Race in Society and Religion: Its Implications and Its Long Shadow
First of an 8-Part Series
By Cleran Hollancid, May 22, 2017: Considering the place of what I prefer to call notions of ‘race,’ ‘ethnicity,’ and ‘culture,’ in the Christian church and in the world at large, first calls for clarifications. It should be noted that these three notions are all constructed in nature; and of all three, the term ‘culture’ more or less, can perhaps be considered the least invidious. But of course that depends on what one means by ‘culture’ and the degree to which it is engaged. And furthermore, one still has to be leery since the notion of ‘culture wars’ and ‘cultural strife,’ for example, are still of vitriolic significance in modern life.
What is race? The answers which one receives are anything but uniform. The masses have been fed race lies by government agencies, the judicial system, the education system, the health system, the religious landscape, the labor market, the media, and all other social institutions for so long, that it’s simply taken for granted as some sort of fixed biological dictum. It fills the entire space in the room. The farce of racial differences has been shoved down the throats of people for so long that it seems only natural to believe the fabrication. What’s pitiful is that some scientists are desperately, at all costs, trying to prove the biology of race. And for what? What could be the motive and agenda behind frantically trying to uphold the race fallacy?
It turns out you don’t have to think very hard at all. Humans indulge in the gratification of having everything divided that could possibly be divided, even if it means war and slaughter. Humans are conditioned into being divided (speaking more to the impact of the social environment); and many blithely buy into the notion of unique biological preeminence. It is an ingenious false-comfort, extremely creative in the manner in which it impacts the psyche, to the extent that people will rather die defending such belief.
Moreover, humans are divided for political gain, economic gain, to maintain privilege and power. We’re separated by religious, doctrinal, and sectarian differences, to maintain class status, national status, to preserve ecclesiastical-hierarchical status, to preserve racial homogeneity in the church, and the list goes on.
The concept of race, itself, is not a static biological dictum as many are misled into believing, but is a mere social construct, as readily admitted in academia – albeit a very divisive construct. (See Bernasconi and Lott) What does that mean? Race and its corollaries have been the cause of much social, political, and economic conflict throughout the world, the cause of bigotry, unwanted bloodshed and unremitting war; race is a seemingly naïve and benign little word to some, yet it is a corrupt monster engineered by the human mind.
It may surprise you to know that the same scientists will tell you that a Black person has more in common with a White person, than with another Black person. You may have even heard of the ingenious program called ‘divide and conquer.’
The concept of race as we know it today began in the modern era, just a few hundred years ago. I am well aware of the arguments placing the conflicting nature of race further back in antiquity, but the widespread notion of race as a weapon is relatively new. It was completely buttressed by such discourses and programs like evolution and eugenics, amidst the era of the Industrial Revolution and Age of Enlightenment, clad in armor by much pseudo-science and the ever-expanding project of colonialism. To be sure, the global colonial project had to ensure the subjugation of the masses it was going to enslave and dominate, and promoting the superiority of Caucasians was a weapon of choice. And so the massive project of absolute Whitewashing and brainwashing began in earnest in scientific literature, in government, academia, the church, and other social institutions.
Whites used every tactic in the book to convince the world that they were better than everyone else – including revisionist history, as well as changing non-White images or portraits to White. It was an all-encompassing plot, particularly from the fifteenth century on. So bad was it that some Whites even deny or explain away the great non-White civilizations of Egypt and the rest of Africa, which predate modern Europe. It’s as if to say non-Whites are mentally inferior to Whites and thus could never have constructed great civilizations and wonders of the world. Nonetheless, White indoctrination was complete and designed in such a way to ensure that generations unborn would continue to support the farce. Thus all the varying forms of race conflict you see manifested today is in fact the lingering of the curse of the invention itself. Today, the divisive project of race continues to blind and dominate the minds and passions of men, women, and children.
Race, moreover, has been used as a tool in the hands of the oppressor and to suit particular whims in academic methodologies, theories, political ideals, economic ends, including varying forms of exploitation, slavery and sex slavery. (See Hollancid, 2012.) Can you imagine that? – something as unreal as race, dominating every single facet of human life. It is at this juncture, as if all of a sudden, deeply troubled and somewhat slightly offended, someone would awake and say, “Wait a minute, did you say that race is not real? If it’s not real, then why do we look so different, and have different tastes, etc.?” All humans are the same – one color blood, the last time I checked.
The fact of the matter is, we have been duped and guided by race sense for so long, enhanced by both media and academia, that race along with all its subtle inferences have become embedded in the human psyche. So ingrained that it would take the power of God to break the chains and set the captives free – much like setting the demoniac man free from the evil spirits that took possession of his mind. (Follow the story in Mark 5:1-20.) And just to be clear about the matter, the differences which people refer to have nothing to do with race. There is no such thing as a gene for race. The differences in appearance, color shades, melanin, etc., are simply a matter of phenotypic variation. And that says nothing, other than the fact that it was created that way. So what you see and hear is actually a gross overplay, and people making a bigger hype about phenotype than is warranted.
The race concept, itself, suggests unwarranted cleavage that continues to cast the human family in the limelight of exclusivity, confusion, bigotry, and unremitting bloodshed. It has been a senseless bloodbath and austere form of divisive control. And for what? In the case of slavery, a justification was needed, and many were conjured up, including the phrase ‘Servants, obey your masters,’ extrapolated from passages like Philemon 12 and Ephesians 6:5-9. Some have even gone as far as citing Exodus 20:10, 17 (the Ten Commandments) in endorsing slavery, “showing God’s implicit acceptance of it.” (Emerson and Smith)
And in tandem, it is through such ‘justifications’ that the notion of racial and intellectual inferiority of non-Whites was deployed and became widely accepted, particularly from the eighteenth century onward, using such schemes as contained in evolutionary rhetoric and pseudo-science, to endorse such ventures as slavery, colonialism, and White privilege. (Hollancid 2012)
Not surprising, then, that up to today, this same mentality carries over to justifications for racial (particularly Black-White) segregation in church, with some even believing “that which God hath put asunder, let not man attempt to join.” (Feldman, page 11) In other words, divine blessings have even been evoked, in this case, among Baptist leaders in the South, in sanctioning racial segregation between Blacks and Whites. This should give you an indication of the deep and uncompromising nature of prejudice, and the type of resolved attitudes undergirding segregation, even going as far as creating God in one’s own image, i.e., attributing to God the qualities one assumes for oneself. Furthermore, it speaks to the impertinence, pathetic position, dishonest character, aggressiveness, and daring nature of the segregation phenomenon.
That simply goes to show how far some will go to justify morally bankrupt ideas, while feeding the voracious appetite of self-indulgence with no scruples whatsoever. It is not only an affront, acrimonious, and a disgrace, but misrepresents the very character of God. This is painting the picture of a racist God. It is precisely such attitudes and thought that make religion distasteful and abhorrent to some. And while other religious bodies and religious people may not necessarily invoke divine blessings on racial segregation, their actions and attitudes (i.e., of the majority) nonetheless emit as much.
So yes, the problematic concept of race and all its byproducts are extremely deep-seated – that goes without saying. That’s why nothing short of a bold, radical and revolutionary approach, by the grace of God, is needed to confront it. It’s always good to stop and take a reflexive look not only at your condition, but the ideologies, thoughts, social systems, etc., surrounding you, that impact your supposed disposition. That becomes painfully clear in light of the race prejudice, discrimination, disturbing attitudes, hardcore segregation legacy, embarrassing drama, and stellar duplicity that have embraced Seventh-day Adventists, as this article aptly illustrates. Sincere contemplation can be freeing because it carries cathartic value; good for the individual soul, the Adventist soul, and the societal soul. Thus the value in clarifying what race is not.
We are still left with the mess of the history and ongoing saga of racial prejudice, discrimination, and violence in American society, and in the modern world. Hence, my use of race and its minions (i.e., segregation, bigotry, White racism, anti-Black discrimination, use of ‘Black,’ ‘White,’ etc.) in this article is really for the purpose of using the arsenal of race – exposing it in all its splendor and exaltation, in order to defeat it.
But I hear someone saying – “You’re wasting your time, stop dreaming; wake up.” Well, you need not worry about how far the courage to stand will go. You just worry about doing your part; let it begin with you. All you need is a willing heart to let God work in you and allow the right sense to prevail. That’s precisely why it appears or sounds like a radical revolutionary idea. But it has to begin somewhere. I also realize that for many this is a difficult topic to deal with; but what if you were to live your whole life knowing that there was a bold and courageous step you needed to take but shrank from it, for fear of being labeled.
Bernasconi, Robert and Tommy Lee Lott, eds. (2000). The Idea of Race. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company.
Emerson, Michale and Christian Smith (2000). Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (Originally from Christian History 2:1, 1992.)
Feldman, Glenn, ed. (2005). Politics and Religion in the White South. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky.
Hollandcid, Cleran (2012). Evolution Declassified: Just When You Thought It Was All Settled. Detroit: Gold Leaf Press.
Cleran L. Hollancid is a life-long Adventist who belongs to a congregation in Michigan. He is a PhD candidate in the sociology of religion at Western Michigan University. His research has focused on racial segregation in the Adventist Church in the United States of America. He completed a BA in theology at Caribbean Union College, the Master of Divinity in the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University, an MA in anthropology and an MA in sociology at Wayne State University. Is an adjunct professor in the Religious Studies Program at Henry Ford College in Dearborn, Michigan. The purpose of this eight-part series is to offer beginning steps toward racial reconciliation in the Adventist faith community.