I am against racism in all forms. It’s sad that more is not said against the religious version of this discriminatory evil. In going to this place, I realize that I am delving into a sensitive subject matter here. As a caveat to Christians desiring to be lights of influence, let me just say that this is not the first line of conversation you should take with someone of another faith. However, it could be something you raise within an ongoing relational journey, where the relationship is established and safe (not conditional or threatening), and when you are seeking to gain leverage for a more serious rational investigation. And that, my friends, is why I write.
Here’s my premise. With far reaching ramifications, because of cultural identity and pride, it is commonplace for people to take a favoritistic viewpoint on religion that subverts any real quest for truth. Though it might not be popular with all—I’m going out on a limb and call a spade a spade—at its deep core, it’s racism. Having recently been in the Middle East, Egypt and India, I could see the under-toe almost everywhere. Consider, for example, that one of the most notable factors undergirding Islam’s wide acceptance in the Middle East is that its founder, Mohammed, was an Arab. Presumptively, God’s greatest prophet, one of their own, was the conduit for the Quran, supposedly God’s last best revelation (even though it contradicts and denies the central prophecies/teachings of the Old and New Testaments about the messianic Christ, his historic death on the cross, and his offer of a new covenant of love and grace). If you were part of the Arabic race, would you not feel the allure of nationalistic-like fervor, on having this divine achievement in your people’s resume?
Am I suggesting that all Islamists are racists? Absolutely not! If they have looked fairly and fully at all religious leaders disregarding race or region of origin, and have concluded that Mohammed stands above the rest, then they are not moored racially or regionally. Though personally, I believe they have made a conclusion that is gravely misled being humanly reasoned (God could not be divided into three persons, and he could not be a human being, and we must obey to achieve our salvation), racism is not one of their sins. As a side note of observation, I think many Muslims are genuinely convinced of their faith, though they remain spiritually empty, have no assurance of salvation, struggle under the fear of law, and deplore the violent nature of Islam. If only they had the opportunity to question, explore openly and choose.
Yet overt racial overtones do clearly exist as well. In Africa, I met with a woman who had converted from Islam to Christianity. Having been raised in Islam, she shared a number of insider experiences—one of which was being told that, “Christianity is the white man’s religion.” Being a brilliant thinker, she countered with her own apologetic response, “God had to enter the human race through a people, but his entry point was universally intentioned, and not race specific.” Interestingly, it was Jesus’s inclusionary posture with people outside Jewish circles (Samaritans, Syrian Phoenicians, Canaanites, Roman centurions, Greeks, lepers, and sinners), which bothered the religious leaders of his own racial group.
In the broader sense of usage, has racism been part of the church’s story? Undoubtedly! Christians got sucked into the sick racism of Southern slavery, but in balance, most leading abolitionists were devout in faith. Similarly, Christians got sucked into the fascism of Nazi Germany, too, but there were also notable exceptions, like Bonheoffer’s famous stand. Yet cultural racism is not what we are zeroing in on here.
The question before us is: Do our beliefs originate from racial underpinnings? Do we believe it because the founder came from a group or region that we favor over others? I am arguing that that is a form of racism. It discriminates one over another based upon racial identity. As farfetched as this sounds, it would be the equivalent of an American choosing George Washington as our religious authority, because he was American; or for Americans not to follow a prophetic leader merely because he was Arab, Indian, Asian, European or African. Both are equally wrong.
Here is where we must look at facts. Despite what artists have rendered, Jesus did not belong to the Anglo-white race. He was a Jew. Being Jewish, he is part of the most hated group in the Middle East. From a majority perspective, the nation of Israel has rejected Jesus as the Messiah themselves. So, if Muslims wish to keep distanced from Israel, ironically, choosing Christ does not link to modern Israel one bit. And from his New Testament rise-and-demise story, Muslim’s might be more accurate to consider Jesus as a Palestinian, fighting for his rightful spot in the world! But again, these types of cultural considerations derive errantly from human judgments and their associations, which lead to a logical fallacy—a false basis to choose.
Not only is it faulty to base your religion on race, we must also be careful not to tie our beliefs with ancestral origins. Just because you came from a region does not mean you should show favoritism to your area over other regions. It was fascinating to observe how Indian’s generally believe “West is best,” and yet if one of their own people has spent any significant time outside their country, they are looked on with distrust. Certainly, many adhere to Hinduism based primary on cultural identification. It’s what they know and have grown up with, as a way of life, so to speak.
Though the cultural surroundings influence affects all of us to some degree, assuming that your culture is correct and other culture’s are false is fallacious, in itself. The bias can easily lead you astray! Like the pre-Copernican view of the universe, or flat earth theorists, or Nazi’s, illustrations abound of whole people groups who were entirely wrong! When it comes to faith and its founders, they can be not just rationally wrong, but racially wrong in the truest sense of the word. Read the dictionary definition for racism: the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, esp. so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.
This, in my view, is exactly what is taking place in many parts of our world. The great distinction between Jesus and all other human religious leaders is the fact that Jesus alone claims to have come from heaven. “You are from below, I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world” (John 8:23). He alone claims to be God deserving the worship of the entire globe: “I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven (Matt 8:11). So what has happened is cultural pride and identity has blinded people from seeing whom this person represented. As the “Son of Man,” and the “Son of God,” he is God’s emissary, not of an ethnic race or region, but of the human race.