The Biblical consensus is clear that racial alienation and hatred are contrary to God’s will for humanity, and especially for those professing to be part of God’s final covenant community. Those who foment such antagonism, whether in the church or the world, merit a stern rebuke from the Lord’s striving faithful.
For any national leader, especially in the United States, to tell citizens of any ethnic heritage to “go back where they came from” is abominable, beneath contempt, and contrary to the principles that have truly made America what Abraham Lincoln called the “last, best hope of earth.” To the present writer’s knowledge, none can recall a previous time in our nation’s history when a chief executive gave public voice to the vile sentiments uttered within the past few days. No true Christian can be silent in the face of such outrage. “Staying out of politics” is no excuse. When evil is rampant, when cowardice, sycophancy, and political self-preservation close the mouths of persons who should hold the highest officials of our land accountable, true followers of God cannot hold their peace.
The Bible Doctrine of Racial Inclusion
Despite the efforts of some across the centuries to pervert the Bible into supporting racism of various kinds, the Biblical consensus is clear that no racial or ethnic group is viewed by God as inferior or superior to others. Abraham, the father of the faithful, was told that through him all nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 12:3; 22:18). Abraham’s grandson Jacob was later given the same promise (Gen. 28:14). Numerous other Old Testament passages speak of the divine intent to include all peoples of the world in the plan for humanity’s salvation (Psalm 22:27; II Chron. 16:9; Isa. 11:10; 45:22; 49:6,12; 56:7; 60:3; 66:19).
God’s Old Testament promise to include all humanity in the blessings of the gospel is repeated in the New Testament by the old prophet Simeon (Luke 2:32), the Lord Jesus Himself (Matt. 8:11; 24:14; Mark 16:15), the apostle Peter (Acts 10:34-35), and the apostle Paul (Acts 17:26; Rom. 3:29; Gal. 3:8,28). And God’s final message to humanity, delivered to the great Advent movement for proclamation in Earth’s last days, is to be declared to “every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people” (Rev. 14:6).
Justice to the Stranger
The Old Testament in particular is filled with admonitions against oppressing and committing injustice against strangers—those today we would call immigrants. The law of Moses was exceedingly clear on this point, in such passages as the following:
Thou shalt neither vex a stranger nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt (Ex. 22:21).
And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him
But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God (Lev. 19:33-34).
Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt (Deut. 10:19).
In other words, Israel was commanded to dispense justice to strangers because of Israel’s own experience in Egypt as strangers who suffered injustice and oppression through slavery. The parallel with the United States of America is easy to draw. Aside from the natives who were here when the Europeans arrived, America is a nation of immigrants, or strangers, brought together by the common hope of liberty and opportunity. The late U.S. presidential historian Theodore White, contrasting America with other societies from throughout the globe, speaks of the United States as “the only peaceful multi-racial civilization in the world” (1), then writes of this country:
Its people come of such diverse heritages of religion, tongue, habit, fatherhood, color and folk song that if America did not exist it would be impossible to imagine that such a gathering of alien strains could ever behave like a nation. . . . But for so mixed a society to extend over a continent, to master the most complicated industrial structure the world has ever known, to create a state that has spread its power all around the globe—that would be impossible unless its people were bound together by a common faith (2).
White speaks of this common faith as articulated in America’s founding documents, beginning with the Declaration of Independence—compelling political theories “written by men who had taken the best ideas of their English-speaking heritage and made them universal. Such language was almost incomprehensible to the non-English-speaking peoples who were drawn to America later in ever growing numbers seeking the promise. But the ideas were compelling, and still compel” (3).
More than four decades after the above words were penned, the ideas of which Theodore White wrote continue to draw thousands to the borders and shores of this great land. The assimilation of these nationalities into the American body politic has never been easy—ask the millions of Germans, Italians, Ukrainians, Jews, Irish, Swedes, Poles, and many others who not so long ago braved ethnic prejudice and discrimination when seeking a home in America. The hatred and bigotry now being flung at Hispanics and Muslims stem from a toxic and diabolical American tradition. In time, of course, most of the hated groups have constrained their co-citizens to acknowledge the beauty and value of their contribution to American life, and to form their varied parts of the mosaic that American civilization has become.
Moreover, it must ever be kept in mind that many ancestors of current American citizens, Caucasian or otherwise, didn’t come to these shores through means generally recognized as legal. The Pilgrims had no passports. And if you have any doubts that they came here illegally, ask the natives!
Just as God admonished the Israelites to be just and merciful to the strangers who sojourned among them because Israel too had once been strangers suffering oppression in Egypt, so Americans can rightly be admonished to do justly to those coming from other lands who—like all except the natives—qualify as strangers seeking to sojourn among us.
Moses commanded that those sitting as judges among God’s people were to demonstrate justice toward both their brethren and the strangers who lived among them:
And I charged your judges at that time, saying, Hear the causes between your brethren, and judge righteously between every man and his brother, and the stranger that is with him (Deut. 1:16).
One can’t help recounting the following lament of the psalmist when pondering the venomous, hate-inspiring words from the summit of power in America just now—not to mention the recent heartbreaking spectacle of the Salvadoran father and his little girl, drowned and left to die seeking the promise of America:
O Lord God, to whom vengeance belongeth; O God, to whom vengeance belongeth, show Thyself.
Lift up Thyself, Thou Judge of the earth; render a reward to the proud.
Lord, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked triumph?
How long shall they utter and speak hard things? and all the workers of iniquity boast themselves?
They break in pieces Thy people, O Lord, and afflict Thine heritage.
They slay the widow and the stranger, and murder the fatherless (Psalm 94:1-6).
Do not the following indictments from the ancient prophets apply with equal force today as of yore, especially when those crossing our borders seeking a better life see their families torn apart, are constrained to sleep in filth, are locked in cages, and are forced to drink from toilets?
The people of the land have used oppression, and exercised robbery, and have vexed the poor and needy; yea, they have oppressed the stranger wrongfully (Eze. 22:29).
And I will come near to you in judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not Me, saith the Lord of hosts (Mal. 3:5).
In His parable of the sheep and the goats Jesus identifies with the stranger, declaring to His faithful in the day of judgment, “I was a stranger, and ye took Me in” (Matt. 25:35), and to the unfaithful, “I was a stranger, and ye took Me not in” (verse 43). In his letter to Hebrews, the apostle Paul applies the metaphor of “strangers and pilgrims”—those seeking a better country—to the heroes of faith across the centuries:
These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims in the earth.
For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.
And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.
But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for He hath prepared for them a city (Heb. 11:13-16).
The Testimony of Ellen White
Those in the Seventh-day Adventist Church who refuse to condemn racist rants in our day remind us of those in our early days as a movement who were rebuked by the following statement from Ellen White:
Many Sabbath-keepers are not right before God in their political views. . . . These brethren cannot receive the approval of God while they lack sympathy for the oppressed colored race, and are at variance with the pure, republican principles of our Government (4).
More than one colored race is being vilified in today’s America. Not only African-Americans, but those of Hispanic descent and Muslim faith are suffering in this regard. The recent attack on four women of color presently serving as members of Congress was an obscene, perverse demonstration of this. Whether or not we agree with the political views held by these persons is totally beside the point. Three of these women were born as citizens of this Republic, while the other has been a naturalized citizen longer than the current First Lady of the United States. No true Christian, least of all a Seventh-day Adventist, can cherish the least sympathy or support for these attacks. The sacred liberty and justice enshrined in the promise and divine purpose for the United States of America belong to persons of every racial and ethnic stripe and every religious faith—-as well as those who profess no faith at all.
Regarding the promise of universal liberty and justice that has brought millions of immigrants to America, the modern prophet writes:
The oppressed and downtrodden throughout Christendom have turned to this land with interest and hope. Millions have sought its shores, and the United States has risen to a place among the most powerful nations of the earth (5).
Notice how Ellen White describes the millions who have sought America’s shores as bringing about the greatness that has characterized this country’s standing in the world. When certain ones today rant about “making America great again,” this fact—along with numerous others—is often forgotten.
Former Governor Alfred E. Smith of New York, twice a candidate for the U.S. presidency, used language very similar to the above Ellen White statement in the last speech of his life, describing what he held to be God’s purpose for America:
He (God) made it a haven of repose and a harbor of refuge for the downtrodden and poor and the oppressed of every land (6).
Conclusion—the Sin of Racism
The recent presidential tirade against four members of Congress was unmistakably about race, not public policy, despite what certain apologists for the current American president have alleged. After all, any number of Caucasian politicians currently advocate the same policies as the four Congresswomen who are being told to “go back where they came from.” Yet the white politicians who agree with them, any number of whom could be mentioned here, are not being told this.
In other words, we are talking about racism, pure and simple. And from all we have read in the Sacred Pages, any attempt to elevate one racial group over another, or to excite enmity between men and women based on national or ethnic distinctions, is contrary to God’s eternal purpose in the controversy between good and evil.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church must stand apart from so much of conservative American Christianity today in our modeling of racial togetherness and reconciliation. We must become a movement in which such barriers matter not at all as we seek to accomplish the theological and missional task committed to our charge. The news isn’t all bad on this front, as the following statement several years ago from outside observers bears witness:
On a scale of 1 to 10, the Seventh-day Adventist Church in America is at a 9.1 when it comes to racial diversity and that number makes it the most diverse religious group in the United States, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center.
In the new analysis looking at 29 religious groups including mainline Protestant denominations and others, the Pew Research Center measured the distribution of Hispanics, non-Hispanic whites, blacks, Asians as well as mixed-race Americans and concluded that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is the most diverse of all. . . .
The church is so diverse, it had a higher diversity index than the U.S. itself (7).
But we still have a ways to go. Any number of focal points meriting consideration relative to this issue could be cited. We need to aim higher as a people so far as this subject is concerned. God’s remnant church at the end of time is declared to be faultless (Zeph. 3:13; Rev. 14:5), having achieved through divine strength the perfect obedience God’s law requires (II Peter 3:10-14; I John 3:2-3; Rev. 3:21). Racial inequality and injustice have no place in a faultless church. Those professing Adventists who nurture such sentiments as those lately voiced by the current American chief executive will in time be constrained either to repent or be shaken out when the final crisis confronts God’s people.
Those interested in a more in-depth commentary by the present writer on the issue of racial reconciliation should read my article on this site titled, “A Call to Atonement,” based on a sermon delivered by me in the wake of the tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia, nearly two years ago (8).
1. Theodore H. White, Breach of Faith: The Fall of Richard Nixon (New York: Atheneum Publishers, 1975), p. 323.
4. Ellen G. White, Testimonies, vol. 1, pp. 533-534.
5. ----The Great Controversy, p. 441.
6. Christopher F. Finan, Alfred E. Smith: The Happy Warrior (New York: Hill and Wang, 2002), p. 344.
7. Leonardo Blair, “The Seventh-Day Adventist Church is the Most Diverse Church Group in America, Says Study,” Christian Post Recorder, Aug. 4, 2015 http://www.christianpost.com/news/the-seventh-day-adventist-church-is-the-most-diverse-church-group-in-america-says-study-142236/
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