“I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and lack of bread in all your places, yet you did not return to me,” declares the LORD.

– Amos 4:6

I did a number of medical school rotations in a Catholic hospital, which meant morning and evening prayers were offered over the hospital intercom every day. While “morning” prayer often came after I had already been at work for a few hours, it was still often a relief to have God’s mercy invoked on behalf of my patients and my colleagues.

One day, one of the Sisters who helped run the hospital prayed out of Psalm 121:

The Lord is your guardian;

   the Lord is your shade

   at your right hand.

By day the sun will not strike you,

   nor the moon by night.

I was alone in the newborn nursery with one nurse at the time and began to meditate on the prayer when the other person in the room loudly remarked: “What a lackluster, generic, liberal prayer!”

I am not sure what inspired this woman’s comment. I quickly observed to her where the prayer had come from before I scuttled away to do some work elsewhere, but her comment has stuck in my mind as I have thought about the cultural challenges facing Christians as the threat of real, honest-to-goodness persecution starts to come in the form of various legal initiatives.

While genuine threats to the conscientious, public practice of Christian teaching appear to be growing stronger, our own inability to take the Bible or its commands seriously will not only harm us on its own terms—it will even strengthen the case against us. Specifically, believers in Christ facing discrimination may be living through God’s judgment on us for helping perpetuate discrimination against others.

Misidentifying an unfamiliar Psalm as wishy-washy liberal nonsense is funny, but failing to reckon with the whole counsel of Scripture can have devastating consequences. Evangelical Christians were either hostile or indifferent towards the Civil Rights Movement, thus making them complicit in the death of many African-Americans who as fellow citizens deserved protection under the law and as fellow believers deserved honor and love. Explicit racism persisted in evangelical legal cases as late as 1983 in Bob Jones University v. United States and can still be found today in various corners of different denominations if one is willing to look.

It is thus unsurprising that one of the most frequently invoked arguments against Christians who want to defend the historic interpretation of marriage between a man and a woman relates to the history of Christian racial bigotry. Most of our forefathers in the faith who were otherwise scrupulous in their theology had a huge blindspot in regards to race that in turn helped to perpetuate injustice, so how is that any different from our contemporary opposition to gay sex? Christians and non-Christians have found this particular line of argument unsubstantiated, so I do not think it bears full discussion here.

Yet the historical parallel is enough—particularly in regards to the invocation of the Bob Jones University case in discussions around SB 1146—to raise questions about the accountability Christians may be facing today. Even if Christian acquiescence to injustice means nothing in terms of modifying doctrine or adjudicating discrimination claims in higher education, does this connection signify a divine judgment?

I am not aware of anyone even claiming to have a special revelation to suggest that God is using religious liberty restrictions to judge American Christians for the sin of racism. I also don’t want to terribly picky; the Church’s treatment of LGBT people has also been terrible enough to rankle the Almighty and require repentance.

Rather, I think a clear case can be made from Scripture that God’s judgments on His people are severe enough to attract their attention even if those judgments don’t appear to be the direct human consequences of particular sins. Any connection between racial injustice and religious liberty is, like Lincoln’s Second Inaugural address, meant to draw attention to the gravity of our sins and the urgency of addressing them. If we are going to take a stand in the public square, we had best be certain that we are not leaning on feet of clay.

The text that illuminates this principle most clearly is Isaiah 58, though passages like Ezekiel 23 and Habakkuk 1 are also instructive. Isaiah’s famous oracle regarding worship opens with God’s people fastidiously observing their religious rituals and noticing God’s indifference. The LORD’s assessment of their faithfulness is incisive: “They seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness.”

He goes on to observe that their days of fasting end in oppression for their workers and quarreling among them. God contrasts this with “a fast that I choose”, which does not distinguish between acts which would consider “charity” or those we would call “justice” but rather blends them together (as the Bible often does). God promises that those who expend themselves on behalf of the poor and oppressed will see their institutions and cities restored. The call to “break every yoke” does not abrogate the practices of fasting or Sabbath observances, but it complements and completes them.

In the New Testament, there is no indication that God’s relationship with His Church differs substantially in this regard. For example, the letters to the seven churches in the beginning of Revelation contain specific warnings with imminent judgment threatened for errors of doctrine or neglect of practices. The covenant of grace expounded upon in Paul’s letters and the proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven in the Gospels only expand the scope of cultural redemption we can hope for when we faithfully proclaim the Word and minister to those around us.

Even if we can accept that our current cultural and legal opposition is somehow related to racial sins—so what? After all, the overwhelming majority of conservative Christian are no longer tolerant of legal segregation and many even worship side-by-side with people of color. If God required that “all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk”, is there recompense yet to be paid for redlining? If “every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword”, should we expect yet more persecution to account for thousands of lynchings?

Sadly, I think the answer is yes—because the injustice is still ongoing. It would be bad enough if redlining and blockbusting had only cheated one generation of African-Americans out of significant wealth and left a legacy that still controls neighborhoods and cities, but redlining is still happening. The disenfranchisement of black voters pre-1960’s is already a stain on the national conscience, but some contemporary politicians are still pushing deliberately discriminatory voting restrictions. The violence visited upon people of color just a few decades ago would be bad enough, but recent Department of Justice reports in Ferguson and Baltimore speak to a systemic pattern of racial discrimination in policing that has undoubtedly contributed to the deaths of innocent people like Philando Castile.

While many Christians have spoken out and committed themselves to the necessary work of rectifying these injustices, there are still far too many who are silent—or are digging their heels in. Despite serious reflection at places like the Reformed African American Network and decades of faithful practice through institutions like the Christian Community Development Association, there is still great reticence to engage with the work of racial justice… because people fear going along with a wishy-washy liberal program. There are substantial discussions to be had about how to address the disparities that cause needless suffering to our brothers and sisters of color in our churches and cities, but we have to start by taking our previous offenses against God and His people seriously– and then listening to the people who are still experiencing the hurts of racism.

American Christians who want to survive the coming tide of cultural persecution cannot hope to hide in the neighborhoods and churches whose makeup was undeniably shaped by segregation or flee to whiter county or country. We have to reckon with our past even as we hope for a future in which God’s Kingdom is proclaimed in our words and deeds. I have discussed elsewhere what a movement of Christians to address racial injustices might look like practically: addressing the realities of institutional and systemic sin, becoming neighbors with people on the margins, and building Benedict Option communities in places of great need. These sorts of choices will undoubtedly expose us to risks and sufferings created by the systems that we often unknowingly benefit from—but also to joys we would never know if only prioritize safety and security.

We can’t know for sure what sort of divine machinations are behind our current cultural moment. Nor can we guarantee that putting our time and wealth on the line for the sake of racial justice will reverse the legal restrictions that are coming for Christians of conscience (although we probably have an awful lot to learn from African-Americans about how to live as a thriving minority under state-sanctioned oppression). What we can know for sure, though, is right there in Isaiah:

If you pour yourself out for the hungry

   and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,

then shall your light rise in the darkness

   and your gloom be as the noonday.

Posted by Matthew Loftus

Matthew Loftus teaches and practices Family Medicine in Baltimore and East Africa. His work has been featured in Christianity Today, Comment, & First Things and he is a regular contributor for Christ and Pop Culture. You can learn more about his work and writing at www.MatthewAndMaggie.org

  • Carrie Shaw

    Requiring a picture ID for voting is not restrictive. It protects the vote. Who doesn’t have some form of picture ID in this society? It just ensures that you are who you say you are. You need to be 18 to register to vote. By that age people have a driver’s license or a state picture ID. If they don’t they, need to get one. If they can get to the polling place, they can get to where they can obtain a picture ID. This is not a good argument in your article as everyone who is not a felon or over 17 is allowed to vote. The former discrimination in this area is no longer true.

    • “A lawsuit filed against Alabama in early December 2015 cites the example of a high schooler who can’t vote because she lacks a driver’s license. According to the suit, she needs to get a state issued voter ID at the DMV, but the one nearest to her is only open one day per month and there’s no public transportation to another DMV 40 miles away roundtrip.”

      https://www.propublica.org/article/everything-youve-ever-wanted-to-know-about-voter-id-laws

      • caanon

        If she can’t get an ID then she won’t be able to buy alcohol, see a doctor or buy any pseudoephedrine products. We require an ID for all these things. I don’t see how requiring one to vote is somehow “over the top”.

        • Andy Hall

          Because those things aren’t a ‘right’

          • caanon

            I agree, but practically speaking if she’s going to do any of those things (normal everyday sorts of things) she’s going to need an ID.

          • And…. those things are still not under the umbrella of “rights”.

            Aside, I go days, if not weeks, about my business without showing a photo ID to anyone. If I did not purchase alcohol that would probably be months. Otherwise it is pretty much only when I board a plane – and every time I do that it makes me thankful my corner of the world still has trains.

      • Carrie Shaw

        That is unfortunate. I am sure a community member would be glad to help her obtain one. I am sure there is a very small minority with similar problems.This is also an example of using the law foolishly. Why don’t the people providing funding for the lawsuit offer to take people to get state IDs? This is more of a community problem than a legal one.

        • > I am sure a community member would be glad to help her obtain one

          So she must depend on the good will and charity of someone in order to make her right to vote operative? You have exactly made the case why these laws are biased.

          • Will

            Whitemice

            We all have our issues, and yes, some of us have to depend on others good will and charity in order to vote. This is probably far more common for the old and disabled than anyone else. None the less, any high school student without a drivers license is dependent on the good will and charity of others, regardless of race. Lack of a nearby DMV and the absence of a public transport system is a common problem throughout the Rural United States. Given that there are more than a few voting districts with more registered voters than residents, it does not seem out of line to require some form of identification to vote. We can no longer expect the people volunteering to run the polling stations to know everyone who can vote there. The answer lies in improving the ability of people to get to a DMV, not in having no way to defeat voting fraud. For gosh sakes, it wouldn’t take a high school much to run a bus a month to the DMV to get ID’s. Sometimes I think that rather than solve practical problems in a practical way, some people would rather create racism.

          • > Given that there are more than a few voting districts with more registered voters than residents

            Sorry, actual research indicates that voter fraud is a vanishingly small problem in the United States of America. This is a disproportional burden; the problem cannot justify the ramifications of the proposed solution. The burden of proof rests not on the voter but on those who wish to burden the exercise of rights [could there be a more Conservative argument?].

      • y’all, the whole point of the 14th amendment is that the right to vote is not abridged at a level beyond other things not mentioned in the Constitution like buying pseudoephedrine products. The point of the Voting Rights Act is that states shouldn’t make voting laws that disproportionately affect “a small minority with similar problems”.

  • Mr. Loftus, you wrote: “I think a clear case can be made from Scripture that God’s judgments on His people are severe enough to attract their attention even if those judgments don’t appear to be the direct human consequences of particular sins.”

    Are you also willing to wonder if slavery was God’s judgment on Africans for their sin? I’m not saying it is. In fact, I would be loathe to suggest God’s purposes in suffering. Nor do I think losing some religious liberties compares with slavery. But if you consider God’s judgment in one case, why not another?

    • Because the vast majority of Africans weren’t Christians when they were enslaved.

      • Well, the Canaanites weren’t exactly keepers of the Covenant when the Hebrews took over the Holy Land. And do you really think American Christians are Christian? Haven’t you read George Whitefield?

        • It is yet to be seen what portion of evangelicalism (I hope it’s a large one!) demonstrates itself to be a faithful remnant. As far as the Canaanites go, well, holy war in the conquest of Canaan is a whole ‘nother theological can of worms!

          • You went there — God’s judgment for sin.

          • hoosier_bob

            Said by the guy who lacked the courage to criticize Kevin Swanson following Swanson’s call to execute LGBTQ people, despite your position of leadership within the denomination that grants Swanson his ministerial credentials.

          • Ah, yes, the courage of a pseudonym.

          • Philipp

            And that, Bob, is not what Swanson asked for: https://generationswithvision.com/2015/statement-from-pastor-kevin-swanson-on-the-freedom-2015-conference/

            As I’ve said before, if you are going to demand we put the best possible construction on the potentially inflammatory statements of those with whom you agree, we also have to put the best possible construction on the words of the Evangelicals whom you despise.

    • Darryl,
      Suppose slavery was God’s judgment on Africans for their sins, would that make it right for Christians to own slaves?

      Yes, God used other nations to judge Israel. But didn’t he then judge those nations?

  • Sattler’s Tongue

    This is great – I think it could be one in a continuing series.

    God is judging us because we don’t care about Global Warming!

    God is judging us for supporting wars.

    God is judging us for the way we exploited the indians and stole this land.

    Ditto for the mexicans.

    Hey – it doesn’t just have to be liberal causes! Obviously God is judging the evangelical church for failing to live out God’s will in the area of heterosexual divorce. The connection between the failure of Christian marriage and the rise of gay marriage is even more obvious.

    To be fair I’m not sure that the almighty can pin the blame for bad policing in Baltimore (Democrat and black run for lo these many decades) on white evangelicals but I appreciate Matthew’s efforts.

    In all seriousness – this isn’t serious. It is not (lovely opening anecdote aside) that people won’t get on your pet political cause just so as not to appear liberal and wishy washy. It is that your political cause isn’t as simply and obviously aligned with God’s justice as you wish to claim. Many “X Justice” approaches for a variety of X (social, racial, economic) have simply made things worse for the people they purport to help.

    I say all this as the child of hippies and somebody who has lived in a south-of-the-tracks majority-minority neighborhood with my family for a decade.

    I don’t object to the idea that God is judging the Church for her lack of faithfulness. I do think it’s ridiculous that the wrath of God is apparently an argument that the Church should embrace the spirit of the age, clench fists, and chant “BLM” in hopes of appeasing God.

    • SeriouslyChristian

      Spot on!

  • hoosier_bob

    Good piece.

    I don’t know whether it’s God’s judgment or not. Even so, most elites tend to view white evangelicals as racists. And I see little evidence to suggest that such a conclusion is unwarranted. For example, in North Carolina, the lawmakers who sought to disenfranchise African-American voters were all white evangelicals. Moreover, there is almost a one-to-one correspondence in North Carolina between legislators who supported efforts to disenfranchise African-Americans and legislators who supported HB2 (recently passed “religious liberty” legislation). So, yes, white evangelicals do lose a bit of credibility on their “religious liberty” arguments when they continue to support legislation having a disparate impact on blacks’ access to the franchise.

    They also lose credibility because many of these “religious liberty” bills are not narrowly tailored to protect legitimate religious-liberty concerns. For example, HB2 repealed ALL legal protections for LGBTQ people, most of which had nothing to do with protecting the liberties of someone like the Barronelle Stutzman. I generally support legislation to protect the legitimate religious-liberty interests of someone like Barronelle Stutzman, although I don’t believe that such protections are Constitutionally mandated. But stripping LGBTQ people of all legal protections, including the right not to be fired from one’s job or kicked out of one’s apartment for being gay, comes off as a bit vindictive. Again, the support of white evangelicals for such vindictive conduct doesn’t help their cause with the general public.

    I recognize that there are many evangelicals who disapprove of such conduct. But such evangelicals are often hesitant to criticize those among them whose conduct seems to derive more from bigotry than from Christian devotion. I fear that many evangelical pews are full of unconverted “conservatives” who’ve conflated the Culture War and the Gospel. When Christian Smith first coined the term MTD, he was referring to this kind of Christless cultural conservatism. Ironically, the term is often used today to refer to the kids who have walked away from evangelicalism due to its inability to address these problems. See, e.g., Rod Dreher.

    • DR84

      Yes, the principles of the Constitution do mandate that a person is free to make a living photographing wedding without also being made to photograph two men romantically kissing each other.

      I agree that a more nuanced position on these “anti-discrimination” laws would be nice, but overall, the LGBT activists have shut down most possibilities of that. For example, in theory, employment anti-discrimination laws on LGBT categories would be fine. In reality, they will open the door to hostile workplace standards being used against Christians and others who do not support LGBT interests. Adding anti-discrimination laws specifically covering beliefs about marriage, sex, and sexual morality (like FADA and HB 1523) may fix this, but those are *always* derided as “license to discriminate” bills by the LGBT activists.

  • There are other issues than our failure to adequately address racism in our nation when it comes to our past and present. These issues include our collective self-image how we are to share society with others.

    I was both encouraged and disturbed by the following line:


    Most of our forefathers in the faith who
    were otherwise scrupulous in their theology had a huge blindspot in
    regards to race that in turn helped to perpetuate injustice, so how is
    that any different from our contemporary opposition to gay sex? Christians and non-Christians have found this particular line of argument unsubstantiated, so I do not think it bears full discussion here.

    I greatly appreciate the explicit statement about drawing parallels, even if it is in a disapproving sense, between our past racism with questioning our opposition to the LGBT community. Yes, some have done that too when they call many of the new anti-LGBT laws ‘Jim Crow’ type laws. Drawing such a parallel draws anti-social remarks from many of us religiously conservative Christians. Such parallels are an affront to us. That is because many of us religiously conservative Christians feel compelled to wear our religion on our sleeves and thus not to protest loudly over what we think is wrong is considered to be sin. And so we approach the LGBT community like Martin Luther approached Jews who refused to believe in the faith. Luther told his fellow Germans that for German society not to punish the Jews makes them complicit in their sin. And so we use how our treatment of those from the LGBT community as a way of proving our religiosity.

    We should also realize that with viewing one’s own race as being superior to others, we ourselves become an object of our worship. How else could people have participated in the both ethnic cleansing of Native Americans as well as defended slavery and the subjugation of the Black race through slavery and Jim Crow? The ‘city on the hill’ self-reference indicates that God was not the only object of one’s worship. It is in this way that both others in the past have and we become example of being the pharisee from the parable of the two men praying.

    But I was also disturbed because racism is not the only major fault suffered by our forefathers is racism. Here, we should note Martin Luther King’s view of racism as expressed below:

    I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world
    revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.
    We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented”
    society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and
    computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more
    important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and
    militarism are incapable of being conquered.

    Here we should note that King viewed racism as being linked to a many-sided economic issued that included materialism, mentioned here, and economic exploitation, mentioned in another place, as well as militarism/war. It was King’s view that these three blind spots were inseparably inked in America and such was the result of society, including Christians, treasuring things more than people. And by things, King included gadgets, profits, and property rights. Yes, racism has been a big blind spot for many of our religious forefathers in America. But it isn’t the only one.

    The other issue that is involved here is how we should share society with those who are different. Again, wearing our religion on our sleeves tells us that we need to oppose, which includes to control, those who are different. Because many of us view ourselves as being superior, we become afraid of those others who could possibly corrupt us. But also, because we see ourselves as being superior, we believe that we must be in charge to right the course of this ship we call ‘America.’ Thus, we don’t share society with others as equals. That is because many of us believe that we can’t afford to and that those others do not deserve such consideration. And yet, the more we try to seize or hold on to control, the more personal reasons unbelievers have for not wanting to hear our theology.

    And though I am glad that the above article addresses our sin of racism, that hasn’t been the only blind spot for either those who preceded us or ourselves. Our theological dam has other holes in it. Though acknowledging our failures with racism is good, we should not take that to mean that we have no other problems.

  • James McClain

    It is curious that voter ID is always touted as “discriminatory”. Voter fraud does not comport with a democratic system. Whether photo ID is the best way to combat it is debatable (I have some reservations myself), but one has to step back and ask whether or not the integrity of the system is worth the effort to create policy to maintain its integrity. Even if one assumes that racial animus is a motivation – something that makes no sense in many parts of the country where it is codified – that does not justify simply labeling voter ID as racial discrimination and, therefore, invalid. The necessary connection being made here between support of such policy and racial discrimination is the kind of turn-off argument we ought to avoid.

    And, the elephant in the room here is the simple fact that the people whose voting rights are being “protected” (regardless of race) through opposition to policies like voter ID simply do not care; but political operatives do care. And we know which ones tend to soak up those votes.

    • Greywolf

      Exactly. I don’t understand the author’s point in bringing this up. Voter fraud has be something we try to stop to help protect the integrity of the voting system. Illegal persons should not be able to vote, period. They should go through a legal process to earn that right by becoming legal citizens. We can debate about whether a photo ID is the best way, but claiming voter ID laws are discriminatory isn’t a good argument.