Critical Race Theory and Christianity: Race Is A Social Construction
Good morning. It’s taken me a little longer than usual to write this new post, but I have a good reason. I just got back from a wonderful birthday celebration with my wife! One of my gifts to her—no blog writing this weekend! Last week we began a new series on Critical Race Theory and Christianity. Our first topic was “Racism is Ordinary” (http://www.jesusforrevolutionaries.org/critical-race-theory-and-christianity-part-i-racism-is-ordinary/ ) This week’s theme is, “Race is a Social Construction.”
According to Critical Race Theory (CRT), “race” is a social construction. I.e., race is something that human beings invented. We invented race as a way of dividing up people from different ethnic backgrounds so that we could give special rights and privileges to some, and deny them to others. The racial categories we create, moreover, do not correspond to true biological and genetic differences among human cultural populations. They are socially constructed.
CRT scholars Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic put it this way: “[R]ace and races are products of social thought and relations. Not objective, inherent, or fixed, they correspond to no biological or genetic reality; rather, races are categories that society invents, manipulates, or retires when convenient. People with common origins share certain physical traits, of course, such as skin color, physique, and hair texture. But these constitute only an extremely small portion of their genetic endowment, are dwarfed by that which we have in common, and have little or nothing to do with distinctly human, higher-order traits, such as personality, intelligence, and moral behavior” (Delgado and Stefancic, Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, 8-9).
The Bible is in agreement that race is a social construction. The Bible does not speak of “race,” but of “ethnic groups” or “nations.” In fact, according to the Bible, God created every ethnic group, or nation, on earth. He did this, moreover, for a very specific reason--so that all people would come to know Him. Each of our ethnic cultures uniquely reflects God Himself. And so, when we partake of our God-given ethnic cultures it gives us a unique window into God Himself. God avails Himself to us uniquely through the distinct ethnic cultures of the world.
(Notice that it doesn’t say that God made all the ethnic groups of the world so that we could create ethnic hierarchies and colonize one another. More on that in a little while.)
In his famous speech to the Greek religious council known as the Areopagus, the Apostle Paul reminds us of these truths:
“From one man he [God] made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. “(Acts 17:26-27).
The word translated as “nation” in this passage comes from the Greek word, “ethnos.” This is where we get our English word “ethnicity.” And so, the Bible teaches that God made every ethnic group of the world. What’s more, according to this passage, our ethnic background is not an accident—“he determined the exact places where [we] should live.” In other words, God gave each of us our specific ethnic culture(s)—deliberately and intentionally!
And so, it is not an accident that I was born in East L.A. to my Mexican father and Chinese mother. It is not coincidence that I grew up in Hacienda Heights, spent time in the Bay Area, and now live in Los Angeles. This has been exactly determined for me by God. The same is true for every person reading this blog. God gave you your unique cultural heritage! Whether you are Chinese, Korean, English, German, Mexican, American, Armenian, African American, Indian, Native American, or any variation of any of these ethnicities, this is exactly how God has determined it to be. Your parents might not have realized it when you were conceived, but God has sovereignly determined what ethnicity and nationality He wanted you to be.
Not only has our cultural heritage been given to us by God Himself, but the Bible teaches that the various ethnic cultures of the world are viewed by God as “treasure” which will last forever!
The inherent and eternal value of our national cultures is described in Revelation 21: 22-27(NIV):
“I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life.”
This passage states that the “glory and honor of the nations” will be brought into the New Jerusalem for eternity.
(According to the Bible, the time will come when all things are made new, and all the evil, pain, and suffering of this world will be wiped away. This new world and order of things is represented by what the Bible calls the “New Jerusalem.” In describing the New Jerusalem, Revelation 21:4-5 states: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!”).
What is this “glory and honor” that John is speaking of? It is interesting to note that many Bible commentaries completely overlook this language in the text.
The word “glory” which is used in this passage can also be translated as “treasure” or “wealth” of the nations. Surely John is not describing literal currency or national government coffers. I believe that he is talking about the cultural treasure or wealth of the different ethnic groups of the world. This cultural treasure includes food, music, dance, literature, architecture, etc., as well as the unique cultural personalities of the world. (For more on the “glory and honor of the nations, see: http://www.jesusforrevolutionaries.org/category/mixed-race/)
God reveals Himself to us uniquely through this “treasure and wealth” of the various ethnic groups which He has created. As previously stated, He did this so that all people would come to know Him. Each of our ethnic cultures uniquely reflects who God is. Every ethnic culture is equal in the eyes of God and uniquely reflective of who He is. When we partake of our God-given ethnic cultures it gives us a unique window into God Himself.
God avails Himself to us uniquely through our distinct ethnic cultures.
So how does “race” play into all of this?
God created all the beautiful and distinctive ethnic groups of the world, but we have taken it upon ourselves to organize them into unbiblical hierarchies and artificial categories of “race.” We have done this as a means of doling out social, economic, and political privileges for some, and excluding others.
This practice is as old as time itself. In ancient times, Greeks did it to non-Greeks. Aristotle viewed non-Greeks as barbarian animals. The Romans followed the lead of the Greeks and called Germanic peoples barbarians. My own Chinese ancestors called themselves the “Middle Kingdom”—i.e., the center of the universe—and looked down upon and conquered everyone else in Asia. As we looked at in the previous blog post, such “racism is ordinary,” and, from a biblical perspective it is a natural part of human nature apart from God’s transformation of the human heart.
Most recently in world history, Europeans created racial categories as a means of justifying empire, colonization, and virtually every evil under the sun. From 1450-1950, Europeans and Euro-Americans went around conquering, colonizing, and enslaving millions of people from hundreds of other ethnic groups, on every continent of the planet. Wherever they went, they organized their colonial societies based upon “race.” They created fictive racial categories to solidify colonial control and to preserve socio-economic and political privilege for themselves and their descendants.
To themselves, Europeans ascribed the social, legal, and political category of “whiteness.” They invented the “white” race. If you were assigned the category of “white,” and you were a man, then you got to partake of all the best socio-economic and political benefits which colonial society had to offer. This included the right to own land (all of which previously belonged to someone else of a different ethnic group), the right to live where you wanted to live (not in segregation), the right to citizenship, the right to hold political office, and the right to vote. Your kids could attend the best schools and universities, they could freely practice lucrative trades and professions, and they could play in any park or public space without fear of being driven out.
If you were considered “non-white” then you were denied access to all of these privileges.
This evil process of colonization and imperialism swept the globe, in various forms, for 500 years. Asia, Africa, Australia, North and South America were all colonized in this fashion. In addition to the obvious oppression which it perpetuated, this global colonial project created what we today call “race.” Europeans carved up the various ethnic groups of the world into “races” as a tool of colonization. Terms like “white,” “black,” “Indian,” and “Oriental” (a derogatory term for people of Asian descent) were all created as part of a racial terminology of imperialism. These so-called “races” were a social construction.
Tragically, Europeans colonized the globe and invented our twisted, modern conceptions of race, while at the same time claiming to be followers of Jesus. What a travesty. This insidious history has hindered the global witness of Christianity up until the present day.
I am greatly heartened by the fact, however, that millions of people of color throughout the world have come to see past this terrible misrepresentation of Christianity and found the real Jesus. In fact, in the 21st century, the greatest revivals of Christianity are now taking place in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. It is projected that by 2025, 67% percent of all followers of Jesus will be from Latin America, Africa, and Asia! (For more on the rise of Christianity in the Global South, see: http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/unbound/interviews/int2002-09-12.htm)
My brothers and sisters in Latin America, Africa, and Asia have met the real Jesus who opposes racism of every kind, and who lovingly created every ethnic group of the world as a beautiful and distinct reflection of who He is. In the words of the Apostle Paul spoken 2,000 years ago, “they have reached out for Him and found Him.” This is the same Jesus that I know, and love. Have you met Him?
In God’s Diversity,
Robert Chao Romero