Excerpted From: Rodney D. Chrisman, Racial Reconciliation: A Biblical Framework, 17 Liberty University Law Review 507 (Spring, 2023) (162 Footnotes) (Full Document)


RodneyChrisman.jpegThis Article offers some thoughts on what racial reconciliation might look like in the twenty-first century in the United States of America. These thoughts necessarily flow from the fundamental presuppositions of the author and, therefore, derive from a Christian view of the world. Indeed, it is critical to a careful consideration of any issue to understand the basic worldview or set of presuppositions out of which the various sides are operating. Without this, people frequently talk past each other, and the dialogue, even if well-intentioned, is unfruitful. Given the importance of understanding the fundamental position from which an author is analyzing an issue, it might be surprising, as Dean Jeffrey Tuomala has observed, that “most writers do not even try to articulate the basic presuppositions from which they work.” Still, stated or not, “[t]he fact of the matter is that everyone operates on the basis of certain presuppositions, whether they do so self-consciously and honestly or not.”

Being no exception to this universal rule, the author's fundamental presuppositions are honestly stated here at the beginning. This Article endeavors to provide a framework for the analysis of issues relative to racial reconciliation self-consciously from a Christian perspective beginning with the two fundamental presuppositions that the Creator God of the Bible exists and that He has spoken authoritatively to all issues, including issues of race and race relations. Consequently, this Article looks to the timeless principles found in God's revelation of Himself to humankind in the law of nature and nature's God, which involves looking first and foremost to God's infallible revelation of Himself in the Bible.

Returning then to the topic of this Article, the fact that American society is greatly polarized and divided today is universally recognized, and consequently, there is a great need for reconciliation in general and racial reconciliation in particular. Many pundits and commentators have suggested that American society is as divided as it has been at any time in history with the possible exception of the years leading up to the Civil War. Interestingly, race was an issue of paramount importance during those times as well. While the Civil War and Reconstruction eras brought an end to race-based chattel slavery in America, all of America's race-related woes were not resolved during that period. Progress has been made since then on many fronts, but racial reconciliation has not been achieved to be sure, and it is as pressing a need today as it was at the time of the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Regrettably, progress toward the goal of racial reconciliation in America is complicated by a number of factors. Some factors are obvious, such as America's history with slavery and the slave trade, how slavery was ended, the persistence of abominable racial practices such as Jim Crow laws and other means of state-sponsored segregation and oppression, other manifestations of institutional racism such as in universities, business organizations, and professional organizations, and finally by personal racism in general, etc. Sorrowfully, the inconsistent witness of the American church has been a significant factor in this as well in that individual Christians and entire denominations not only tolerated race-based chattel slavery, segregation, Jim Crow laws, etc., but even attempted to use the Bible to justify such repugnant practices. Given this history, these are sensitive subjects that are often clouded by emotion and a lack of trust, making them particularly difficult to discuss.

Other factors are perhaps less obvious, or have received less attention, but are also of great importance in understanding the current situation. One such factor is the use (or misuse) of terminology leading to a lack of clarity in the discussion. Another factor is that, even among good-willed people who agree that racial reconciliation is a pressing need, there is extreme disagreement as to how to make progress toward the agreed upon goal. Finally, in recent years, there has developed a lack of clarity as to the goal itself because of the apparent collapse of a consensus as to what racial reconciliation in American society would look like. Accordingly, while it seems clear that most Americans are opposed to racism in some sense, it is no longer clear that Americans agree on what racism actually is or what racial reconciliation would look like in American society. This is not a situation that inspires hope, and it seems that some have started to doubt whether racial reconciliation is even possible.

This is a sad situation, as nothing is likely to be achieved without hope. However, perhaps hopelessness is to be expected in the area of racial reconciliation, as in other areas, because these are hopeless times. As Harold J. Berman demonstrates in his seminal work Law and Revolution, since Western civilization and the Western legal tradition abandoned their roots in Christianity, replacing Christianity with a vacuous secularism, they have lost the hopeful eschatology of the Christianity of the Papal Revolution and the Reformation and adopted instead a secular eschatology.

When Christian eschatology was discarded by the Enlightenment and by liberal theology in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a secular eschatology took its place. “No people,” Rosenstock-Huessy writes, “can live without faith in the ultimate victory of something. So while theology slept, the laity betook itself to other sources of Last Things”--to the eschatology of Karl Marx, on the one hand, and of Friedrich Nietzsche, on the other.

In commenting on the release in the Sabbath Year in Deuteronomy 15, Joseph Parker eloquently states the importance of hope, phrased by Rosenstock-Huessy as “faith in the ultimate victory of something” and discussed by Berman as eschatology, or the doctrine of last things. Of hope, Parker writes:

We must have the element of hopefulness in life: without hope we die. To-morrow will be a day of ransom and liberty--if not to-morrow by the clock, yet to-morrow in feeling: already the dawn is upon our hearts, already we hear noises of a distant approach: presently a great gladness will descend upon the soul. The child will be better in a day or two; when the weather warms (the doctor assures us), the life will be stronger. When arrangements now in progress are consummated--and they will be consummated presently--the whole house will be lighted up with real joy and thankfulness. So the spirit speaks to itself; so the heart sings songs in the night-time; so we live by hope and faith ....

We find in this year of release what we all need--namely, the principle of new chances, new opportunities, fresh beginnings. To-morrow--said the debtor or the slave--is the day of release, and the next day I shall begin again: I shall have another chance in life; the burden will be taken away, the darkness will be dispersed, and life shall be young again. Every man ought to have more chances than one, even in our own life. God has filled the sphere of life with opportunities. The expired week is dead and gone, and Christ's own resurrection day comes with the Gospel of hope, and the Gospel of a new beginning, the Gospel of a larger opportunity; and the year dies and buries itself, and the new year comes with silver trumpets, with proclamations from heaven, and Life says, when it is not utterly lost,--I will begin again: I will no longer blot the book of life: I will write with a steady and careful hand.

With regard to race relations, America has undoubtedly “blot[ted] the book of life,” making terrible and grievous mistakes, the consequences of which persist to this very day. Further, it is not clear that America is, as of yet, “writ[ing] with a steady and careful hand” with regard to matters related to race. In fact, it seems that there is still a ways to go toward that goal.

However, there is yet hope in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ that the sins and wrongs of the past might be forgiven. There is hope in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and His concomitant justice that real racial reconciliation and harmony can be achieved in these United States. Martin Luther King, Jr., after quoting Isaiah 40:4-5, said in his “I Have a Dream” Speech, “[t]his is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.” This is a hope of real racial reconciliation where: the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

... [Where] oppression will be transformed into ... freedom and justice.

... [Where people] will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

... [And where] little Black boys and Black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

This is a picture of true racial reconciliation. It was the hope of Martin Luther King, Jr., it has been the hope of countless thousands of others throughout American history, and it is a part of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

That said, it is beyond the scope of this Article and beyond the skills and abilities of its author to address all the problems attendant to race relations in modern America or to provide answers to all of the vexing questions in this area. This author recognizes that he is woefully inadequate to take on such a task. Further, he is mindful that he is a white man attempting to address race relations and racial reconciliation in America. John Frame, in his excellent piece, The Doctrine of the Christian Life, admonishes that “history imposes on white Christians the obligation to be extra sensitive with blacks on matters of race.” Attempting to take that admonition to heart and therefore attempting to write in humility and the love of God, His Gospel, and other people, the goal of this Article is to endeavor to make some contribution to the discussion of the issues surrounding racial reconciliation by proffering a biblical framework for addressing issues of racial reconciliation, including biblical definitions of important terms and concepts. Ultimately, this Article asserts that, in Christ and His Gospel--and only in Christ and His Gospel--there is real hope for real racial reconciliation.

Therefore, this Article begins by presenting a biblical understanding of racial reconciliation. Section II.A offers a biblical definition of the sin of racism and discusses how the Gospel results in the eradication of sin but not the diversity that God has created in His world, including racial diversity. Section II.B includes a biblical consideration of the term or concept of race, asserting that, biblically speaking, there is only one human race. Section III asserts that only the Christian worldview provides a foundation for true racial reconciliation. Finally, Section IV concludes by considering racial reconciliation as an issue of law and policy, which includes a consideration of several relevant principles of biblical justice.

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As noted in the introduction to this Article, many are beginning to lose hope that racial reconciliation is even possible in modern America. This sad fact is perhaps particularly surprising given the enormous efforts undertaken by the civil government and others in modern times to solve racial issues and bring about racial reconciliation. However, this is not surprising when viewed in light of the biblical framework presented in this Article. It should not be expected that governmental and other actions undertaken apart from and without the benefit of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ will be able to change human hearts and bring about the love necessary for true community and racial reconciliation. Further, it should not be expected that the civil government acting outside of its God-given role and jurisdiction can bring about even a good end, such as racial reconciliation. As Matthew 6:33 admonishes, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all of these things will be added to you.” Humankind must seek the ends God tells it to seek using the means which He has commanded. Only then will all of these other good things, such as racial reconciliation, “be added to you.”