Racial Reconciliation: A Philosophical and Theological Issue

Kentucky Today, the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s online paper, published yesterday a piece I wrote in response to the recent Resolution 10 passed at the SBC in June. In my essay, I argue that while the passing of the resolution is to be praised, SBC members can’t stop there. We cannot think that passing a resolution equates into racial reconciliation. Rather, it needs to be the starting point as Southern Baptist churches and members seek to eradicate not only the more overt racism (such as the Alt Right), but what I call “whitewashed racism” – those racist beliefs that are difficult to detect, but make up the fabric of one’s worldview. If interested, you can read my essay here. I post the link here because the issue of race is essentially a philosophical one. Ibram X. Kendi recently published a phenomenal book titled Stamped from the Beginning, in which he recounts the history of racism in America. What stood out to me (when it comes to race as a philosophical issue) is how Enlightenment thinkers saw race (i.e. the color of one’s skin) as indicative of one’s worth and ability. That is, one’s race placed them somewhere on a hierarchy of humanity, with Whites being the most superior and Blacks the most inferior. For instance, David Hume – that venerated Enlightenment philosopher – stated the following:

I am apt to suspect the negroes and in general all the other species of men (for there are four or five different kinds) to be naturally inferior to the whites…Such a uniform and constant difference could not happen, in so many countries and ages, if nature had not made an original distinction between these breeds of men (quoted in Kendi, 95).

Hume is just one of many thinkers who held to the view that non-Whites (especially Blacks) were naturally inferior to Whites. In short, this view holds that non-Whites are ontologically different. That is, they are different in essence. This idea essentially undergirded the racism of early America on up to the Jim Crow days, and even into today.

The term “racism” and “racist” are used quite a bit today in media and everyday talk, such that it seems these terms have a range of meaning. Kendi’s definition of a racist idea is simple and, I think, on point: a racist idea “is any concept that regards one racial group as inferior or superior to another racial group in any way” (5). We see, then, racist ideas in their overt forms like white supremacy. However, we see them in their more subversive form as well as I point out in my essay. It is the subversive form of racism that we all need to eradicate, and be humble to listen to the conviction of the Holy Spirit and to the correction of others.

Hence, the fact that racism is a theological issue. To view one of another race as inferior in any way is to see the individual as less than created in the image of God. It is to say that what God has declared in his Word is different in reality. Further, to view another race as inferior in some way is to harbor a sinful idea (or ideas) against another.

I realize that some believe the race issue is overplayed–a ploy by the liberal media to rile the ranks. Others believe that the race “card” is played by some to gain some benefits–so it is they who keep alive racism. For those who hold to these idea, racism would be dead if not perpetuated by media and race card players. Here, I would say that while there may be some truth to these ideas, they over-simplify a very real, a very present, and a very complex issue. Racism is not just overt actions against another; they are also the subversive, unseen ideas that are of the very fabric of one’s worldview. We all (regardless of race) must guard our hearts against racist ideas by seeking the work of the Holy Spirit to expose any racist ideas in our heart and humbly listen to others who point out a racist idea in our self.

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