In response to the fatal police shootings of unarmed black men such as Trayvon Martin and Alton Sterling, there have been many conversations about how to respond to the lingering issues of race and discrimination in America. The Black Lives Matter movement has spoken out loudly on the issue by staging protests all over the country and driving the social justice narrative via social media. However, the Bible has much to say regarding these matters as the eternal and infallible Word of God. We would do well to prefer God’s sovereign voice over the chants of protesters and bullhorns.
For the believer, our ultimate goal in anything is to make known the attributes of God and to pursue His glory in all that we do. This article will attempt to show how God’s glory addresses the issue of social justice using 7 principles taught by Scriptures.
1. God affirms the value of human life
Genesis 1:27 teaches us that “God created man in his own image.” To mistreat another human being is to commit an offense against God Himself. This was confirmed in God’s covenant with Noah when He said “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (Gen 9:6). God’s sets the value of human life upon the foundation of His special relationship with them, for God has created man for His glory (Is 43:7). The commandments that God gave to Moses also affirms the value of life in that God’s laws prohibit murder and other forms of mistreatment against one’s fellow man (Ex 20:12–17). Christ summed up the entirety of God’s laws in two principles: love God and love your neighbor as yourself (Mk 12:29–31).
2. God did not institute race
Race, as we think of it in modern America, is an innovation of man that categorizes people by physical appearance and skin color used to subjugate groups of people and to justify their mistreatment. Nowhere in the Bible is race affirmed as a biblical way to classify human beings. This is especially true of those who live in Christ, since Paul asserts that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). Therefore, racial discrimination within or without the church has entirely no biblical basis.
3. God is just and impartial
An important aspect of the glory of God is His justice. Moses revealed in Deuteronomy 32:4 that “His work is perfect, for all His ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is He.” In His holiness, God perfectly encompasses all that is justice. He is the expert on social justice with whom there is no equal. Because He is just, “God shows no partiality” (Rom 2:11). Also, God promotes more than equality — He is also a God of equity: “but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth” (Is 11:4).
4. God ordains the authority of government to punish evil
“1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” Romans 13:1–4
It is clear from the passage that God grants authority both to punish wrongdoing and to bear the sword (that is, execute capital punishment). Government is actually a tool of God’s wrath against evil doers. Consequently, civil disobedience is an offense against God Himself since it is He that has appointed authority (v. 2). Note that Paul penned this passage during the Roman rule of Emperor Nero, a man hostile to Christianity who would later martyr Paul and other believers. The apostle Peter also affirmed the importance of government authority since they are sent by God “to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” (1 Peter 2:13–17).
5. God requires just governance
Scripture teaches that God requires justice in the administration of government. In God’s rebuke of Israel in the book of Isaiah, He decried their “multitude of…sacrifices” and admonished the nation to “seek justice, correct oppression, bring justice to the fatherless, [and] plead the widow’s cause” (Is 1:11,16–17). From this and other passages, we draw the principle that God defends the cause of the poor and the defenseless. Also as we’ve seen in 1 Peter 2 and Romans 13, God puts government in authority (that includes law enforcement) to punish those who do evil, even to the point of capital punishment.
6. God despises pride
John Piper said it well: “The great granddaddy of all sins is pride.” Racism is simply a specific expression of pride allowing one group to claim superiority over another because of skin color. This form of pride, along with all others, is detestable before God (Prov 8:13). Other forms of pride that play into systems of racial discrimination can include nationalism and patriotism, particularly when they are used to justify the mistreatment of others.
This is not to say that it is wrong to seek what is good for one’s country — on the contrary, believers are called to be good citizens as we’ve seen in 1 Peter 2. However, when this pursuit takes a position that is superior to our love for God or our desire to seek His glory, then we have sinfully created an idol in our own hearts, demanding repentance.
7. God’s answer to racism is the Gospel
My primary criticism against the Black Lives Matter movement is that it is not a God-centered, Gospel-centric approach to dealing with the sins of racism and discrimination in society. It is a man-centered approach to social activism focused on human effort, the rejection of God ordained authority, and civil disobedience. Even though the problems addressed by Black Lives Matter activists are legitimate and worthy of serious concern for followers of Christ, we must not rely on any solution other than the preaching of the Gospel. Racism requires a heart change. Only God through Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit can truly accomplish that.
However, we cannot do this in ignorance. We must exercise Christ-likeness by carefully listening to and empathizing with the oppressed—understanding their suffering, and applying the timeless truth of Scripture to their needs. Learn about white privilege. Learn about the complexities of race and of the history of African-American slavery. Talk to Black friends and acquaintances. Pray for them, for civic leaders, and for those in law enforcement. Most importantly, don’t protest—preach the Gospel.
We must be careful to live out godly love through sacrifice and action. By doing so, we can bring ultimate glory to God while also pursing true social justice for our neighbor.
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind , that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:1–2.
John Piper. “Structural Racism”. http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/structural-racism
Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “The sin of racism”. http://erlc.com/resource-library/articles/the-sin-of-racism
Jonathan Leeman. “What Christians Should Ask of Government”. https://9marks.org/article/week-10-what-christians-should-ask-of-government-to-treat-people-equally-justice-and-identity-politics/
This article originally appeared on Medium.