by Rod D. Martin
March 28, 2002
Let us start at the start: I am a Southerner. I am proud of my heritage. I am glad we celebrate Robert E. Lee’s birthday. As an attorney and a student of history, it is my professional opinion not only that states may secede, but that the Constitution would never have been ratified had it been suggested they might not. I prefer my own region of the country to any other on Earth, I honor the patriots in my own family who died for The Lost Cause, and my accent is thick enough to make George Wallace blush.
But I can’t stand racism. And neither can our Lord.
Instantly some will cry “Political Correctness.” But this is nothing of the sort. Others will assume I’m speaking of the so-called “Christian Identity” crowd and other barely-disguised neo-Klansmen. I am not: they are nothing but terrorists without the guts (or maybe the opportunity) to pull the trigger, so far beyond the pale of orthodox Christianity as not to be worthy of discussion.
No, I’m talking about our own house out of order, the camp of Evangelicals and the Reformed.
In the name of preserving our heritage – particularly in the South and in South Africa – many today embrace virtually all that has gone before, so long as our forebears did it. We hear defenses of apartheid on the (exceedingly dubious) ground that it was “meant” to separate men by confession (thus actually promoting freedom of association) rather than establish an almost Hindu caste system based explicitly, legally on race. We hear many other arguments as well, not least of them that the evils of the ANC (communism, terrorism and a thousand other very real horrors) justify the wickedness of those confessional Calvinists whom they supplanted.
Closer to home, an increasingly vocal number of our brethren are not content to praise only the virtues of the antebellum South. Rather than applying the discernment God commands, they join the bandwagon of the reactionaries: if a liberal opposes it, they must support it, with a knee-jerk certainty as predictable as a Washington Post editorial. They wax eloquent about the humane nature of Southern slavery, about the handful of blacks who owned slaves (and the large number of African blacks who sold them), about the equally tiny group who fought for Southern Independence. Some embrace the old pre-war arguments for slavery1 (and instantly dismiss any Biblical scholarship — especially Gary North’s groundbreaking work2 — contending that the New Covenant has abolished it). They ignore the effect this has on their witness. They ignore the effect this has on the church’s evangelism. They ignore the message they pass down to their covenant children.
But we cannot ignore it. Racism is antithetical to the very idea of the Gospel, and not merely because it is offensive. It is evil. God despises it. And if there is a lesson to be learned from our forebears, it is that those nations which have practiced it, those supposed utopias which allegedly should have seen the blessings of Deuteronomy 28, have in fact seen its curses: they have been wiped from the face of the Sovereign God’s Earth.
WHY IS RACISM EVIL?
Why is racism evil? However many reasons there may be (and there are many), the core reason is very simple: racism lies about the Gospel.
In his outstanding book Reforming Marriage3, Douglas Wilson well illustrates this idea in the context of families. Commenting on Ephesians 5, he notes that “husbands, in their role as head, provide a picture of Christ and the church. Every marriage, everywhere in the world, is a picture of Christ and the church. Because of sin and rebellion, many of these pictures are slanderous lies concerning Christ. But a husband can never stop talking about Christ and the church [emphasis in the original].”
Whatever a husband does that is inconsistent with the character of Christ is necessarily a lie, implicitly or explicitly, about the Lord. Thus, when husbands act sinfully, they deceive their wives and families about the Lord, with far-reaching results no man can know. This certainly violates the Ninth Commandment (and it may violate some or all of the others as well); but this is not fundamentally a Ninth Commandment issue: for a Christian husband, this is primarily about taking the Lord’s name in vain.
Just so, this is exactly what the South and South Africa (as well as Puritan Massachusetts) did with regard to race.
These ostensibly Christian commonwealths — through their racial policies and attitudes — did far more than separate the races. The blacks (and others) they were dealing with only came into contact with the Gospel by means of the whites they met, and those whites by and large were racists.
The Gospel, though, is anything but racist: it denies any racial distinction, putting the Gentile and the Jew on the same footing, abolishing any thought of a salvation based on blood and establishing a covenant centered around a spiritual rebirth made possible by grace alone, through faith alone, in the sacrificial work of Christ alone. Rich, poor, black, white, Jew, Gentile, covenant child or converted pagan, there is no difference; and we come to the Lord in that hope.
Racism practiced by Christians denies all of this, no matter what weasel words proceed from its lips. The “Christian” racist is speaking with forked tongue: he claims that the faithful Gentile is the true son of Abraham; but in reality, he is the Pharisee refusing to sit with the publican, the Judaizer seeking to circumcise the Gentile convert. Worse still, he says that the convert may not be circumcised, because one clearly cannot change his race.
But in the Kingdom, there is no race, nor nation, nor any division of flesh. Christ has united all His people in the spirit. And those who say otherwise, whether explicitly or implicitly, like the wayward husband, take His name in vain.
Question 113 of the Westminster Larger Catechism explains the connection between these concepts:
Q: What are the sins forbidden in the third commandment?
A: The sins forbidden in the third commandment are, the not using of God’s name as is required;… misinterpreting, misapplying, or any way perverting the Word, or any part of it, to…the maintaining of false doctrines;…anywise opposing of God’s truth, grace, and ways;…being…a shame to it, by unconformable, unwise, unfruitful, and offensive walking….
Clearly, “taking the Lord’s name in vain” is a great deal more than “cussing.” It is (among other things) any perversion of the Word, and particularly any misrepresentation of God’s truth. Needless to say, the more serious that truth, the more serious the offense; and nothing is more serious than the nature of the Gospel itself.
That seriousness becomes all too clear in Question 114, which predicts for us God’s response:
Q: What reasons are annexed to the third commandment?
A: …because he is the Lord and our God, therefore his name is not to be profaned, or any way abused by us; especially because he will be so far from acquitting and sparing the transgressors of this commandment, as that he will not suffer them to escape his righteous judgment, albeit many such escape the censures and punishments of men.
It is for this reason that God especially hated the sin of His people in the South and in South Africa. They were building entire civilizations based on a lie about Him, about His Son, and about His sacrifice and saving grace; moreover, they were doing it quite explicitly in His Name. God destroyed each of these civilizations from the Earth: no one who affirms sovereignty may avoid that. Yet many professing believers, few of whom are themselves racist, seek to avoid that common, sinful thread.
WHEN WILL WE EVER LEARN?
God hates the lies we tell about His transcendent work when we practice racism, particularly in His Name. It’s long past time we learn the lesson: He will not abide it in His people.
Never mind that the largely-Christian South was Constitutionally correct in every particular, that the increasingly-Unitarian North was Constitutionally incorrect in every particular, and that the Southern states had every legal right to secede. Despite all of this, it is virtually inescapable to conclude that the South came under God’s judgment; and given that, if this is so, God’s judgment involved its utter and total destruction, politically, economically and culturally, God’s opposition to the South’s sins must have been pretty extreme.4
Likewise, though those exact same states were right in the 1950s and 1960s about their Constitutional rights vis-a-vis the Federal government (bloated with power and Constitutionally unrecognizable) Jim Crow was nevertheless evil: and just as God destroyed the South a hundred years before at the hands of a Northern oppressor, and just as God destroyed the Southern Kingdom of Judah two and a half millennia before at the hands of a Babylonian oppressor, God eviscerated the South’s (and everyone else’s) Constitutional rights in consequence of the South’s abuse of that freedom.
And still likewise, white, largely-Calvinist South Africa — whose systematic oppression of its non-whites was much greater than the South’s in the 1950s (though admittedly much less than the South’s in the 1850s) — seems clearly to have received a dose of the same medicine that God’s been dishing out to His wayward people for several thousand years now (but mercifully, too late for its new pro-Soviet rulers to hand it over to the Evil Empire, late enough indeed for them to have attained a measure of wisdom and compassion distinctly lacking in those they supplanted).
If we believe in any sort of predictable, historical sanctions for nations; if we affirm Deuteronomy 28; we simply cannot ignore these things. Until Christians get over their adulterous love affair with racism, God will keep frustrating their efforts, splitting their denominations, and destroying their political entities. He will not be mocked.
This is, by the way, far from Christians’ only sin. But it’s reasonably clear from the past 140 years of history that it’s pretty high on God’s list. It is not a thing to be trifled with.
- It is not within the scope of this article to debate the Biblical legality of slavery. Though I do contend that slavery has been Biblically abolished, the South’s race-slavery was a rather unique – indeed, a “peculiar” – institution, and my argument pertains here to the racial aspect of it, as also to other manifestations of racism such as the African slave trade, Jim Crow laws, apartheid, and Klan activity; and (from the other direction) “reverse discrimination” as well, whether the relatively mild quota programs in the United States or the authoritarian thuggery of Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. That said, I also maintain (with Scripture) that even were slavery lawful, it would not necessarily be profitable. Never mind the economic foolishness of it: the effect of slavery on its participants — both slaves and masters — is so generally wretched that a progressively-sanctified church should abhor it, just as it hates polygamy and divorce.
- In his utterly unique economic commentaries on the Pentateuch, North both describes the operation of the Bible’s slave laws in a detail and with a mastery few (if any) have ever approached, and also demonstrates conclusively that Christ has abolished slavery in the New Covenant era. See primarily Gary North, Tools of Dominion: The Case Laws of Exodus (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1990), ch. 4 for a discussion of the Biblical theology of slavery; and ch. 5 (particularly pp. 228-247) for an understanding of Biblical (as opposed to 19th century Unitarian) abolition. For further information see North, Leviticus: An Economic Commentary (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1994), ch. 31; as well as North’s forthcoming Subordination and Dominion: An Economic Commentary on I Timothy, specifically that section of Appendix C concerning “The Slave Family in the Ante-Bellum South,” commenting on which the author raises the very good question: “Offer me biblical reasons why God would bother to preserve any Christian society that has this view of the family.”
- Douglas Wilson, Reforming Marriage (Moscow, Idaho: Canon Press, 1995).
- In a recent article concerning the (im)propriety of pronouncing God’s judgment in current events (and particularly with regard to the events of September 11, 2001), I wrote that “Men who don’t want to look foolish don’t call the game in the first quarter.” I am by no means retracting this position: quite the contrary. What I am saying is that after the passage of a great deal of time, an event so large as the utter destruction of a nation not only may but must be examined in the light of Scripture. Indeed, if Biblical conclusions may not be drawn this long after Appomattox, with regard to the utter annihilation of the mostly-Christian Southern civilization — a nation which was in the right on virtually every major point except this one — the idea of “predictable covenantal sanctions” is meaningless.