In our modern era of civil rights for all Americans, not just those who have white skin, the evangelical church has had to adjust to a new way of thinking about race.
From the founding, white Americans have viewed themselves as superior to “colored” people. Back when America’s God was doling out rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” for those willing to take up arms against their fellow British Christian brothers, it was “self-evident” to America’s founders that such rights did not apply to blacks, Native Americans, and women of all colors.
Put simply, it was “self-evident” to early American “Christians” that the rights dispensed by America’s God at the nation’s founding were intended only for the white race and no one else. That is a sad fact that modern Christians do well to humbly remember.
The great injustices caused by racism and slavery in America eventually led the country to a full-blown civil war. (In fact, America is the only nation that I could find, in my own research, that had to take up arms against each other in order to end slavery.)
While slavery was finally abolished on December 6, 1865 with the adoption of the 13th Amendment, it only came after at least 600,000 American soldiers died in armed conflict. This was one of the worst episodes of Christian-on-Christian bloodshed (aside from the Revolutionary War) in recent memory.
Of course, the abolition of slavery did relatively little to improve the physical safety and rights of blacks in America. An honest survey of racial segregation, discrimination, and violence during the notorious Jim Crow era makes this clear.
Prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin by federal and state governments, and prior to the landmark Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967), which invalidated laws prohibiting interracial marriage, most evangelicals, especially in the South, believed racial segregation was “biblical.” During this time, far too few evangelical pulpits challenged the validity of racial segregation as a “Christian” doctrine.
When the federal government overturned the legal basis for racial segregation, evangelical preachers were caught in a catch-22. One one hand, they realized the times were changing and that desegregation was inevitable. But on the other hand, they had codified and systematized the separation of races as a “biblical” command and therefore felt as if the federal government was persecuting them for their deeply-held beliefs and convictions.
While most writings and recordings of pro-segregationist evangelical preachers are hidden away from public view, one example can be found in the Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible (1963), which was one of the first study bibles produced within the Pentecostal community. In this clipping, you can read for yourself how many evangelicals used the Bible to defend their views on racial segregation.
1. God wills all races to be as He made them. Any violation of God’s original purpose manifests insubordination to Him (Acts 17:26; Romans 9:19-24).
2. God made everything to reproduce “after his own kind” (Genesis 1:11-12, 21-25; 6:20; 7:14). Kind means type and color or He would have kept them all alike to begin with.
3. God originally determined the bounds of the habitations of nations (Acts 17:26; Genesis 10:5, 32; 11:8; Deuteronomy 32:8).
4. Miscegenation means the mixture of races, especially the black and white races, or those of outstanding type or color. The Bible even goes farther than opposing this. It is against different branches of the same stock intermarrying such as Jews marrying other descendants of Abraham (Ezra 9-10; Nehemiah 9-13; Jeremiah 50:37; Ezekiel 30:5).
5. Abraham forbad Eliezer to take a wife for Isaac of the Canaanites (Genesis 24:1-4). God was so pleased with this that He directed whom to get (Genesis 24:7, 12-27).
6. Isaac forbad Jacob to take a wife of the Canaanites (Genesis 27:46-28:7).
7. Abraham sent all his sons of the concubines, and even of his second wife, far away from Isaac so their descendants would not mix (Genesis 25:1-6).
8. Esau disobeying this law brought the final break between him and his father after lifelong companionship with him (Genesis 25:28; 26:34-35, 27:46; 28:8-9).
9. The two branches of Isaac remained segregated forever (Genesis 30; 46:8-26).
10. Ishmael and Isaac’s descendants remained segregated forever (Genesis 25:12-23; 1 Chronicles 1:29).
11. Jacob’s sons destroyed a whole city to maintain segregation (Genesis 34).
12. God forbad intermarriage between Israel and all other nations (Exodus 34:12-16; Deuteronomy 7:5-6).
13. Joshua forbad the same thing on sentence of death (Joshua 22:12-13).
14. God cursed angels for leaving their own “first estate” and “their own habitation” to marry the daughters of men (Genesis 6:1-4; 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6-7).
15. Miscegenation caused Israel to be cursed (Judges 3:6-7; Numbers 25:1-8).
16. This was Solomon’s sin (I Kings 11).
17. This was the sin of Jews returning from Babylon (Ezra 9:1-10:2,10-18,44; 13:1-30).
18. God commanded Israel to be segregated (Leviticus 20:24; Numbers 23:9; 1 Kings 8:53).
19. Jews recognized as a separate people in all ages because of God’s choice and command (Matthew 10:6; John 1:11). Equal rights in the gospel gives no right to break this eternal law.
20. Segregation between Jews and all other nations to remain in all eternity (Isaiah 2:2-4; Ezekiel 37; 47:13-48,55; Zechariah 14:16-21; Matthew 19:28; Luke 1:32-33; Revelation 7:1-8; 14:1-5).
21. All nations will remain segregated from one another in their own parts of the earth forever (Acts 17:26; Genesis 10:5,32; 11:8-9; Deuteronomy 32:8; Daniel 7:13-14; Zechariah 14; Revelation 11:15; 21:24).
22. Certain people in Israel were not even to worship with others (Deuteronomy 23:1-5; Ezra 10:8; Nehemiah 9:2 10:28; 13:3).
23. Even in heaven certain groups will not be allowed to worship together (Revelation 7:7-17; 14:1-5; 15:2-5).
24. Segregation was so strong in the O.T. that an ox and an ass could not work together (Deuteronomy 22:10).
25. Miscegenation caused disunity among God’s people (Numbers 12).
26. Stock was forbidden to be bred with other kinds (Leviticus 19:19).
27. Sowing mixed seed in the same field was unlawful (Leviticus 19:19).
28. Different seeds were forbidden to be planted in vineyards (Deuteronomy 22:9).
29. Wearing garments of mixed fabrics forbidden (Deuteronomy 22:11; Leviticus 19:19).
30. Christians and certain other people of a like race are to be segregated (Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Corinthians 5:9-13; 6:15; 2 Corinthians 6:14-15; Ephesians 5:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-16; 1 Timothy 6:5; 2 Timothy 3:5).
It is heartbreaking that, in times past, American evangelicals used the Bible to condone blatant racism and discrimination against their own neighbor. But it is also sad that modern evangelicals now have so little to say on the topic of race, after having so much to say in times past. Instead of reaching out to white nationalists and other wayward souls who still believe former evangelical teachings on race (many across the South), most evangelical pulpits remain silent on the topic as racial tensions rage across America.
BOTTOM LINE: We don’t need evangelical pulpits to simply tell us that racism is a sin. That is obvious to anyone who has read the words of Jesus. What we do need, however, is for evangelical leaders to lead the way in helping America heal its deep racial divide through sound teaching and condemnation of hateful attitudes with the same fervor they once used to fan the flames of racism for decades.