How Real is Race?

Is God colorblind? I mean, I’m sure that He isn’t in the literal sense. But I’ve heard on many occasions, “Oh, I don’t see color.” I’ve also heard, in many different contexts – and I quote - “race isn’t real. It’s merely a man-made construct used to separate, cause division OR oppress.” Should race be devalued? Ignored? Is “race” a legitimate ‘thing’?

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Warrrrrrrnerrrrrr! (@WarnerMiller) Hello, brother. So good to have you back beginning thoughtful discussions. :slight_smile: I am fascinated by your question. I’ll start us off by chiming in with some of my initial thoughts…

First off, is there a working definition of ‘race’ that you (or others) generally adhere to? That would help as we think through whether or not it’s ‘real’. I generally think of it as a category having to do with genetic origin and skin pigmentation.

I am generally opposed to the notion of using ‘race’ as a system of classification. Because, who likes being put in a box? And I’m generally skeptical of the motivations for needing to categorise people. Like the critique mentions, that man-made construct can easily be used to separate, cause division and/or oppress.

The more I think about it, the more I don’t think ‘race’ is a real thing. As humans, we all came from a certain cultural and family context. We all have a set of inherited biological and inherited/learned personality traits. Everyone has a certain colour of skin pigmentation. Everyone has a lived human experience. I see diversity everywhere I look, even within groups that generally share a shade of pigmentation.

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In the broad scheme of things, skin color makes for a very small difference between people. If I recall correctly, the genetic differences that set any two people apart from each other are about twelve times greater than the differences that account for “race.” Then too, even having similar skin color can be quite deceptive; there is more genetic diversity among the people of Africa than the rest of humanity combined, and humanity as a whole is remarkably homogeneous compared to many other mammal species.

When it comes down to it, I daresay that cultural differences are a greater cause of division than skin color, we just tend to judge based on skin color (in part) because there is often a correlation between pigmentation differences and cultural differences. Biblically speaking, “race” makes little difference to God. Revelation 7:9 paints a beautiful picture of God’s elect being “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages,” and we are told in Matthew 24:14 that the end of this age must be preceded by the proclamation of the gospel to all nations. Paul declared that “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11, ESV). The depth of this statement is easily lost to us today, but to that world, where Greeks regarded all who did not share their culture as uncivilized and barbaric, Jews regarded all who did not share their faith as depraved pagans, and virtually everyone regarded Scythians as the epitome of backwardness and cruelty, it was nothing short of revolutionary.

One last thought: As my college chaplain once observed, Christ commanded that we practice two sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The first requires water, a necessary precursor to civilization; the second requires bread and wine, which virtually every culture on earth has in some form or another (if not wine specifically, then some kind of special drink, usually alcoholic). Thus, the design of the sacraments is such that rather than imposing a specific culture on others, it utilizes as symbols those elements which all cultures already share.

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Heeeeeey there, @KMac! Thx for the welcome, sis!:grin:

So, full disclosure…when posting a question on here, I generally try to keep my position ambiguous with the hopes that it might invite a more diverse and well-rounded response. But I think, maybe in this case it might serve to “show my hand” to help provoke responses and possibly give some clarity as to where the question was originally coming from…or not. :man_shrugging:t6::grin: So, I guess I’ll show my hand on this one.

In full transparency, I DO believe that a person’s race matters to God and is of importance to Him. Not insomuch as a person’s racial descriptor is preeminent over our identity in Christ and our unity within the brotherhood and sisterhood of believers. However – to, again, show my hand – I DO understand race to be “a thing”… uniquely and specifically selected by God for His glory.

The biggest, most obvious reason (at least, to me) why it is important to God is that God could have very well chosen to create a homogeneous, indistinctly-hued creation. We are His workmanship or handiwork. (Eph.2:10) That word workmanship is translated from the Greek word, poiéma from where the English language gets the word (you guessed it) POEM. Humanity is God’s POEM!! That is so profound to me! As a writer, myself, I take special care constructing stuff that I write – whether they’re talks for the Body or creative or BOTH. Each word is meticulously selected and combed over so that the meaning and intention that I had in mind is clearly communicated. I’m sure you would attest to that, as well, regarding something you’ve worked on. I can only imagine how much deliberate care and attention to each and every detail of our make-up (including our skin color, what part of the world we’d be born in; the parentage, language and culture we’d be born into, etc) God put in and invested into us for His ultimate glory. Again, God could have very well chosen to create a homogeneous, indistinctly-hued creation. We could have looked and sounded the same – with no accents or differing cultural expressions or anything. In fact, perhaps prior to the Tower of Babel, that may have been the case:

“AND THE whole earth was of one language and of one accent and mode of expression.” ~ Genesis 11:1 AMPC

However, God chose to “confound (mix up, confuse) their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” Genesis 11:7 AMPC

…and thus began the forming of differing “ethnos”, “phylēn”, “glōssan” and “laon”. Those Greek words are found (in many places throughout the NT but specifically in Revelation 14:6 (and Rev. 7:9 of which @MicahB cited). They translate to:

  • ethnos = race, nation or culture, particularly other than Israel. Non-Jews
  • phylēn = a clan, tribe or (yes) race of people descended from a common ancestor
  • glōssan = tongue or a language; a nation usually distinguished by their common speech.
  • laon = people, especially (within the context of Rev.14:6) Jews, then Christians.

Secondly, if race were not of a certain importance and distinction to God, then one would be justified to ask why the apostle John, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, differentiated and categorized “those who dwell on Earth” into race, nation, tongue and people? It was more than just an acknowledgement of their existence.

Also, Jesus – God’s only begotten Son and Lamb slain; humanity’s Savior and Redeemer; God’s Living Word and Emmanuel – was also a Jewish man. I know of no place in Scripture where Jesus forsakes or denies His Judaism. He kept the Law and (most) Jewish social customs.

And a crowd was sitting around Him, and they said to Him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking You.” And He answered them, “Who are My mother and My brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around Him, He said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.” ~ Mark 3:32‭-‬35 ESV

Here, Jesus wasn’t denying His Jewishness but rather placing it in its proper perspective and order. Race can absolutely be something that describes a person without defining a person. However, it IS a part of a person and should not be ignored or deminished for the sake of comfortability and “false” unity. Everyone’s race should be celebrated (not deified or used to diminish others) as opposed to pretending that it doesn’t exist, again and especially, for the sake of “false” unity. If ignoring someone’s race or pretending that God-given differences, like skin color, don’t exist (as in, “I don’t see color”) is the only way that a person can treat someone of a differing race as equal…then it becomes a disingenuous, fraudulent gesture of peace and unity. A unity…especially a Christian unity that doesn’t acknowledge and embrace all the God-given diversity and specifically chosen diversity is fraudulent. The ideal is a REAL Unity within REAL, EXPRESSED Diversity. Again, this is NOT about deifing race and making it preeminent. However, my and your ethnicity, cultural background/expression, language and, yes, race shouldn’t be shied away from or ignored but rather acknowledged and celebrated for the intentional, God-given-ness it is.

Lastly, while, YES, in accordance with Col.3:11…in Christ we’re not held primarily or ultimately by those descriptors, ie. Jew or Greek; circumcised or uncircumcised; slave or free, etc. regarding our equality or status within the Body – we yet STILL maintain those descriptors in life and reality. Paul didn’t cease affirming His Roman citizenship once He was saved. (Acts 22:28,29) But similar to Jesus, he instead repositioned it to its proper place and value. (Phil.3:4-8)

I think that’s all I got. I hope that makes sense. I respectfully welcome any comments or critique or pointing out of any holes or misunderstandings in my understanding. Truly. 'Preciate’cha!:wink::+1:t6: Thx, y’all.

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Hi guys! You’ve given me some things to think about, Warner, so thank you for your thorough response. :slight_smile:

I was asking about a working definition of ‘race’ as I was curious if people were mostly inclined think of race only in terms of skin pigmentation. I think that is a prevalent view in the US, and I often wonder if the different (whether broader or more narrow) definitions of ‘race’ help muddy the waters when we discuss race relations in the US?

Would you say that race is an interchangeable word for you? That is, can it also mean nationality/culture as well as family ancestry (tribe/people group) and language? Or does it encompass all these things? My own reason for initially stating that race is not real is because I view culture, nationality, geographic ancestry/ethnicity, language, etc. as more accurate descriptors…and maybe also because of the cultural baggage that ‘race’ carries, as you mentioned in your initial post.

Rather than differentiating or categorising, I wonder if John was just using all the good words available to him to make the point that in his vision of heaven, no one was excluded from the worship in the presence of God? All of humanity will be there, whether you think in terms of ethnos, phylen, glossan, or laon.

I agree with you that God is an appreciator of diversity, and I hope that I reflect Him in my own appreciation for how varied humanity is! The world is more interesting to me precisely because of our differences, and I am sharpened and challenged by those who see and experience the world differently.

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@WarnerMiller. You listed as the first point of reference to different races, the occasion of the Tower of Babel. But at Babel, the diverse tongues were dispensed as a way of stopping the people. It could be summarized that the division into races is a judgment against mankind. Therefore making it not something to be admired but rather endured.

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@cer7 I think you’re both a bit off. God’s original plan was that humanity spread out across the earth to rule it as His image-bearers. Instead, humanity attempted to remain united and use that unity in to exalt itself, thereby defying its purpose. The division of languages was simply a means of forcing humanity to do what God had always intended, to spread out and settle across the earth. The development of different cultures, languages (or at least dialects), and “races” (i.e. ethnic divisions) would have been inevitable, given that spreading out would have necessarily resulted in independent development due to geographic separation.

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What are the scripture references for this plan?

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@cer7 How about Genesis 1:27-28?

"So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

“And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’” (ESV)

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However, it does not appear that the original plan in Eden was thwarted by a singular language. Genesis 1:27-28 was already being fulfilled. It was also given to Noah after disembarking from the Ark. “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” Genesis-1-28 and Genesis 9:1.

Those mandates were being accomplished even with one tongue. What the story of Babel does identify is their determination to make a name for themselves. They would accomplish this by building a city and tower high into the heaven.

“And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.”
And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do."
Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech."
“So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.”
“Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.” Genesis-11:5-9.

Nothing there indicates they ever stopped being fruitful, stopped multiply, replenishing or subduing the earth. Nothing there to indicate they did not have dominion over fish of the sea, birds of the heavens, or every living thing moving on the earth.

What it does indicate is that they wanted to elevate themselves. This is a powerful recommendation for unity. When we are unified, even in sin; we can accomplish mighty things. But pridefulness has never distracted us from reproduction or domination.

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@cer7 Reread Genesis 4:11. Part of the purpose of building the city and tower was to prevent humanity from being scattered across the earth. It’s hard the govern the whole earth and everything in it when everyone is concentrated in a small area.

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I think you may have listed the wrong scripture. Genesis 4:11 reads, " And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand;"
That verse is an excerpt from the conversation GOD had with Cain for killing his brother Abel.

We should probably conclude that we will not agree on the Tower of Babel text. And that’s okay. These are details that will not distract from the plan of salvation. Its okay if we reach different conclusions.

But I do not believe that the Tower of Babel event occurred as an indication that GOD thought racial divides were significant. Nor do I believe that it occurred because it was needed to fulfill GOD’s original plan for mankind.

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@cer7 Whoops, that should be Genesis 11:4, not Genesis 4:11. Sorry about that.

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Hey there, again, @KMac! Sorry for the lengthy absence. Thanks for your response. I was attending to a Young Life camp that I volunteer for. I mentor predominantly, young Black and Latino kids (mostly from the Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan areas of New York City, USA) and I take them to this Young Life camp ground every summer and winter. I mention all of this for a purpose. Young Life is relatively new to the urban…certainly, NY metropolitan area. Many of the youth I mentor not only weren’t raised Christian but also definitely unaware of Young Life which – I think it would be fair to say – is predominantly historically, “culturally white”, suburban/rural in awareness and familiarity…at least, in the United States. Urban ministry is a relatively new thing. So, as you can imagine, bringing a group of young, black boys from an urban context to a predominantly “culturally white”, suburban context is not only culturally shocking but also provokes questions having to do with, among other things, race. So, needless to say, this topic thread has been revisited even while I was away.

Yes, I think I would use – or would, at least, try to use the term race as it’s used interchangeably within Scripture, ie Rev. 7:9, 14:6. Etymologically, all if not some of those words can accurately be translated as the word “race” from the original Greek. I also absolutely get the reticence of using the word “race” because of all the “cultural baggage” – especially in places like the US and SA – that is attached to it. However, respectfully, I’ve also found that it is typically (NOT all) white or non-Black people (again, especially in the US) who, from possibly benevolent places don’t like using the term race and, like yourself, are “generally opposed to the notion of using ‘race’ as a system of classification” and “don’t think race is a real thing”. You could certainly find Black men and women who affirm your position. But I would humbly contend that they are the exception…the outliers, if you will.

And on the topic of it being a “social construct”, as you mentioned, I would concede that THAT could be true…or, at least, truth within that notion. Ironically, just yesterday, I had a very engaging and fruitful conversation with a brilliant, articulate, thoughtful 17 yr old who, defending transgenderism, held that titles like “boy” or “girl”; “man” and “woman” were also “social constructs” (similar to your view on “race”) that should not be obliged. She said that “male” and “female” were the actual real, scientific, biological designations but the others were man-made. I contended–for the sake of argument that, let’s say they were. Let’s say that male/female were the “real” ones and boy/girl; man/woman were man-made. Does that make them inherently wrong; undeserving of acknowledgement and honor? What about titles like mother or father – both designations that aren’t just DNA or biology (specifically with adoptive parents) – should those not be acknowledged and honored because it separates, divides and distinguishes? I know that those may seem like a far-fetched parallels but I honestly do not. Hypothetically, let’s say that race IS a man-made construct…should we still not acknowledge and honor it? Real question.

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Warner if I may chime in although the question was asked of KMac. Perhaps culture can be acknowledged and honored, but I think the ideology behind race falls short. It is too limited. Which is why the focus on race does not resolve issues and only provides temporary relief, never deliverance. There is a reason why the Black movement keeps regurgitating every 10 to 20 years. Bearing different names but the same rhetoric.

Perhaps acknowledging race is a legitimate stepping stone towards wisdom and purpose. But certainly not valid if it does not reach the pinnacle of true human/dna connections. We all come from the same gene pool. We all belong to GOD. We all bear that mark of value and importance because of GOD. Not because of race or even culture. That’s true naturally and spiritually. Galatians 3:28. Humbly submitted by an ‘outlier’. :wink:

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Yes indeed! It DOES fall short if seen as preeminent; before or on par with our principal identity in Christ. Respectfully, @cer7 and in truth, it was in anticipation of comments such as your own that I made sure I noted…repeatedly and in multiple paragraphs – just so that it would not be misunderstood – that I was NOT (to your point) using race to “resolve issues” or “reach the pinnacle of true human/dna connections”. If I may quote from myself: :wink:

The descriptor of a racial designation - much like ‘mother’ or ‘father’ or ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ – whilst they can legitimately describe someone, don’t ultimately define them. They aren’t primary descriptor and (again, to your point) fall short to an identity to/with God. However, even so…they still, they ARE real. I can appreciate that how you may have seen – and possibly, continue to see – race used and deified and perhaps even weaponized has influenced your position. I respect that. However, respectfully, that is not the truth. It’s a false dichotomy. It’s not an either/or proposition: to either honor and acknowledge your race OR acknowledge that we “all bear that mark of value and importance because of GOD. Not because of race or even culture.” I can, without tension, do both. I can acknowledge and honor the beauty, complexity and uniqueness of my (as well as other’s) racial makeup, culture, language, bakcground AS WELL AS acknowledge that my ultimate worth and value come supremely and directly from my identity with God in Christ. There is no contention. There is no disharmony. Many immigrants, who were also Jesus-lovin’, God-fearin’, Bible-believin’ Christians (such as my own) were able to worship and honor their God wholeheartedly while yet celebrating the beauty and heritage of their culture (phylēn), tongue (glōssan) and, yes, race (ethnos).

Thanks, so much, for the convo!

Respectfully, in His grip…

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@WarnerMiller. Just asking and answering the ‘real’ question you ask KMac. Sorry I missed your full exclamation.

I find no conflict in the celebration of who I am by cultural, gender, age or size. I am very proud of the contributions my culture has brought to the world. But who I am to GOD, brings the true value.

And for the record. I think you are an “outlier,” as well. Let me add, by virtue of your vision for your community you are outside of the popular dogma of race, and other concepts. Every culture needs such individuals. Society needs people of vision.

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