During this year of 1970, while the Western world gropes about in a quagmire of racism, both black and white, it would seem appropriate for the historic revolutionaries, the Christians, to make a public declaration on race. This paper is an attempt at a Christian manifesto on the races of man, declaring to the world our high view of race and culture, and pointing hopefully to that super-kingdom in which “we are no longer strangers and foreigners but fellow-citizens with the saints and of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19).

The Bible contains at least three positions about the races of man:

1. All men are made in the image and likeness of God.

2. All men are descendants of one pair, Adam and Eve.

3. All men are sinful and in need of redemption. These positions are probably distinctive to the Hebrew-Christian tradition.

1. All men are made in the image of God. The lofty view of man expressed in Genesis 1:26, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” is so indelibly stamped on Western culture that the “imagehood” has survived the obsoleteness of the Creator. This biblical pronouncement cannot be dismissed as mere anthropomorphism or a mirror-image of Xenophon’s theory that men create their gods in their own image. As Cuthbert Simpson remarks,

[To the Hebrew mind] the representation that man was made in the image of God meant much more than that man looked like God or like the divine beings which formed his retinue. The image included likeness to them in spiritual powers … the power of thought, the power of communication, the powers of self-transcendence [The Interpreter’s Bible (Gen. 1:27), 1952].

The powerful effect of this image idea upon our society has probably been grossly underestimated. This Hebrew concept has invested man with an odor of sanctity that is a delight even to the pagan. The extent to which our civilization is indebted to this theory of God-likeness has been well explored by Elton Trueblood in The Predicament of Modern Man and also in an article in Christian Life:

The historical truth is that the chief sources of the concepts of the dignity of the individual and equality before the law are found in the Biblical heritage. Apart from the fundamental convictions of that heritage, symbolized by the idea that every man is made in the image of God, there is no adequate reason for accepting the concepts mentioned [Christian Life, March, 1969, p. 23].

One might honestly ask, though, if this dignity and sanctity were intended for all men, or if the Hebrews, like almost all other peoples of the earth, conceived of themselves as the only “people,” and thus the only heirs of the promise. It is the glory of Israel, and later of the Church, that the oracles of God are for all men. Isaiah could see the mountain of the house of the Lord established as the highest of mountains with all the nations flowing into it, “and many peoples shall come, and say: ‘Come let us go up to the mountain of the LORD … that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths” (Isa. 2:2, 3). We as Christians believe ourselves to be the spiritual Israel, and we bear a powerful message for this age: All men are endowed with a special distinction; they are made in the image of their Creator.

2. All men are descendants of one pair, Adam and Eve. An interesting and recurring conversation I have had in Haiti is on the question whether we all actually had the same ancestor. The suggestion that a white man and a black man should have the same common grandfather is usually greeted with a great deal of mirth. More seriously, the Haitian takes his estrangement so deeply that he may be unable to conceive that we are indeed brothers under the skin. Yet the story of man’s creation in the Bible implies this very conclusion. I doubt that it is dispensable.

Article continues below

I wonder if this “one-family” concept wasn’t the charisma that permitted an ancient Near East tribe to accept emotionally its mission to be a “light unto the Gentiles.” Later, during those dark and doubtful hours when the primitive Church was discovering that the Gospel was for all men, there must have been considerable reassurance in the scriptural traditions about the first man, Adam. Paul, the arch-exclusive ex-Pharisee, was enabled to stand in the Areopagus and proclaim that God had made “from one [blood] every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth” (Acts 17:26).

The drama and power of this one-race unity was not lost on subsequent generations of Christians, either: witness Milton’s moving scene in the closing pages of Paradise Lost where Michael permits the fallen Adam to see his progeny from a high mountain, ranging from “Cambalu, seat of Cathaian Can and Samarkand by Oxus, Temir’s throne,” to “the realm of Congo, and Angola farthest south; or thence from Niger flood to Atlas mount” (XI, 370 ff.).

Or listen to the impassioned words of the Reverend Robert Hall delivering an address in the city of Leicester in 1823 as part of the British Anti-Slavery Society’s last assault on slavery in the British colonies: He reminds his audience that they cannot remain silent on the subject of human slavery unless they forget that the British nation had already abolished the slave trade, unless they forget that they are the countrymen of Grenville Sharp, Wilberforce, and Clarkson. Indeed, to remain silent “we must lose sight of a still more awful consideration, and forget our great Original, who made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on the face of the earth” (quoted by C. S. Lewis in Christian Reflections, 1967, p. 82).

Standing over against this “one blood” idea of Christians is a vast body of scientific and pseudo-scientific projections regarding the history and evolution of man, indeed the evolution of the entire universe, including the atoms and molecules of which it is made; a broadly painted picture, apparently without meaning, which depicts man as an accidental inhabitant of this globe, existing between the eons of primordial emergence and the eons of slow cooling and death—a dramatic tragedy on the grandest scale of all, one which C. S. Lewis was pleased to call the Great Myth of Western Civilization. Needless to say, the great “myth” does not afford us a clear view of human unity. The different races may (or may not) have branched off some human “stock” at different stages of development. Man is assigned his place as part of the stuff of the universe, taking part in random reactions that are carrying out their capricious destiny. Family, brotherhood, and love may be only adaptive phenomena in the inexorable evolution of events. Racism and brotherhood may both be nonsense. To this somber picture we as Christians have a message of relief: All the races of men are created in the image of God and are part of one family, destined for some glorious purpose that has only partially been revealed.

3. All men are sinful and in need of redemption. In the third chapter of Romans, Paul discusses the spiritual state of the Jews as compared with the Gentiles and reaches that dramatic and well-known verdict: “There is no distinction; since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Rom. 3:22–25).

Article continues below

The Christian view has been that all men share the common disease of Adam’s race, which is sin, and that all may be redeemed and transformed by the mysterious working of that second Adam, Jesus Christ. Christians have long asserted that all of man’s relationships are tinged and stained with sin, causing even the best of endeavors to be sullied with hatred, jealousy, greed, lust, violence, and disorder. To the Christian it is lamentable, but not surprising, that some Christian groups were involved in the destruction of Indian societies in the New World, in the capture and exploitation of black slaves, in the degradation and dehumanization of plantation life, in the racism still present in some Christian churches. What is astonishing, however, is that these so-called Christian societies used the ideologies of their own religion to judge themselves, finding the instruments of cleansing and redemption in the same Book that spoke of their sin. This self-judgment and cleansing I believe to be a unique phenomenon of the Christian society, one which, when seriously considered in the light of man’s history, should give even the atheist cause for reflection. Even the non-Christian social activist of 1970 must acknowledge his debt to the “theory” of Christianity, which, buried in the subsconcious mind of Western society, permits an emotional appeal to the dignity and rights of all human beings.

But the Christian influence on the race question was not limited to self-judgment and restraint of behavior. There was always a dream, as it were, a vision of a redemption of all tribes and nations into a spiritual kingdom in which the races of men would be reconciled to their Creator and to one another. Even the Columbus voyages, motivated though they were by a hope for instant wealth for the coffers of an ailing Spain, often gave evidence of the Christian dream:

So, since our Redeemer has given this triumph to our most illustrious King and Queen, and to their renowned realms, in so great a matter, for this all Christendom ought to feel joyful and make great celebrations and give solemn thanks to the Holy Trinity with many solemn prayers for the great exaltation it will have in the turning of so many peoples to our holy faith, and afterwards for material benefits—Done on board the caravel off the Canary Islands, on the fifteenth of February, year 1493. THE ADMIRAL [Samuel Eliot Morison, Journals and Other Documents on the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, 1963].

The European invaders of the New World found they were little prepared to meet and understand the cultural conflicts posed by the complex pagan Indian societies such as they encountered in Mexico, with their weird customs and gruesome practices, including cannibalism and mass human sacrifice. Yet the men of faith held to a higher view of the cultural confrontation. Father Antonio Vasquez de Espinosa, a Carmelite missionary who traveled throughout the New World before 1620, wrote the following estimate of the Indian’s condition:

The Father of Lies, who kept them deceived and blinded, himself taught them this abundance of ceremonies, superstitions, idolatries, and revolting human sacrifices with which he made them worship him, holding these blind heathen tribes under his tyranny until God our Savior with his divine providence and mercy sent them the light of his blessed gospel, to bring them out of that blind darkness in which these poor heathen were cowed by the tyranny of the Devil” [Antonio Vasquez de Espinosa, Description of the Indies, Smithsonian, 1968, p. 24].

The great moral drama of the New World remained to be acted out, and we are convulsed by its contradictions until this day: the black man’s position in Western society, and the accompanying contradiction between Christian racial theory and the greed, arrogance, and racism of society, the Church, and individuals. The battle has shifted many times in the past two hundred years, but the whole of Western society has used Christian tools to judge itself and thus far has stopped the slave trade, abolished slavery, and proclaimed the Negro to be a man, and is currently struggling to see him as a brother.

Article continues below

The Christian ideology depicts a grand spectacle of the fallen tribes of men being united at the foot of the Cross, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. The only other going option sees the tribes of men arising, as it were, from the primitive ooze and recognizing their common humanity as they strive for the stars, but it offers neither an explanation nor a cure for human brokenness and discord. From a “natural” viewpoint, one could find no more reason for a rapprochement of the races than for a biological equilibrium of trees and bushes in which they could no longer strive for a “place in the sun” but instead seek a mutual pact of brotherhood and well-being. The leaves for the healing of the nations lie in the Christian manifesto.

The three points of the Christian racial thesis are a matter of faith. There will never be any way to “prove” them, though one might postulate that these same aspirations lie deep in the hearts of all men, an almost instinctive clue to their true nature and destiny. If we as Christians are willing to accept these declarations as truth, then I believe that we shall have to push on to some pertinent reflections and conclusions:

1. If we are all of the same family, then we all have essentially the same genetic makeup, and are human in the fullest sense of the word.

2. The differences between the races can be explained by isolation and cultural history.

3. Christians of all races, with their great insight into man’s true nature and their greater motivation to heal mankind’s wounds, are the only hope for racial peace.

1. If we are of the same family, then we have the same genetic makeup and are human in the fullest sense of the word.

The Winter 1968–69 issue of the Harvard Educational Review contained a controversial article by Dr. Arthur R. Jensen of the University of California that asserted among other things that well-controlled testing of Negro I.Q.’s showed that they were consistently below their white peers, and that this should be seriously considered as evidence of genetic differences in learning capacities. He further showed that the testing revealed differences in conceptual and categorical thinking. There was some allusion to the Negro’s early display of motor skills and non-cognitive abilities. There will probably be more of this type of reasoning in the future, though many wise men have already made their dissent in print and in public.

Recent black nationalism and racism in the United States seeks to establish a similar thesis, though this time the genetic inferior is a “beast” or “devil.” The mythology of the Black Muslim movement, dating from Master W. D. Fard, expounded by Elijah Muhammed, and popularized by Malcolm X, shows the white man as an inferior and vengeful degenerate of the original black race. The white race was developed genetically by a Mr. Yacub who hated Allah and “decided as revenge to create upon the earth a devil race … a bleached out white race of people” (Malcolm X: Autobiography, paperback, 1966, p. 165).

To one who has lived for the past twelve years in the world’s first black republic, trying in some way to grasp the nature of the barriers that divide the two races, both these points of view are hopelessly inadequate. The one, using European-based statistical testing, finds the black man “genetically” different, but is apparently oblivious of the fact that the methods used are part of the very culture that the black man only partially embraces. On the other hand, the Negro only senses his alienation from the culture of the white man, and recoils as from something inhuman. Misunderstanding between the two races in this year of 1970 remains critically high. It is doubtful that the strong emotional reactions will be overcome by anything less than a much higher and supernatural grace that gives each race the ability to recognize members of the other, for all their differences, as long-lost kin, men and women who were created for the glory of God and who may yet become part of that great fellowship of redemption. As Christians, therefore, we shall have to reject any theories of genetic differences, and conclude with Father Bartolomé de Las Casas, bishop of Chiapas, that:

Article continues below
All the peoples of the world are men.… All have understanding and volition, all have the five exterior senses and the four interior senses, and are moved by the objects of these, all take satisfaction in goodness and feel pleasure with happy and delicious things, all regret and abhor evil [Eric Williams, Documents of West Indian History (quotation from Historia de las Indias, 1559), p. 110].

2. The differences between the races can be explained by isolation and cultural history.

Granting, then, our genetic oneness and common ancestry, we must try to understand our racial antipathies, no less for the black than for the white.

The melting-pot doctrine has been so much a part of the American scene that it is hard for most Americans to observe the persistence of cultural and national values even among those peoples whose presence in the United States stretches back three or four generations. Yet, recent studies tend to confirm that certain characteristics that might distinguish southern Europeans from northern ones are detectable in the descendants of said immigrants even after several generations. How much more would such differences be noticeable if the original cultures were widely divergent!

Some of the pioneer work on cultural persistence in the New World was done by the great African ethnologist Melville Herskovits, working in the valley of Mirebalais in Haiti in 1934. Herskovits was particularly interested in learning the extent to which African culture and values had persisted in the New World after three centuries of slavery and a century and a half of isolation. He found a certain amount of European intrusion and survivals in Haiti: the furniture of houses is Western, as is clothing, agricultural tools, and certain trades. However, food tastes and methods of preparing food, methods of planting, systems of marketing, the position of women in trading, plural marriage and matriarchy, love of music, rhythm, dance, voodoo, folklore and folk games, patterns of talk and speech, and conversation were so obviously African that Herskovits is forced to concede that the “Haitian Negro has by no means been overwhelmed by European tradition, just as he has not retained his aboriginal African heritage without any change (Life in a Haitian Valley, second edition, p. 297). He further states that “Haiti has experienced as long and perhaps as intensive a degree of exposure to European influence as any area where non-Europeans have lived in contact with European patterns of life.” In a chapter entitled “Some Wider Implications” Herskovits asks the following extremely pertinent question, written in 1936 but devastatingly important in 1970:

Article continues below
But may it not be true that the Negro in the United States has preserved some vestiges of his aboriginal heritage even in outward institutionalized forms; that in his attitudes, points of view, and characteristic responses to social situations, the factors of his dual heritage have not been entirely lost; and as would follow elsewhere as it has followed in Haiti, that this may be reflected in his resulting personality types? Even the possibility of affirmative answers strongly suggests that further investigation of these matters may point the surest road toward racial understanding and toward eventually alleviating the strains which exist between Negro and white groups in the population [p. 302].

When it is remembered that cultural carry-overs apply not only to food habits, tastes for music and dance, or patterns of speech, but also to value judgments, moral views, rules of personal conduct—in general one’s whole outlook on the world—then one should not be surprised to find that the two major races in the United States find it hard to tolerate each other.

An illustration from Haitian life may help to clarify these ideas. The Westerner who comes to Haiti sooner or later learns that the Haitians don’t “see” things in the same manner as he does. He is used to naming objects specifically, such as daisies, lilies, crickets, beetles, and the like; whereas his Haitian neighbor will more often than not call such objects “white flowers” or “yellow flowers” and sometimes not even be too careful to distinguish the colors! The creeping things are merely ti-bêtes—little animals. The foreigner is further upset to find that prominent landmarks seem to be of no particular interest and may not even have a well-known name. Even words for caves and waterfalls have rather uncertain use among the peasant population. Yet the Haitian’s interest in people is overwhelming; the various situations that may occur between persons are blown up into all their theoretical possibilities, giving rise to an immense body of folklore and proverbs that intricately and artfully describe the human scene. One is led to the conclusion that the European is a “thing-people” (fascinated and obsessed by objects and their categorization) while the Haitian is a “people-people” (obsessed by people and their manipulation). If these two cultural predispositions have any carry-over into North America, then it is no wonder that black children do poorly on categorization tests, nor can we be too surprised to hear the black man refer to the white as “beast.”

In 1939 a black Martiniquan named Aimé Césaire explored the black-white frontier in a famous poem entitled Un Cahier d’un Retour au Pays Natal. The author attempts to discover the black distinctive, or “negritude” as it is called in French:

Hurrah for those who never invented anything

For those who never explored anything

For those who never mastered anything

But who, possessed, abandon themselves to the essence of each thing

Ignorant of the coverings but possessed by the movement of everything

Indifferent to mastering but playing the game of the world [Presence Africaine, 1956, p. 71].

For many this will be a very tiny window through which to glimpse the cultural gulf that probably separates the white and black races, but the wall of separation may be equally opaque to white and black, giving rise to “soul” and a search for identity in the one and fear and mistrust in the other. What then is the hope for racial fellowship and peace?

3. Christians of all races, with their greater insight into man’s true nature and their greater motivation to heal humanity’s wounds, are the only hope for racial peace.

Article continues below

The modern humanist will smile at this assertion and declare that of all agencies promoting racial understanding in the modern world, the Church shows least promise of success. He would remind us of the sanctified genocide that opened the New World to colonization, the destruction of the Indian societies, the traffic in African flesh, the brutality of plantation life, the dehumanization of the ghetto, often with ecclesiastical blessings. He would reproach us with the apartheid-like policies of Christian churches all over the world, where racial and cultural separation is practiced as a twentieth-century blind spot.

Yet we might well reply: Granted. But this only confirms our conviction that the races of men are afflicted alike with the sickness of sin and alienation. We are prepared to find the worst in the best of us, and therefore must stand amazed at the apparent healing power of the Christian message:

Who, indeed, proclaimed a universal God for all nations, a justice for all generations? The Hebrews, a people where we might least expect it.

Who, indeed, wrote the words: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made us both one, and has broken down the wall of hostility?” Paul the Apostle, writing to the despised Gentiles!

Who, indeed, proclaimed the abolition of class and position and died together by the thousands in the arena for Christ?

Who, indeed, defended the races of the New World against their exploitative “Christian” brethren? Was it not the Christians themselves, appealing to a higher god than greed and gain, men and women of the stripe of Bartolomé de las Casas, Roger Williams, William Penn, William Wilberforce, and even Harriet Beecher Stowe?

Who, indeed, has provided the “theory” that underlies humanism, philanthropy, integration, civil rights, and even certain parts of communist doctrine, to the extent that modern Western man has now come to believe that equality, love, justice, human dignity, and human rights are merely man’s natural heritage? Is it not the Christians who in fact have impressed these ideas on Western society to the extent to which they are now proclaimed as “self-evident”?

Where, indeed, in history do we find a society that has judged itself in regard to slavery, exploitation, greed, intolerance, and racism? Is it not significant that the only society to have made even faltering steps in the direction of human dignity happens to be that society which historically has been associated with the Christian religion?

The pagan world can hardly make any claims about racial understanding and peace, but there are non-Christians in the Western world who are striving for understanding and peace among the various races of men. As I have said, it is my conviction that they are using principles that are Christian survivals in Western society, and that they may well repudiate these should the going get rough, for to the non-Christian the ideas of human god-likeness and one-family-ness will never hold the awe of hallowed ground.

One is reminded of the great debate that shook the National Assembly in Paris in 1791 when the question of rights for the colored man in the French colonies arose. The convulsions of the French Revolution were striking at the roots of the nation, and in the discussion the establishment warned that if the “Rights of Man” were applied to the colonies, there would be war, great financial loss, and untold suffering, both abroad and in the maritime provinces of France. In his most famous speech the great Jacobin Robespierre rose and outlined the options—principle or property:

Article continues below
The supreme interest of the nation and the colonies is that you remain free, and that you do not overturn the foundations of liberty with your own hands. Perish the colonies if the price is to be your happiness, your glory, your liberty [C. L. R. James, The Black Jacobins, paperback, 1963, p. 76].

But the moral thrust of those early days of inspiration was soon to be lost in the confusion of the Terror and the guillotine. The “borrowed” principles of Christianity lacked that motivation which alone could make love and justice survive the wreckage of greed, bloodlust, and madness. The Christian enters the contest with better weapons than the humanist, for not only does he possess the principles but he comes with the emotional harmony of knowing that these ideas are God-given, part of the great history of redemption.

If this paper has any claim to truth, the stakes are high. The human family is alienated by long isolation and the corruption of sin. Increased contact and familiarity between long-separated cultures and races carries great danger of hatred, polarization, nationalism, and war. In this maelstrom the Christian is proclaiming the super-culture of faith in Christ. He is declaring, after all, that racism is only another word for sin, and that the formidable problems of culture-welding will indeed be accomplished when the estranged tribes of men meet at the foot of the Cross. In that shadow the races of men will share the triumphs of their whiteness, blackness, and yellowness, and each will become more like the other, but the victory will be Christ’s.

There will be danger. One should not forget that Paul’s final arrest and subsequent trials began when he mingled with the hated Gentiles in Jerusalem. The passions aroused in his fellow Jews caused them to throw dust into the air and shout that “he ought not to live” (Acts 21:22). Christians of the twentieth century, in proclaiming the glorious unity of the human races, will necessarily be faced with the enormous problems of intercultural mixing, from the mingling of the races in the schools to the more delicate issues of intermarriage. As in all social revolution, Christ would have us be the saltness of the earth, the lights that cannot be hidden under a bushel; for we bring the light of the Creator to focus on the human problem, and by his grace we shall not shrink from the consequences.

We may well find ourselves in the dilemma posed more than a century ago in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The book contains one of the most moving condemnations of slavery ever conceived, and builds up the horror of Simon Legree’s plantation to the pitch where the reader could accept any fate that might befall that inhuman. The climax is reached as Cassy, Legree’s mulatto mistress, creeps into Tom’s cabin and proposes to murder Legree with an axe. Half crazed with the suffering and death all around her, benumbed by the degradation of her life with Legree, she gasps: “His time’s come, and I’ll have his heart’s blood!” Tom replies:

“No, ye poor, lost soul, that ye mustn’t do. The dear blessed Lord never shed no blood but his own, and that he poured out for us when we was enemies. Lord, help us to follow his steps and love our enemies.”
“Love!” said Cassy, with a fierce glare; “love such enemies! It isn’t in flesh and blood.”
“No, Miss, it isn’t,” said Tom, looking up, “but He gives it to us, and that’s the victory.”

Tom paid for his Christian view with his life. In these days the bonds between the races of men are stretched to the breaking point. We shall have to match the courage of a Paul or an Uncle Tom to assert the unity of the human family and the forgiveness of God. The consequences may be awesome, as they usually are in the big issues, and some of us may leave the field of battle strewn with our bodies. Our institutions, our property, our reputations, our families, or our health may be the price, but we will show that it is not by (white) might, nor by (black) power, but by his Spirit that the races will find peace.

Article continues below

William H. Hodges is a medical missionary serving at Hopital le Bon Samaritain in Umbf, Haiti, under the American Baptist Home Mission Society. He holds the MJ. degree from the University of Southern California.


Sir, as I prayed for the dog

(dead) and do for the cat

(with friends), I ask Your care

now for the plants that stand

in an inch of water in the bathtub:

one gangling avocado,

two coleuses, marigolds

(four, I think), waiting

for me to come home.

An indifferent master who took

their company for granted,

watering them, yes,

but stinting on plant food,

granting them only

a few words on weekends,

I miss them a little: the reds,

the pinheads, the beanpole thatched

like a palm. We lived together.

Will You see that they get enough

porcelain light? And, Sir,

please, don’t let them drown.


Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.