In the critically-acclaimed book Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America, a very popular and highly-recommended read among evangelical social justice advocates, authors Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith assert that: “As a nation, Americans have devoted extensive time and energy discussing religion and race. But the connection between the two, especially religion’s role in the racially divided United States, is grossly under-studied.”

For the sake of this commentary, I will grant Emerson and Smith the benefit of the doubt that they are correct in their assertion. In fact, there is ample evidence that countless Americans continue to devote extensive amounts of time, energy, and money toward investigating the relationship between religion (e.g. Christianity) and “racial” disparities.

It is a reality that is difficult to miss.

One need only look around his or her local bookstore (do they still have those?), grocery store checkout, or social media footprint and it becomes evident rather quickly that the number of books, articles, podcasts, and blogs that are focused on matters of racial reconciliation and social justice, from both a theological and philosophical perspective, are ubiquitous and unavoidable. So much so that “racial reconciliation” has developed into its own special category of ministry within the evangelical church. Case in point, Lifeway® Christian Stores, a division of the Southern Baptist Convention, has an entire section of its website dedicated to the subject.

But to whatever degree the aforementioned statement by the writers of Divided by Faith is valid, what is equally true, if not more so, is that the gospel has been so grossly under-studied, even by many evangelical social justicians, as to fail to comprehend or acknowledge the genesis of such a chasm.

It is the church’s decades-long insistence on broaching this matter of ethno-relational partitioning through the lens of political and legislative solutions, as opposed to addressing gospel-centered root causes, that has led to this latest cycle of evangelical social activism – because there truly is nothing new under the sun[1] – which, in reality, is merely a regurgitation of previously-argued dogmas and credendas that have simply been repackaged and relabeled (e.g. ‘woke’). Were this not the case, I would not be spending my time writing nor, likewise, would you be spending your time reading, this commentary.

The fact that many Christians continue to exclaim that “Racism still exists!” – as if racism (a term I personally disavow, but will use for the sake of this article) should be treated as if it were the attitudinal equivalent of a carton of milk that had reached its expiration date – is testament to the level of naivety that exists in failing to realize that politics and government are wholly inadequate to meliorate not only the tangible effects of such a mindset, whether individually or systemically, but also the spiritual origins of it.[2] [3]

The 17th century Puritan theologian Thomas Watson (1620-1686) wrote[4], “God’s knowledge is foundational. He is the original pattern and prototype of all knowledge. God’s knowledge is instantaneous. He knows all at once. Our knowledge is successive. We know one thing after another and argue from the effect to the cause.”

Evangelical social justicians are the type of people of whom Watson is speaking in that they tend to argue their case from the perspective of the effect (injustice) to the cause (“racism”). Whereas the gospel always argues from the standpoint of the cause (sin) to the effect (injustice).

One of the clearest examples of this is the exchange between God and Cain in Genesis 4:1-7. Cain was “very angry” (v. 5b) because his offering had been rejected by God and his brother, Abel’s, offering accepted by Him. But God, being fully aware that Cain was contemplating murdering Abel out of jealousy and envy, warned him not about the act he was considering, but about the sin that was “crouching at the door” of his heart (v. 7a) and that, if he didn’t “master it” (v. 7b), would lead to his committing the act that he was already contemplating against his brother.

We all know how that turned out, don’t we?

When one considers the protestations of evangelical social justicicians, both biblically and holistically, one invariably comes to the conclusion that they are demanding that which is humanly impossible. I say that primarily on the basis of Ps. 106:3, which reads, “How blessed are those who keep justice, who practice righteousness at all times.”

Social justicians are, in my humble opinion, admirably, but misguidedly, hoping to remake this present world into one in which justice and righteousness are consistently observed by all who inhabit this sinful world.

But if God’s Word is clear about anything, it is that you and I are innately unrighteous[5] and, conversely, are wholly incapable of consistently adhering to society’s ever-shifting standards of ethics and morality let alone God’s fixed standards[6]. Which is why the vision of the late Dr. James Hal Cone (1936-2018) – a man whom many regard as one of the founders of black liberation theology – that “Love should be a controlling element in power, not power itself[7]” – will continue to be a mirage in this life, because the same sin that divides us from God divides us from one another.

To put it differently, the problem is enmity not ethnicity.

The gospel of Matthew records that the angel of the Lord commanded Joseph to name the Child to whom his wife was to give birth ‘Jesus’ for the foreordained purpose that “He will save His people from their sins[8].” I mention this to suggest that evangelical social justicians would do well to remind themselves that Jesus is a Savior, not a divine Social Worker.

Christ’s larger purpose in this world is eschatological not sociological[9], to prepare for His elect a new world to come, not a better world here[10].

via Just Thinking


[1] Eccl. 1:9
[2] Eccl. 5:8
[3] Gen. 6:5
[4] The Great Gain of Godliness
[5] Rom. 3:23
[6] Eccl. 7:20
[7] Black Theology: A Documented History, Volume 1: 1966-1979, p. 21
[8] Matt. 1:21
[9] Jn. 18:36
[10] 2 Pet. 3:13

Darrell Bernard Harrison
Darrell B. Harrison is a 2013 Fellow of the Black Theology and Leadership Institute (BTLI) of Princeton Theological Seminary, and is a 2015 graduate of the Theology and Ministry program at Princeton Theological Seminary. Harrison's undergraduate studied included majoring in Psychology with a specialization in Christian Counseling at Liberty University. Harrison has a particular passion for seeing expository preaching become the standard within the Black Church.

One Comment to: Divided By Sin

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    Richard Jude Woerner

    February 20th, 2019

    Great piece brother. I believe that racism is a heart issue, hence Jeremiah 17:9. But I need not dive into how wicked the human heart can sink into sin and depravity. We see this on the news on a daily basis it seems.

    I so admire Frederick Douglass. If I had to chance to eat dinner with a famous person, Mr. Douglass would be one of them. What I find in today’s racial talks is the absence of what Frederick Douglass had said and experienced. I know I need not go into detail about his life and the time in America he rose above the racial ideas of the time. I came across a speech he had given and the words he spoke are worthy to be repeated today.

    “We hear, since emancipation, much said by our modern colored leaders in commendation of race pride, race love, race effort, race superiority, race men, and the like. One man is praised for being a race man and another is condemned for not being a race man. In all this talk of race, the motive may be good, but the method is bad. It is an effort to cast out Satan by Beelzebub. …

    I recognize and adopt no narrow basis for my thoughts, feelings, or modes of action. I would place myself, and I would place you, my young friends, upon grounds vastly higher and broader than any founded upon race or color. …

    To those who are everlastingly prating about race men, I have to say: Gentlemen, you reflect upon your best friends. It was not the race or the color of the negro that won for him the battle of liberty. That great battle was won, not because the victim of slavery was a negro, mulatto, or an Afro-American, but because the victim of slavery was a man and a brother to all other men, a child of God, and could claim with all mankind a common Father, and therefore should be recognized as an accountable being, a subject of government, and entitled to justice, liberty and equality before the law, and everywhere else.”

    Hypocrites can be found on all sides of the spectrum in their racial arguments in our country. But one thing that drives me really crazy is those who claim The Dream of Dr. King and yet, commit the same atrocities he stood against. I guess we can say the same thing about some of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We need to stop viewing life through skin colored glasses and see each other for what we were meant to be and written in the very first chapter of the book we hold so dear…We are created in the image of God.

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