Black Lives Matter: the need for Biblical Reflection

Jun 11, 2020 by

By Vinay Samuel, Church of England Newspaper June 11 2020

For the past 10 days I have tracked several Christians reflections on racism from the USA, UK , Australia and one from Africa. I have seen little that is new and only repetitions of views that have not brought much change.0

We need to begin constructing a biblical theology of Race and a biblical approach to racism that is shaped by both African and Asian Christian scholars. We should not address white racism and white supremacy as that area is already riddled with presuppositions, prejudices, defensiveness, shallow repentance and historical anger.

Race and racial difference

Black Lives Matter: the need for Biblical ReflectionThe themes we need to explore are how does the Bible understand race and racial difference. The New Testament teaching is radically different from the OT on Race. The past 50 year of biblical scholarship has tried to show the integral relation of OT teaching to NT. Pauline teaching is also shown to be deeply shaped that way. The rupture between the two when it comes to races, nations and cultures has been obscured and we see biblical Christians in the west incapable of seeing the problems of race.

In the United States, most evangelicals believe there is no race problem among Christians. Evangelical Christians are not racists say 89 per cent of evangelicals. But when asked what is most important for dealing with the race question, justice or reconciliation, 85 per cent also chose reconciliation. It is clear their understanding of race is based on racial difference as God ordained and the biblical way for different races to relate is through reconciliation. This is a distortion of the biblical teaching of reconciliation that is used to not face up to racist prejudices.

The neighbour

The biblical teaching of neighbour is powerfully affirmed today as transformational mission language has made it so central. But while evangelicals affirm the missional priority of love for neighbour they continue to have a very racist understanding of the nature of a neighbourhood. Neighbourhoods are always about people like us. We also need to think more carefully about a biblical view of kinship and tribe.

Most Christians in India and the West where I have lived see the “other” as a neighbour in the biblical sense but are quite reluctant to have them as neighbours in their neighbourhood. To work on making the Other as a neighbour has social and economic costs. It takes time to understand difference. It takes huge amount of patience so opportunity costs can be high and many Christians do not have the moral energy to pay those costs.

Secondly the other can also be a source of insecurity and fear. That is one of the main concerns that Hindus and Christians in India fear about having Muslims in their neighbourhood. For them it is mostly about security. So having people who are very different in looks, possibly race, religion and culture in your neighbourhood introduces factors that require moral and social attitudes not in common supply in any community of people.

Those who suffer from being seen as sources of insecurity are understandably enraged. This leads to anger and bitterness against those seen as excluding and caricaturing whole communities and races. No race or group in the Bible is demonized in the way we demonise races and communities today. The Bible is unique in the way it goes out of its way to describe even the violent and genocidal Babylonians as God’s people. The opposing drive to demonization is victimization. Some describe themselves as victims. Some caricature people as wallowing in victimhood using it both as an excuse and a weapon. Neither demonising nor caricaturing whole races has any biblical basis.

In addition we use the terminology of privilege like white privilege. We see people as a class of the privileged. While such a class does exist, many people today use it as an accusatory branding exercise. In a meeting someone was told that that they were good at negotiating IT software as they had “the privilege” of western education. This is pushing into a class people who are not and never been part of that class. This is a misuse of the category of “privileged classes”. That person got where they had got by hard work and application. Privilege is being used as a weapon here unethically.

A vast majority of white people cannot be classified as part of privileged classes. Their race may give them certain advantages but in the last 50 years in all democracies privileges due to race have declined significantly and even disappeared. Even in a caste ridden country upper castes do not enjoy privileges. They do have historic advantages and those historic issues need to be addressed. Historic advantages can change with political and social action but they are not racial privilege.

Biblically there is also the theme of the voice of the oppressed being heard. The voice of the victims of racism needs to be heard . The bible also shows the way the victim must cry out, lament and be heard. These voices should not be silenced, But when the voice moves from a cry of pain and anger to a violent shriek and generates a noise that drowns all words and obscures all meaning what has the bible to say about it? We need a much deeper and clearer exploration of a theological understanding of Protest that is rooted in biblical themes of Lament and the Anger of God.


“Most of us are a mixture of good and bad” announced a letter to the Times. It is argued therefore that the people who interpret the moral behaviour of others are the ones who bear moral responsibility as they are making moral judgments. I do not find such an argument asserted in the Bible. Such a view misses the following.

It is empirically true that humans are a mixture of moral good and bad. However, it is individuals, groups, communities and races that have moral attitudes and believe they are acting morally. Such actions are integrally connected with the power they inherit, gather, hold and use. When it comes to actions of communities and races, to say they are a mixture of good and bad is a superficial judgement.

A community/race can direct an immoral bad action against another community intensively, extensively and even permanently as it has the power to do so. Colonialism was not simply about some good and some bad actions but also about how the almost absolute power the colonial authorities had was exercised. That is also remembered as much as the institutions and “civilisation” left behind. Some “good’ may have been visible in slavery to the outsider but for the slave it was an unrelenting use of violent power. How else can you explain the Nazi’s and those who perpetrated slavery of whole races. They had the “power” to turn on only “morally bad” at communities and races they did not regard as human enough.

Power that serves

When the Church is aligned to power , invests itself with institutional power it can be blind sometimes to the way it excludes people who are different and do not fully belong to its image of a member. And sadly it is often unconscious of its attitudes. Here I turn to the image of Jesus bending down and washing the disciples feet. At its centre this is about power that is able to bend both knees and serves. What an example to follow at this time!


Related Posts


Share This