White supremacy is horrendous. It is contrary to biblical Christianity both by reason of creation and by reason of redemption. All people, regardless of birthplace, ancestry, genetics, or skin color are created in God’s image, and therefore all people are of equal value in God’s sight. All people have been equally affected by sin and depravity. And redemption from sin is possible for anyone who repents of sin and trusts in Christ alone for salvation. In Christ there is no separation based on ethnicity, gender, or social status. All are one in him. To claim that one particular “racial stock” is superior to another or that only one “race” is able to sustain good culture is contrary to the created order and the gospel of Jesus Christ.
That said, the biblical answer to combating terrible thinking such as is represented in white supremacy is not multiculturalism. Multiculturalism is not the answer because it suffers from the same essential fallacy as white supremacy, namely, that ethnicity and culture are equivalent categories. They are not. Allow me to explain.
White supremacy argues that ethnicity and culture are inherently linked. It teaches that western culture is superior to other cultures in values, freedom, political systems, economics and so forth, and because ethnicity and culture are connected in this way of thinking, then only one ethnicity (“white”) can successfully sustain western culture.
Multiculturalism also argues that ethnicity and culture are inherently connected. However, since it (rightly) teaches that all ethnicities are equally good and valid, multiculturalism also insists that all cultures are likewise equally good and valid.
Yet both of these ideologies are built on the same fallacy that equates ethnicity with culture.
Ethnicity and culture are not the same thing.
Ethnicity and culture are not the same thing. Tweet this
Ethnicity1 refers to people united by common ancestry. The Bible is clear that God desires to save people from every ethnicity (and, indeed, will save people from every ethnicity!), and consequently, we Christians have the responsibility to spread the gospel to people from every ethnicity. Ethnicities are ordained by God, they are all equally good and valuable, people from every ethnicity are all united into one body in the church of Jesus Christ, and one day redeemed from every ethnicity will surround the throne of God in worship of him.
Culture, on the other hand, does not refer to people per se, but rather to how people behave. Culture describes the collected behavior of a group of people that flows from their collective beliefs and values. Over time, a particular civilization develops a common way of thinking, valuing, and believing that affects how they live. This pattern of behavior then develops over time and becomes what we describe as “culture.” But, since culture is behavior, and since all cultural behavior flows from values and beliefs, not all culture is equally good. Some cultural behaviors are reflections of values consistent with God’s will and Word, and other cultural behaviors flow from values hostile to God and his will.
It is really important to distinguish between the categories of ethnicity and culture, because if we don’t, we only fuel volatile hostility between groups like white supremacists and multiculturalists.
Instead, we should insist on two complementary ideas:
- All people are equally valuable and have equal capacity for good or for evil.
- We must judge some behaviors as good and others as evil and seek to sustain and nourish systems of behavior (that is, “cultures”) that are inherently good.
The flip side of this is that it is not racist or white supremacist to believe that western culture is better than other systems of behavior as long as we insist that people from every ethnicity have the inherent capacity to sustain and contribute to such a worthy system of behavior. All this means is that some ways of life are better reflections of biblical values and beliefs than others. Western civilization was formed over time by what some call “Judeo-Christian” values (with multiple ethnicities, by the way), that is, values and beliefs consistent with God’s order. Thus it is not surprising that western culture has allowed for human freedom and flourishing in unique ways. But this has nothing to do with ethnicity or genetics; it has everything to do with values and beliefs.
Only when we make these kinds of careful distinctions can we hope to combat the sin of racism and encourage ways of living that best sustain human flourishing.
For a more thorough explanation of why ethnicity and culture are separate categories, see chapter 6 of my book, By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture or this article.
- I deliberately use the term “ethnicity” instead of “race” because biblically speaking there is only one human race. [↩]