On Saturday August 12, 2017 hundreds of people came to Charlottesville, Virginia for a “Unite the Right” rally. Ostensibly this rally was a protest against the city’s decision to take down a statue of Robert E. Lee. However, the rally drew the involvement of neo-Nazis and members of the Ku Klux Klan. The symbols and language of white nationalism, racism, and racial superiority were on display during this demonstration. Hundreds of counter-protestors also gathered to oppose the “Unite the Right” rally and, as is well known at this point, the scene descended into chaos, violence, and death.
This post is not about who is responsible for the violence in Charlottesville. Rather, it is about the necessary Christian response to the ideology of racial superiority represented by groups like the KKK and neo-Nazis. The biblical truth of God’s love forms a solid theological foundation for resisting the evil of racism.
God is love and therefore Christians must walk in love and must reject hate. The hatred of human beings with different skin colors, languages and cultures that is explicitly expressed and practiced by white supremacist groups is antithetical to the God of the gospel. The first letter of John is very clear on this point:
1 John 4:7-12, 19-21: Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us… 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
“God is love” (v. 8). From the perspective of Trinitarian theology this means not just that God is loving toward us, but first of all that God is love within himself. In the language of theologian Thomas F. Torrance, God – as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is an eternal “Communion of Love.” Love “super abounds” within God between the persons of the Trinity and that love “overflows” to us in both creation and redemption. Redemption is what the apostle John emphasizes in verses 9-10 of this text: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world… In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” So the love which lives within God the Holy Trinity has been freely given to us – sinful, wayward, broken people of every skin color, nation, and language – through the sending and sacrificial death of the Son of God.
The facts that God is love within himself and that God has revealed and given his love through Jesus obligates Christians to love as God loves:
- V. 7: Beloved, let us love one another… whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.
- V. 11: Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
- V. 12: No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us
- V. 19: We love because he first loved us.
- V. 21: And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
As love is the defining characteristic of God’s nature and also of God’s work of salvation, so love must also be the defining characteristic of those whom God has saved. God’s love is self-giving: He gave his Son to us and for us; and so our love for other people must be self-giving as well. God’s love is sacrificial: the Son of God sacrificed his life on the cross for our sake; and so our love for other people must be sacrificial as well. God’s love is for the whole world (John 3:16-17); God’s love is for every unjust and ungodly person of every nation who has ever lived, who is alive now, or who will ever live – that is, God’s love is for each and every one of us who have become his enemies through sin (Matthew 5:43-48, Romans 3:9-21, Romans 4:5-8, Romans 5, 1 Timothy 2:3-6). Therefore, as followers of Jesus our love must also be for each and every person regardless of their skin color, nationality, language, or sins.
Third, since God is love, since God has given his love in Jesus Christ, and since Christians are called to love as God loves hate is ruled out for Christians because it is contrary to the nature of God and contrary to the reality of the Gospel.
- V. 8: Anyone who does not love does not know God…
- V. 20: If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.
Hatred of any kind (of people of different skin color, different religion, different politics, etc.) has absolutely no place in the heart, mind, or life of a Christian or of the Church of Jesus Christ. Therefore, Christians cannot embrace any ideologies or attitudes of racial superiority, for the person who claims to love God and yet harbors or practices hate is a liar and does not know God.