On January 11, 2018, at a bipartisan meeting of Congressional leaders, the President of the United States openly reviled between one third and one half of the world’s population as presumably unworthy to enter his country, using a despicably vulgar expression not fit to be repeated.
As regular visitors to this site are well aware, it is not our policy here to comment on strictly political issues. But this is not one of those. Rather, this is an issue that strikes at the universal, divinely-created dignity of the human family, the unfettered love and justice by which heaven regards those of every ethnic origin, and the imperative of God’s end-time remnant community to bring the everlasting gospel of pardon and transformation to “every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people” (Rev. 14:6).
Contrary to a popular urban legend in certain denominational circles, Ellen White never instructed Adventists without qualification to “stay out of politics.” Rather, she made a careful distinction between those issues of a political nature which hold relevance to our spiritual mission as a people, and those which do not:
Whatever the opinions you may entertain in regard to vesting your vote in political questions, you are not to proclaim it by pen or voice. Our people need to be silent upon questions which have no relation to the third angel’s message (1).
According to the same author, the issue of race relations—which quite obviously according to the verse cited above, is directly impacted by the messages of the three angels in Revelation 14—is not one of those political issues on which silence is eloquence. In another, very pointed statement, written during the American Civil War, Ellen White makes this clear:
Many Sabbath-keepers are not right before God in their political views. . . . These brethren cannot receive the approval of God while they neglect sympathy for the oppressed colored race, and are at variance with the pure, republican principles of our Government (2).
If this was true during the time when the United States was torn asunder in the bloodiest conflict of our history, it is difficult not to see its continuing truthfulness in America’s present cauldron of strife and polarization. Though the poison of racism—more often than many care to acknowledge—has defiled the witness of the Christian faith and at times even the witness of Seventh-day Adventism, the testimony of Scripture is unequivocal that notions of racial or national separation and superiority have no place in the experience of those claiming to be children of God.
“All the Families of the Earth”
The ethnic inclusiveness of the Biblical gospel didn’t start in the New Testament. It was enshrined in God’s original call to Abraham in the book of Genesis:
And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:3; see also 22:16; 28:14)
Other Old Testament passages are equally clear as to the universal reach of God’s plan for human salvation:
For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward Him (II Chron. 16:9).
All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before Thee (Psalm 22:27).
And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious (Isa. 11:10).
Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else (Isa. 45:22).
And He said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be My servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be My salvation unto the end of the earth. . . .Behold, these shall come from far: and lo, these from the north and from the west; and these from the land of Sinim (Isa. 49:6,12).
Consider also what God through Isaiah says regarding His temple, that “Mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people” (Isa. 56:7). Many modern translations translate “all people” as “all nations” (e.g. NKJV,NIV,TEV,NEB,NLT). No racial segregation or stratification is envisioned here. It helps to remember that the so-called “court of the Gentiles” was a feature of Herod’s later temple, not—so far as the Biblical record and history indicate—of the temple of Solomon which God Himself designed (I Chron. 28:11-19).
Whatever separation God commands in Scripture so far as His people and the outside world are concerned (Deut. 7:3; Ezra 10:11; II Cor. 6:14-18) involves religious faith and practice, not race or ethnicity. When the heathen accepted the faith of Israel, as in the case of Ruth the Moabitess (Ruth 1:16), they became part of the covenant community irrespective of their national origin.
Moving to the New Testament, we find Simeon in the temple, immediately after Jesus’ birth, speaking of the Savior’s mission as “a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel” (Luke 2:32). Jesus confirmed this universal nature of the gospel proclamation more than once during His ministry, as in His statement following the healing of the centurion’s servant at Capernaum: “And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 8:11). Certainly the Savior’s encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well underscored this principle of ethnic inclusion (John 4:5-42).
And then we have the unmistakable clarity of the Great Commission:
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost (Matt. 28:19).
Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15).
When the apostle Peter finally came to understand this truth following his vision on the rooftop in Joppa, he declared: “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with Him” (Acts 10:34-35). The apostle Paul, in declaring to the Judaizers in Galatia the universal reach of the gospel, pointed his readers back to the original call of Abraham, which we cited earlier:
And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed (Gal. 3:8).
Notice how there is nothing in any of these passages about God showing mercy and salvation to everyone, but nevertheless keeping the races and nations apart. Those in the southern United States and elsewhere in America, along with such groups as the white South Africans under the apartheid regime, could assemble no sound Biblical arguments for the separation or subjugation of any racial or national group, no matter how hard some of them tried. Sincere and fully persuaded of their cause though many of these misguided souls were, evidence from Scripture in support of their position was—and is—simply not there.
In light of the above Biblical passages and teachings, no true Christian can hear a statement such as the one recently made by the American President and not regard it with revulsion, abhorrence, and unequivocal condemnation.
“Of One Blood All Nations”
In his last public appearance, former New York Governor and presidential candidate Alfred E. Smith offered his vision for the United States, declaring that God had made America “a haven of repose and a harbor of refuge for the downtrodden and poor and the oppressed of every land” (3).
But the ultimate repose and harbor of refuge for the oppressed of earth is not America, but rather, God’s kingdom of grace and glory. In his address to the Athenians on Mars Hill—another people who, we recall, considered themselves racially superior—the apostle Paul declared that God “hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on the face of the earth” (Acts 17:26). This statement underscores the universal, interracial, international, transcultural reach of the gospel as declared by God to Abraham (Gen. 12:3) and by Jesus to His disciples (Matt. 8:11). It reaffirms a transcendent principle of Biblical theology—that all human beings possess the dignity and supreme value with which God invested the human race when He formed our first parents in the beginning. And its practical implication and imperative is that all persons of every racial and national background are not only invited equally to be saved in the world to come, but are also to be granted equality of respect, justice, and opportunity in the world of here and now.
It is appalling that the racial antagonism and resentments seen in our world today have been nurtured and even encouraged in so many professedly Christian hearts. Neither racism nor nationalism has any place in the worldview of the Christian. Please understand that patriotism is not nationalism. It is fine for the Christian to be proud of, and loyal to, the country of one’s origin. But in contrast with simple patriotism, nationalism too often carries a spirit of elitism, superiority, and exclusiveness with which no follower of Jesus can have a part. Neither racists nor nationalists would be comfortable in the New Jerusalem, whose residents will happily live, work, and worship alongside the saved of every racial and national heritage we find on earth today.
1. Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, vol. 2, p. 336.
2. ----Testimonies, vol. 1, pp. 533-534.
3. Christopher M. Finan, Alfred E. Smith: The Happy Warrior (New York: Hill and Wang, 2002), p. 344.
Pastor Kevin Paulson holds a Bachelor’s degree in theology from Pacific Union College, a Master of Arts in systematic theology from Loma Linda University, and a Master of Divinity from the SDA Theological Seminary at Andrews University. He served the Greater New York Conference of Seventh-day Adventists for ten years as a Bible instructor, evangelist, and local pastor. He writes regularly for Liberty magazine and does script writing for various evangelistic ministries within the denomination. He continues to hold evangelistic and revival meetings throughout the North American Division and beyond, and is a sought-after seminar speaker relative to current issues in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He presently resides in Berrien Springs, Michigan.