Can a Christian be racist? And if he/she is racist, is that person really still a Christian? It is easy to label people. It is harder to understand them. And that is the very reason racism even exists at all in the world, let alone in the church.
Racism is deeper than skin. It is not about a person’s complexion. It is about our inability to understand the differences of the Human race as God created it. A keen theologian will surmise that was a big factor in the need of the cross and its post-resurrection theological applications. Humanity, in its fallen nature, assumes that “self” is the real deal, and the “other” the real danger. Sin reduces us to mere animals that thrive on instinct, fright, and flight rather than compassion and higher reasoning. This quickly escalates to an “us versus them” way of thinking and gathers people of similar attributes into camps of people against people or different attributes. It is sinful nature then, being rooted in fear and motivated by false perceived danger, not complexion, that is the root cause of racism.
This is why Paul writes to Christians to say,
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28 NIV)
You are all one. You are all similar. You all belong to the same family. You are all Human. You are all bought with a price. You are all valued at the same price. That cost is the cross. Your worth is not based on your gender, your worth is not based on your level of independence or even self-responsibility, and your worth is certainly not based on your ethnic or genetic makeup. Your worth is only based on what God would pay for you, and that price has not only already been fixed; it has been paid! You are a ‘collector’s item’ of the highest value. No one in all of the universe is worth more than you. And so, you will be cared for by the One who collected you up as if nothing could be valued more. Ergo, your fears are folly in the face of a Father’s love.
But then, why did Paul, the chief theologian of the New Testament church have to write such a declaration to the church, of all people? You would think, such an understanding would be self-evident? The answer, as in all astute biblical questions, is found in the context. The answer is so simple we passed right over it on our way to Galatians 3:28. The answer is Paul himself came face to face with a fellow and senior Apostle who was openly practicing racism in the church and Paul was forced to rebuke him in chapter two of this same famed Galatians we quoted above.
This is the correct context in which leads Paul to the conclusion of Galatians 3:28;
But when Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas [Peter] before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Galatian 2:11-14)
I am ashamed to have to show you this passage, in this context, because I am ashamed to have to admit Peter [Cephas] fell prey to racism. Yes, this is the same Peter who long before Paul ever began to officially preach to the Gentiles received a vision from God and began preaching the Gospel to them (see Acts 10 and 11). Peter lit the candle of equality that he passed to Paul who became the torchbearer. But, because of fear, Peter folded on what God had made clear to him, even in vision, and put it aside so as not be out of step with his peers. If Peter, under pressure, could fall, whom God showed in Heavenly divine vision that no man was to be called “common” because all belonged to God Almighty, then what dangers might we be in if under the right stressors?
The fact that you may not have grown up in a racist home, or considered yourself to have racist tendencies or ideology, is not in itself any provision that can protect you. Look, most of us Christians can’t claim direct divine prophetic vision. But what Peter’s experience teaches us is that even if we had, that would not be enough to safeguard us. This incident shows that given the right pressures, perceived dangers, or prolonged culture of fear, we all could become a racist and not even know it.
Peter folded because he feared the faithful who had a direct connection to the hierarchy in Jerusalem. According to Eusebius (who quotes Clement), James was the Bishop of Jerusalem, so it appears that Peter, not wanting to offend the “company men” of James, folded to their biases. What Paul makes clear, and therefore it is not sanctified speculation at all, is that Peter’s discrimination was rooted in the same common cause we all share, “fear.” Paul writes, “…but when they came, he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party.” This should be highly disconcerting to all of us because that means, giving the right amount of pressure, we all could fall into fear patterns that would drive us to the same depths of action as did Peter.
It is unclear if Peter knew what he was doing or if the fear blindsided him and it was reactive. But it works both ways, in that we don’t have to be at our core a hardened racist bigot to partake in racial prejudice. But it could also mean we may have some of that deep down inside us due to our culture, or upbringings, or isolated experiences, and not even know it. The problem with sin is it is the great ‘perception distorter.’ Once you are infected, it takes an outside source to alert you to the problem. Thank God, Paul was that outside source that brought Peter back to the ground.
Notice, Paul, as opposed to Peter, works under the power of conviction of God and God’s Kingdom principles rather than out of fear. Paul had every reason to fear Peter’s reaction. Peter was not only one of the original 12, but he was always in the inner circle of Jesus and had a reputation of knowing how to be fiery when he wanted to be. Paul, on the other hand, had a history of persecuting the church, he was a murderer in his past life, and his whole career had the authenticity of his apostleship questioned since he had not been a direct disciple of Jesus. If Peter had not been willing to be corrected and insisted on leading out in his fleshly fear he could have easily rained down chaos on the ministry of Paul, with the brethren of James backing him up. However, Paul knew Peter’s actions were “not in step with the truth of the gospel,” and that God was on his side, and even more important than being right, he had to save Peter from himself.
There can be no excuse for the Christian he practices racism in the church. How can you argue when Paul flat out said it was “not in step with the truth of the gospel,” and Peter himself found no rebuttal for such a rebuke? If Peter, one of the favored disciples of Jesus had no rebuttal than all our excuses are just self-taught lies, and if we hold on to them Peter will rise in the resurrection and condemn us! He, after all, did not dare attempt lame cultural excuses for ungodly action.
Paul was not motivated out of holy zeal and sanctified fire of justice but rather out of compassion, love, and mercy for a fellow apostle who let fear catch him up in a moment. Paul also knew it had to stop now because it was already spreading. We are told, “The rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.”
There is no doubt Peter, once the fear had discharged, would have also come under the conviction of the Spirit about his actions. But how many would have been led astray by that time? And how much guilt and fires would Peter have to deal with and put out after that? No, Paul instead acted in love, standing boldly, and called Peter, that great apostle of repentance, to repentance for the sake of the Gospel and its reputation among Gentiles.
While we are not told of Peter’s response in the narrative, we have no reason to doubt it, either. In 2 Peter, chapter 3, we find Peter, himself, making his endorsement of Paul clear. While addressing other people who are having difficulty with Paul, Peter calls Paul his “beloved brother,” and speaks to his “wisdom” and expertise in the Gospel.
Calling a brother to repentance is never a casual thing that we do. It could damage relationships forever. It could even cause a person to stumble. Normally we try to take great care, and with much prayer, and biblical insight do as Paul would have normally done even as he counseled in this same letter, “you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness, ” but there are some sins so damaging to the cause of the faith that they must be done with the razor sharp discernment of correctness and swiftness of action lest they infect the rest of the church with the same sin. All forms of bigotry fall into this level of sin because bigotry is based on fear that exponentially increases ignorance because only fear shuts down reason and intellect as the person regresses to animalistic tendencies of “fight or flight.”
We are currently living in a culture of fear. Some want to believe it is a political culture of fear but I am not so convinced the current spikes in the American race divide are political as much as from a darker source. Making them a political problem only makes them a skin-deep problem. Racism is deeper than skin. It is a fear problem in the heart of fallen mankind who fails to depend on God for security and takes matters into their own hands. Jesus warned the heart of men would grow cold in the last days. He warned that the fear would be so turned up that we’d betray our own families, and more and more Christians are buying into the mantra that it is a “persecute or be persecuted” world and have totally forgotten, or selectively abandoned, the true words of Jesus that call us to stand strong and be blessed in persecution;
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you, falsely, on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Why the shift in Biblical thinking to cultural crosses? Real pain hurts. Yes, there are blessings in persecution, but it means the pain of ‘Dying to Self’ first. For many have chosen the false Gospel of cultural rage, and it’s demanding of rights and fear-fueled false faith which is a fast falling Babylon. The wrong answer to Peter’s dilemma that many embrace is to cry counter racism, but this too is bad logic, for even if you were a victim of counter-racism the questions remains, are you not called by Jesus to suffer for your brother’s betterment? Love overcomes hate, and Christians do not fight fire with fire! They are called to create coals of fire with love and mercy that is beyond the enemies understanding. That is what the civil rights movement got right in America. Martin Luther King Jr (among others) was largely successful because the movement operated on the Christian principle of love concurs fear!
With this consideration in mind, two things going forward are of the most urgent priority for the church in this current climate of fear:
1) We can’t let fear stop us from pointing out bigotry in even in our own faith communities and even more important, 2) we cannot let fear stop us from finding hidden bigotry in our own heart.
After all, our heart is where racism lives, It is, truly, deeper than skin. No one is immune to it unless you have been translated. Peter, himself was a product of a race, culture, and twice over religion that had been highly discriminated against, and that did not stop his own discrimination from getting a hold of him.
There is only one person who is safe from the dangers of discrimination and prejudice, and that is the person who thinks he/she has honestly sought his or her heart and genuinely found none there. They are free, but only because they are deluded, lack perception, and live in a mockery of faith that is a distortion of self-awareness. All other fallen beings, are shaped by more than skin and thus struggle because of the failed, degenerate heart, that even in faith tries to rise, causing us to have to fight to keep our fears at bay at all times and with all people.
Paul knew what hate looked like because he murdered in hate before and he wished to save Peter from that fate. Let Jesus, now through Paul, rescue you. We all have fears, that can shut down our minds, and create selective ignorance. Don’t hide from your fears, admit them and face them because they are, “not in step with the truth of the gospel,” but to some degree or other they are buried in the degenerated heart of all humanity until translation. While through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we can be free, we still remain on guard at all times because the battle rages on and we must fight this good fight until Jesus comes. Love casts out all fear, but love must be embraced, chased, pursued, trained, and practiced. Real love never fails because real love is hate backward. Real love is deeper than skin and real love has the ability not only to look into your own heart but to look into the heart of the person of vast difference standing before you and to find the very Imago Dei that is stored deeper than skin deep!
 senior is not a rank in this case but rather a factual point that Peter was an apostle before Paul chronologically.
 Cephas is simply Aramaic while Peter is from Greek but both are the same name.
 This is Peter’s relocation of how he came to realize Gentiles were equal and under God’s Grace; “And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” Acts 11:12-18
 But Clement in the sixth book of his Hypotyposes writes thus: “For they say that Peter and James and John after the ascension of our Saviour, as if also preferred by our Lord, strove not after honor, but chose James the Just, bishop of Jerusalem.” But the same writer, in the seventh book of the same work, relates also the following things concerning him: “The Lord after his resurrection imparted knowledge to James the Just and to John and Peter, and they imparted it to the rest of the apostles, and the rest of the apostles to the seventy, of whom Barnabas was one. – Church History II.1.3-5
 John, James, and Peter are always found in the key events of the gospels with Jesus more than the rest.