Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
- Genesis 1:26-27
(This extended meditation is the fifth and longest in a series on Christianity, church, and culture, the purpose of which is to help us consider the world in which we live from a specifically Christian perspective. The issues around race in our society are vast and complex, and for us to think seriously about what is truly Christian requires that we have a more accurate understanding of historical and economic facts, especially in light of so many false claims being made. Christians of every nation, race, and tribe have fallen short in every century, which is why the human race needs our Savior. Now, more than ever before, we must to grow in the likeness of Christ, not allowing past failures to prevent us from seeking to live faithfully and humbly today.)
Probably the most divisive source of antipathy in our culture today is that of race, but as in most matters, the presenting conflict – that which is most obvious – is indicative of much deeper divisions and disagreements. So great is the conflict of perspectives that, not only can we not reasonably discuss our differences, we have reached an irreparable impasse in which only one side can win, while the other side loses. I cannot imagine any scenario in which Christ Jesus cannot heal and lead those who seek Him, and as Christians, our desire should be to have the heart and mind of Jesus Christ, which are not primarily political. We can only truly understand our world through the lens of the Gospel – the realities of sin and evil, salvation and redemption. This age is going to pass away someday, and during our lives, we are most faithful if we try to see the world, human history, and especially, human life, through the eyes of God. The Kingdom of God is within us, and Christ’s Kingdom is not of this world.
The breadth and complexity of the issues around race make it nearly impossible to offer, with any brevity, a considered view of the multi-faceted challenges we face as a nation. That is not to say that the issues involved are equally complex for Christians, and I am a pastor writing to Christians and for Christians. I am not a politician seeking votes or making policy. In whatever context we find ourselves, Christians need to think, to act, and to love as Jesus Christ does, at least, as much as sin allows. As for the circumstances in our nation today – the racial hostility and violence, the incendiary rhetoric, and the like – the one thing Christians should know and understand is sinfulness, as well as our Lord’s invitation to be saved and redeemed from the pits we dig for ourselves, whether individually or collectively. Thus, before going any further, let me make clear that I believe slavery was wrong in the past, just as it is wrong today. Discrimination based on the color of skin is indefensible, and I have no intention of trying to do so. Racial prejudice is not in keeping with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and is a fundamental denial of the Christian message of God’s love for every human being, specifically based upon His creation of human beings in His own image. The admission of such things, sadly, is not sufficient for many, and worse, it is a sad indictment of Christians that we need to clarify this position, that the assumption of racism or even the possibility of racism exists among white Christians. But, there you have it. No doubt, it did and does today. As it turns out, Christians have compromised with culture before, and every time we move away from the Gospel and flow with the culture, sin begins to pervert the Gospel, which is why I am writing the current series on Christianity, church, and culture.
Frequently, I return to Genesis 1:26-27 as the basis for discussing our humanity, and that is the place from which all Christians should begin discussions about race. The creation of human beings as described in Genesis is the foundation of the whole of Christian faith. We do not understand the nature and meaning of Christian salvation unless we understand human beings as God originally intended in creation. Human beings are the Imago Dei, the Image of God, and live in the world as His representatives, with dominion over creation and responsibility for creation. If we stopped right there, we would have a sufficient argument against racial distinctions. Human beings, every nation, race, and tribe, are made in the image of God and are owed the dignity and respect God’s image possesses. However, these same human beings made in God’s image live in a fallen world where sinfulness plagues us and death awaits us. In all of these ways, not one of us is worthy of the infinite love, grace, and mercy our Father lavishes upon us. The cultivation of racial schism merely compounds our unworthiness, but the whole of human history is the story of human arrogance, hatred, greed, lust for power, and more. That our nation has made race the most important issue of the day does not mean Christians should do so. Our God is Spirit, and we worship Him in spirit and in truth. (John 4:24) Therefore, the image of God is something in us, not external to us, something spiritual and true – either enlivened by the Holy Spirit or deadened by the powers of darkness. I have this vision of Jesus flipping over our tables of racial conflict, race-baiting, and virtue-signaling, and demanding we answer, “Why are you exalting and arguing over the wrapping and not rejoicing in the gift?” That is where Christians should begin our repentance, as well as reflections on how to get along. Within each human being is a unique expression of the image of God, and we are to rejoice in one another, even as we plead that the Lord has mercy upon us, for we are a sinful and stiff-necked people.
What we need to understand about race in America is that the manner in which the history of slavery and black Americans is told contemporarily is not wrong so much as it is a truncated narrative, with both the amazing accomplishments of subjugated people, as well as the ever-present human inclination for sin, ignored almost entirely. More specifically, the history of race in America is often presented in such a way as to maximize the ongoing guilt and failure of white Americans, even as it minimizes both the achievements and guilt of black Americans. The only reason to alter history, to revise and change it, is to achieve an end that history will not support, which in this case, is to connect the current wellbeing of black Americans – or the lack thereof – to the legacy of slavery, not the legacy of policy. Additionally, discussions about race typically refer to African and Caucasian races only, as if Asian Americans or Hispanic Americans or Jewish Americans are irrelevant to the discussion, which they are not. They, too, have a story to tell, which is intimately related to racial development in the U.S., but their story does not support the current racial hostility and is, therefore, largely ignored. Much the same is true of the history of slavery, but I’ll leave that for another time.
For at least four decades, a cadre of black scholars have struggled against the incessant drumbeat of racism and white supremacy that dominate public discourse, in education, the media, and most of all, in politics and policies, which, though well-intended, diminish the dignity of black Americans. We should not be surprised that the voices of those who disagree with the prevailing narrative are ignored, especially to the extent that they provide hard evidence undermining popular political policy and social engineering efforts. What is surprising, however, is the damage being done to black Americans by those who claim most loudly to be advocating for black Americans.
Probably foremost among the intellectual giants whose work has been disregarded by policy makers and popular media is the economist and social theorist, Thomas Sowell. Now 90 years of age, he has authored around 50 books, written countless articles and columns, and is arguably one of the greatest minds of our time. Educated at Harvard, Columbia, and the University of Chicago, Dr. Sowell has repeatedly produced meticulous research on the history of slavery, the history of the South, the nature of disparity, correlation vs. cause, and more, all leading to the same conclusion: the liberal policies of the welfare state degrade black Americans, while giving the illusion of moral care and concern. Years ago, Sowell was stating the obvious: “Much of the social history of the Western world over the past three decades has involved replacing what worked with what sounded good.” Titles in my library, from which much of the following data came, are: Basic Economics; Black Rednecks and White Liberals; Intellectuals and Society; Intellectuals and Race; Discrimination and Disparities; A Conflict of Visions; and The Thomas Sowell Reader. Although Dr. Sowell is consistently one of the best-selling authors on economics and economic history, social disparities, and racial discrimination, the New York Times simply stopped reviewing his books, including his latest, Charter Schools and Their Enemies, an in-depth history and review of progressive policies around education for black, inner city children. This is what I mean when I write of ignoring voices that disagree with popular policies and, more importantly, disprove the ideology the New York Times would have all people adopt.
In addition to Dr. Sowell, other formidable scholars have produced a substantial corpus of material that is routinely ignored by intellectuals, politicians, and media that drive the current racial narrative and, therefore, feed the division and animosity between black and white Americans. Among these is Walter Williams, Distinguished Professor of Economics at George Mason University, and author of The State Against Blacks; Liberty vs. the Tyranny of Socialism; and more. Glenn Loury, currently Professor of Social Sciences and Professor of Economics at Brown University, as well as the first black American to receive tenure at Harvard University 40-plus years ago, Shelby Steele, author, documentary film maker, and Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institute, and Jason Riley, Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of Please Stop Helping Us and False Black Power? bring tremendous intellectual insight into the issues. They and so many others are ignored by politicians and policy makers because they refuse to accept the narrative that blacks cannot succeed without government help and intervention. What these scholars make clear, and what so many of today’s intellectuals will not admit, is that, if white Americans are responsible for the failure or success of black Americans, then black Americans can never be equal. Nor would any of the men mentioned here ever concede that black people are in any way less than white people. They are right, and they are not lone voices, just ignored voices.
The single, most important fact about black Americans in our national history is that, in spite of all the odds against them and every discriminatory effort to marginalize them – up to and including early twentieth-century efforts to eradicate them with eugenics – black people have repeatedly proven that they are stronger and more determined to thrive than are the powers of external discrimination, condescension, and hatred. For example, at the end of slavery, a tiny, tiny percentage of black people could read and write. Within half a century over half the black population could read and write, a nearly unprecedented accomplishment in socio/economic history. Moreover, in the South, the literacy rate among the black population was almost as high as the literacy rate among the white population. Following the Reconstruction Era, southern states began enacting intentionally discriminatory laws in every area of life, excluding black citizens from education, from colleges, from jobs and unions, and more. The “separate but equal” era of Jim Crow was a farce in quality of education and in access to public goods and services. Yet, black Americans built schools, universities, and trade schools for themselves. They trained their own doctors, lawyers, dentists, and other professionals. Black Americans living under segregation with legalized discrimination built their own neighborhoods and created their own economy in their communities.
The first female in the United States to earn $1 million was Sarah Breedlove, born to sharecroppers who were freed from slavery at the end of the Civil War. Later known as Madam C.J. Walker, she built an enormous business by creating a line of hair care products and cosmetics for black women. The black unemployment rate in 1890 was lower than the white unemployment rate in the South, and the same was still true in 1930. During the undeniable discrimination of the Jim Crow Era, black Americans accomplished more, had higher employment rates, and enjoyed more success than many black Americans do today. In fact, the unemployment rate among black men was lower under Jim Crow laws than it has been at any time since, until 2019 and pre-Covid 2020. In spite of the gross inequity of segregation and discrimination, the income of black families during the Jim Crow Era increased more rapidly than it did among white southerners, and by the 1950s, the black population was rapidly closing the gap between the races in the standard of living. The accomplishments of black Americans who were treated only marginally better as free people than slaves are nothing short of astounding.
Why do we not hear about that? Why are we not celebrating the ingenuity, determination, and strength of people who refused to be thwarted by the actions and attitudes of others? Why now, after having gained so much for themselves, do we find black Americans who believe they cannot succeed against the force of white racism in America? At the moment that black Americans should be building their lives and futures on the shoulders of the giants who went before, why does racism defeat so many before they ever try?
The answer is so simple. As stated above, when we begin to revise history away from what actually happened, it is to achieve an end that the actual historical facts will not support. The desired end of revisionist history is not the equality sought by men like Martin Luther King, Jr. and those who marched with him, even those who sought equal treatment under the law in simple voting. The desired end, which should come as no surprise to anyone, is to maximize votes, meaning the attainment and maintenance of power. In the words of Thomas Sowell, “If we wanted to be serious about evidence, we might compare where blacks stood a hundred years after the end of slavery with where they stood after 30 years of the liberal welfare state. In other words, we could compare hard evidence on “the legacy of slavery” with hard evidence on the legacy of liberals.”
Civil Rights legislation gave black Americans (indeed, Italian Americans, Asian Americans, Greek Americans, Roman Catholic Americans, Irish Americans, and on and on) the freedom to do what they wished, freed from the constraints of oppression and bias in the law. But the legislation didn’t stop there. At the moment all restraints on black Americans should have died away, the “War on Poverty” was launched. Lyndon Johnson promised people would be more self-sufficient, but the opposite was true. The policies and benefits made people dependent, and enrollment was intentionally cultivated among black Americans by agencies staffed and paid to canvas black neighborhoods offering free benefits. The caveat was that a man could not be living in the home. We can debate all day long about the intentions of dead politicians, but the outcome of the implementation of the welfare state was the desolation of the black family. As stated by Larry Elder, “women were incentivized to marry the government, and men were incentivized to abandon their responsibilities.” Mr. Elder, a radio personality, author, documentary film maker, and attorney in Los Angeles, argues that the greatest socio/economic problem in America is the destruction of the black family, as do all the prior scholars I mentioned above.
Consider the following… More black children lived with their biological parents during slavery than do so today. In the 1940s and 1950s, illegitimacy among the black population hovered around 10%-12%. By 1965, when Patrick Moynihan sought to curb illegitimacy among young black women, the rate was 25%. Today, 70% of black children are born to single mothers, and especially, to teenage single mothers. Revisionist history attributes that to the legacy of slavery, but there is no indication, no data, no anecdotal accounts of widespread teen pregnancy during slavery – none. Even caught in the nightmarish trap of slavery, young black women considered their virtue to be a thing of value because they believed themselves to hold intrinsic value. The single, most effective means of destroying black progress in the U.S. was the implementation of the welfare state and the ensuing destruction of the black family. President Obama said that a child raised without a father was five times more likely to be poor and commit crimes, nine times more likely to drop out of school, and 20 times more likely to end up in prison.
Even as all of that is true, the rest of the story is that if black Americans were their own nation, that nation would be the fifteenth richest nation in the world. Approximately 13% of the American population is black, which translates into about 43 million people. In a world population of 7.8 billion, the American black population constitutes .55% of global population and is wealthier than over 92% of the world’s population. The top 20% of the black population in America holds the bulk of American black wealth and are continuing to broaden the wealth gap because they have the most advantages. My point is that, irrespective of what any white person in America thinks of black people, no matter how racist some white person is, black Americans are perfectly capable of accomplishing anything they so wish to do, up to and including being president of the nation. Yet, few are honest that socio/economic success among black Americans coincides with intact families and good education. The black Americans who live with the benefits of the welfare state remain in largely segregated sections of cities in squalid conditions with substandard education.
There is so much more to the discussion on race and slavery than I can possibly write here. Moreover, there are people who have addressed the myriad issues involved in far greater depth than I can and with better insight than I possess. So, why does this matter? Why is this so important in my mind? The compulsion to create dependent people is an essential denial of the strength and beauty of the image of God within them. Destructive policies under the guise of compassion today are deeply entrenched in the progressive movement, the same progressive movement of yesterday that supported Margaret Sanger. Sanger founded the organization that became Planned Parenthood, through which she strongly advocated for the elimination of “inferior races like Orientals, Jews, and Blacks,” calling them “human weeds.” Today, between one-third and one-half of all black pregnancies are aborted, and 75%-80% of Planned Parenthood clinics are located in inner city neighborhoods, where poor, black and Hispanic women are concentrated. Posthumously, Sanger is succeeding. Tragically, horrifically, she is succeeding in reducing the black population through abortion. Hundreds of black babies are aborted every day, and approximately 20 million black babies have been aborted since Roe v. Wade. How is this not horrendous?
The image of God in human beings is fixed. We can mar it, hide it, deny it, reject it, and ignore it, but it never goes away. Human beings are meant for greater dignity and respect than we grant one another, and often greater dignity and respect than we believe ourselves to have. Progressivism, as I hoped to make clear in the last meditation, is antithetical to Christian faith. It is an ideology convinced that human beings can build a better world without God, using our own vision and wisdom. The outcome is awful. Slavery was horrible. That’s not hard to understand, but people who pride themselves on compassion and care, but ignore the cruel outcome of their ideas, are much harder to discern. It is as hard for a compassionate progressive to admit degrading policies are wrong as it was for a slaveowner to admit slavery is wrong, but there is little difference between the two.
Most people who know me are aware that I am disabled. My disability was avoidable, caused by apathy and failure in the leadership of the last church I served, and to a lesser degree, the Conference in which I serve. The actions of others, intentional or otherwise, ruined my health and changed the course of my own life. In this sense, I am, quite literally, a victim of others’ choices. Be that as it may, my physical disability is aggravating and disruptive, but others have it far, far worse than I. I share this to make the following point.
Recently, in response to an email I sent, a superior (as in, a supervisory position) contacted me regarding a class on racism for the clergy that was typically one-sided. The man, who is more than a passing acquaintance, but not a close friend, is aware of the circumstances surrounding my disability. He admitted he didn’t actually know anyone who is racist, so I pushed by asking that we at least consider other black voices and scholarship on the subject, especially evidence indicating the profound harm to the black family by the welfare state and refuting oft-repeated claims of systemic racism. He deflected my questions and effectively ended the conversation by saying, in a very sympathetic and compassionate tone of voice, “you’ve had a really tough time of it, haven’t you?” Excuse me? What have my personal difficulties to do with the history of race in America? Intentionally or not, he dismissed and disregarded everything I said because I’ve “had such a hard life.” How utterly condescending! Because my physical body does not work correctly, my mind doesn’t either? Does my poor health mean I am incapable of knowing God and discerning His will and intentions for human life? Behind his simple comment is the assumption that I am a victim due pity, not respect. Therefore, he doesn’t need to take seriously anything I say, because I can be excused for thinking differently than he. I cannot express how insulting I found that remark to be, indeed, his entire response. It doesn’t matter to me what someone else did or did not do, I am no one’s victim. To treat me as such is demeaning and diminishes the image of God in me based upon external conditions and circumstances.
But realize this… No one has spent the last 50 years telling me I am helpless, that others don’t like me and don’t want me to succeed, that I am not able to take care of myself or meet people on equal footing. That is the message black Americans have heard in the condescension of progressivism. Liberal and progressive policies created an underclass of black citizens, and politicians speak compassion and concern while treating bearers of the image of God as if they are incapable of thinking for themselves. If I were a member of the black community, I would be so angry I could not see straight. Now, after decades of cultivating resentment and dependency, a great many black Americans are angry, and the flames are being fueled by politicians, intellectuals, the media, and, apparently, churches. The worst part is that black Americans never had to live that way. They never had to be cheated of their worth and dignity. Only godless policies fail to incorporate the wonder and majesty of human beings. Only godlessness refuses to recognize the image of God in others.
Bother to learn history. That we call ourselves Christian while supporting policies that God would abhor is a travesty. Hundreds of black babies aborted every day… In what alternative reality would the God of Life think that is a good idea? How can corralling poor black people into inner cities with broken down housing, inadequate health care, and substandard education be called Christian? The war on poverty with its destruction of the black family has not brought to life the image of God in people trapped in impoverishing policies, nor has it improved their quality of life. Setting them free to strive, to grow, to take responsibility and risks, to succeed and fail on their own merit is the only “strategy” that awards black Americans the respect they deserve – something they themselves proved in the middle of Jim Crow segregation and discrimination. This strategy will not bring votes to politicians, but it will unleash the humanity of the black population, and in so doing, reveal the image of God present in each person. Black Americans have the right and the strength to accomplish their dreams, if we simply avoid crippling them in the pride of our compassion.
In Christ –
Rev. Elizabeth Moreau
If you would like to learn more, the YouTube series “Black Wisdom Matters” is an easily accessible series of 10 to 15 minute videos featuring commentary on topics from an assortment of black individuals, from scholars to rap musicians.
The “Uncle Tom” documentary Larry Elder co-produced was released in June of this year and provides more history and perspective than the average college history program. Most revealing? No white people are in the documentary, and white people are not mentioned nor does white America appear to be relevant at all. I recommend it.
Thomas Sowell’s Black Rednecks and White Liberals, though not particularly complimentary of white southerners, provides critical insight into black culture today and the role of white liberals in sustaining self-destructive behaviors among black Americans. His book, Intellectuals and Society, will explain a great deal about why one in five college-educated young adults believe Marxism is a good idea.