Christianity and Racism: How Jesus Christ and Paul addressed the Culture

Subject: Christianity and Racism: How Jesus Christ and Paul addressed the Culture

John 4:9 “’How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, being a Samaritan?’
For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.”

In his book ‘Why Jesus’, Ravi Zacharias explains the racism that permeated the culture in Israel: “To call a person a Samaritan was the meanest racial slur one could have cast in that day. The Samaritans were considered an impure race of an impure religion and were despised by the puritanical.” In our verse this week, the Samaritan woman cannot believe a Jew would ask her for a drink of water. And what does this imply? That the lips of a Jew were about to drink water from a cup from which a Samaritan had drunk. This was scandalous. Everyone knew Samaritans were ‘impure’. Jesus risked being ‘contaminated.’

When Christians read their Bible, do we really understand how radical Jesus Christ lived His life? He was proud to be Jewish. He lived Jewish. His lifestyle, clothes, diet, were all very Jewish. But His Christianity defined Him, and His Jewishness was secondary. He wasn’t a Jewish Christian. He lived on earth as a Christian Jew. He was about the business of His Father, not the business of the culture. He wasn’t calling for rallies to discuss gun violence, or social equality, or government abuse, or even racial injustice. He called for repentance – to change the way we see ourselves – and to see ourselves the way God sees us – in need of salvation from our selfishness, sinful nature. We have a moral problem, not a racial problem.

We who call ourselves Christians in American culture today are so far removed from an identity with Jesus Christ it is no wonder no one listens to our answers for today’s social issues. Black Christians don’t see themselves as Christians with black skin. White Christians don’t identify themselves first as Christians and secondly as white. We are letting the culture dictate our Christianity instead of our heavenly Father.

It is as if we do not take biblical teaching seriously enough to actually live it! In Galatians 3:26-28, Paul clearly explains what it means to be ‘Christian’: “You are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have PUT ON CHRIST. There is neither Jew nor Greek (i.e., your racial background), slave nor free (i.e., your social status), male nor female (i.e., your gender); for you are ALL ONE IN CHRIST JESUS.” Anyone professing to be a Christian must first be identity themselves as a follower Jesus Christ, then secondly a follower of their ethnic or racial heritage.

Frederick Douglass, a tireless champion of racial equality and one of America’s most gifted public speakers and debaters, grew up a slave in America and ended up one of President Lincoln’s most trusted advisors in the efforts to unite a splintered country. But as a Methodist raised in the church, he struggled with the lack of Christian moral leadership: “Between the Christianity of this land and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference.” Douglass encouraged slaves to read the New Testament themselves and see Jesus Christ’s message of equality in HIs name.

Douglass also called out those who claimed to be Christians but not in their lifestyle. In one of his famous public speeches, entitled “The Church and Prejudice”, Douglass clarifies the difference between Jesus’s approach to racism (our verse this week with the Samaritan woman) and the church’s approach to racial equality: “At New Bedford, where I live, there was a great revival of religion not long ago–many were converted and ‘received’ as they said, ‘into the kingdom of heaven.’ … But among those who experienced religion at this time was a colored girl; she was baptized in the same water as the rest; so she thought she might sit at the Lord’s table and partake of the same sacramental elements with the others. The deacon handed round the cup, and when he came to the black girl, he could not pass her, for there was the minister looking right at him, and as he was a kind of abolitionist, the deacon was rather afraid of giving him offense; so he handed the girl the cup, and she tasted. Now it so happened that next to her sat a young lady who had been converted at the same time, baptized in the same water, and put her trust in the same blessed Savior; yet when the cup containing the precious blood which had been shed for all, came to her, she rose in disdain, and walked out of the church. Such was the religion she had experienced!”

The apostle Paul got it right – he knew what true Christianity would look like to a watching world. It would be seen in people whose lifestyle radiated a surrender to the authority of Jesus Christ: “I declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works worthy of repentance.” (Acts 26:20).

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