Nationhood is not so clear: It’s difficult to tell a Finn from a Frenchman or a Vietnamese from a Filipino. But no one mistakes Cambodians for Namibians or Navajos for Tamils.

This doesn’t change the fact that we are all descended from Adam, but denying things that are literally as plain as the nose on our face does no one any favors.

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If we all looked exactly the same, we’d still find someone to call a Samaritan. Protestants vs. Catholics in Ireland know this, as do Sunni and Shiites in Iraq, as do Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda. Sin will find arbitrary distinctions to divide us regardless of identity or context. Satan’s agenda is to destroy brotherhood.

So people have different physical characteristics based on where their ancestors spent their time. Granted. But that does not mean that it follows to classify people according to “race.” This method of classification – as you noted – does not come from any testimony of Scripture. From creation, we have families, clans, tribes, nations, and tongues. In other words, we have ethnicities and ethnic backgrounds, but we don’t have races.

At Babel, the human race was split up into different tongues. Those differing tongues would go on to be the basis for the formation of different nations and tribes. Some would settle here, and some would settle there, and their offspring would eventually come to develop different physical traits. These traits do not constitute “racial” differences. Rather, they are physical traits owing to ethnic background. The result is a physically and ethnically diverse human race, not multiple races.

So call an Irishman an Irishman. Call a black man a black man. Call me an Andersen, a Danish-American, an Iowan, or a white man. Use whatever adjectives may apply. But I am not part of a Danish “race,” or an Iowan “race,” or a white “race.” And there is certainly no biblical text that would teach me to think of the human race through classification of skin color or eye shape.

I am convinced that the only reason “racial” terminology survives in our Christian vernacular is because Darwinist assumptions are so thick in the air that we breath. We just need to be done with it.

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There’s a reason why Bollywood stars are mostly light-skinned (often with extra help of Photoshop). Same with TV and billboard advertisments in India.

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Skin whitening goods are an enormous industry in many countries because of the status light skin provides.


" In a number of African countries, between 25 and 80% of women regularly use skin whitening products.[2] In Asia, this number is around 40%.[2] In India, specifically, over half of skin care products are sold to whiten skin."

There is some controversy about whether the caste systems/social strata associated with skin-color in India, Rwanda (Hutu/Tutsi), etc. are artifacts of European colonialism. Though it seems obvious to me that they pre-exist colonialism and substantial European involvement in some places. However, I think it is more likely that the preference for lighter skin all over the world is due to a desire for difficult to counterfeit symbols of affluence and social capital (non-farm workers/laborers can afford to stay in the shade all day, and even in very dark skinned groups will have lighter skin). Over time these preferences impact mate selection and cement the traits in groups that rarely intermarry, like Indian castes.

It is similar to the premodern emphasis among Europeans on plumpness and very light skin. Those were expensive and difficult to obtain and maintain physical features in 14th century England, for instance. Now the preference is usually for thinness, which represent the ability to afford higher quality food, or possession of a high degree of self-control and training, and tanned skin, which requires leisure time (and good taste in hobbies).

A bit raunchy at times, so not something to watch with the kids, but the documentary from Chris Rock titled Good Hair is both eye-opening, informative, hilarious, and very sad.

(I just read the parents advisory on IMDB… yikes! You have been warned.)

I really don’t think the term is helpful. It isn’t biblical language and it can mean a million things including to be used to attack good things like natural affection and patriotism. I think it much better to speak against vain glory, unjust partiality, and mistreatment of humans created in the image of God. The bible has the right tools and categories to deal with our sins.

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That made me laugh fondly. Some can tell the difference, and as a “minority European,” I appreciate the shout out. As a lonely 25-year-old freshly home from two years overseas, landing in a big city away from all family, I was wonderfully comforted one night visiting a large church meal full of strangers but with a table full of surprisingly familiar people. They looked like my paternal grandparents’ siblings. I approached these strangers and boldly introduced myself with the Finnish pronunciation of my Christian and family names. They then all exploded with joyful Finnish greetings and questions, none of which I understood. I clarified that I didn’t actually speak Finnish, and simply enjoyed being a fly on the wall at a make-believe reunion of the coffee hours I remember as a child among my grandparents’ siblings. These strangers were my family, mannerisms and all. I regret not having continued the connection to them.

What the BLM people certainly won’t entertain is that many others have had more recent and effectual discrimination in their family lines. Even more simply, poverty is not unique to group. I’ll just bring my post back to a more relevant topic.

I grew up as a minority within a “white” culture. None of my friends shared national origins with me, though most shared various mixes with each other. I can relate somewhat to the natural tendency of an adoptee to want to look up to those like themself. Me being fully half Lebanese (Syrian) and half Finnish, my grandparents and their siblings and parents are all purebreds. And, growing up in a Southern town where Scandanavians and Arabs were rare, living far from any extended family, I knew locally only exactly one Finn (a wife of a co-worker of my father) and exactly one Lebanese couple (fortunately in our neighborhood). As a child, I especially appreciated time with them. The Finn taught me how to properly pronounce my first and last names, allowing that first story above. My “adopted” Arabic grandparents gave me food and warm hugs that could only otherwise be gotten 600 miles away in Michigan or Canada. They must have been from the the south of Lebanon, but surely sharing similar Roman Catholic and other culture. They resembled my maternal grandparents like no other Arabs I’ve met in big cities or schools since.

I’ve often wondered but never vocalized if the many Ethiopian boys in our church could be helped by having African-American elders to look up to and relate with. Perhaps their adoptive parents have more reason than the rest of us to strive to form close friendships with African-American adults. I’m thinking more of adults for the children rather than children’s peers.

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You have noticed–and Scripture testifies to this–that certain groups of people, when interbreeding among themselves long enough, will produce a sort of extremely extended family that we call a “nation.” (Root word: “natio,” or birth.) Why would it be so strange that there are groups of nations that are more closely related to one another than to other groups of nations?

And the NASB translators used the word “race” numerous times. You can argue with their choice, but that’s the one they made.

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I’m much more sympathetic to jettisoning “racism” than I am to jettisoning “race.” Ethnicity is no more biblical than race is. Our vocabulary is not limited to words that occur in the Bible.

I’m sympathetic to the insistence that “mankind” is a single entity—a single race, if you will. But that’s just one of the meanings of the word. Plus, we don’t entirely deny the various ways that we’ve broken mankind up into groups based on various traits, especially as descendants of various men.

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I guess I am not seeing your point. What does this have to do with “race?”

It wouldn’t surprise me that 20th century translators, breathing the same air that we do, would choose to use this language. Doesn’t prove anything though.

Seriously, can anyone point me to any historical, English-speaking usage of the term “race” as it relates to humans that both a) pre-dated Darwin, and b) was not being used in to argue a point of sinful partiality? That isn’t a gauntlet throw. I haven’t done the research. It’s a genuine question. It seems to me like you’re defending a term without any real compelling reason to. Show me how the term “race” can be used and has been used in any fruitful context, such that you are compelled to fight for its preservation?

Good point, and I will totally grant that. But I would argue that ethnicity is a meaningful classification when it comes to the human race though, as it captures those things like culture and language. These are the kinds of things that constitute actual differences between people groups. Skin color and eye shape do not.

The fact that my black brother at church grew up in inner-city Chicago, while I grew up in suburban central Iowa does mean we have distinctly different ethnicities. We come from different cultures, different tribes, and different tongues. Those are meaningful distinctions between us. The difference between our melanin levels, by contrast, is a completely arbitrary distinction, unless you believe – as Darwin did – that those melanin levels bear witness to something substantive about our personhood.

I am willing to grant that our sinful insistence on classifying people based on their skin color and eye shape has had the unfortunate consequences of creating different ethnic experiences for those individuals. Which is why we have “black neighboorhoods” and “black churches.” But that needs to be understood as a result of our sin, not “racial reality.”

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Doesn’t the word “ethnos” repeatedly appear in the N.T.? Like Acts 2:5, as a means to denote various groups of people by region of origin?

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Yes, but generally it means non-Jew (and in a negative way). Specifically “nation” is its meaning. There’s a reason it isn’t translated as “ethnicity.”

My point is simply that people get categorized various ways that overlap in complex ways. “Every tribe, tongue, and nation”

Race is certainly one of the things that people get categorized by. And denying that it’s real simply requires you to come up with a new name for the same thing. If you don’t want to call it race-based discrimination, then what will you call it? Skin-tone-based discrimination? That doesn’t quite cover it, though. Skin-tone-and-eye-shape-based discrimination? Still not quite there. Probably need to add a few more descriptors.

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