As lawful and peaceful protests, along with some unlawful rioting, erupt around the nation following the murder of George Floyd, the issues of equality, justice, and racism are rightly at the forefront of the national news and our personal conversations.
We were made in the image of God with a conscience hardwired to believe in right and wrong. No matter how often the attempt is made to sear that conscience with teaching that wars against moral absolutes fixes categories of good and evil, when we see something as evil as a person in power harming and killing a powerless person who is not fighting back, but simply cannot breathe, the anger that erupts in us is a good reminder that something has gone terribly wrong in this world, is violating an unbreakable law fixed by God that rules over all peoples races and cultures, and we cannot accept it. Our anger is appealing to a moral standard of right and wrong set by God whether we know Him or not.
For a life to be taken on the charge of buying something at a deli with an alleged counterfeit bill is just such a case. I grew up in a poor neighborhood, and my first job was as a clerk at a 7-11 down the street from a strip club. As a teenager, I was often handed counterfeit currency. Most of the folks who did so were regular customers, neighbors I knew buying items for their family. They were unaware that the currency was even fake. For a life to be taken for this reason is simply unconscionable, unthinkable, and unacceptable.
The outpouring of emotion is proof that God made us as we are more than animals, and when people act like animals, God’s image bearers know that they know that they know it is wrong. We were hardwired by our Creator to think in binary terms of right and wrong, good and evil, light and darkness, justice and injustice, love and hate, and the cultures of heaven and hell. This is not the result of evolution but rather the result of Creation.
To honor George Floyd and his family, who are now dealing with grief and complexity that none of us can understand or could likely bear, I wanted to share a few things about his life as my brother in Christ and then speak about equality and God’s heart on issues like race and human dignity. As a younger man, it is reported that he had some problems with life and the law. Thankfully, he turned his life around, became a born-again, Bible-believing Christian, and devoted his life to helping others in need as a ministry for Jesus.
A news report says, “According to the Houston Chronicle, he moved to Minneapolis in 2018 to leave behind his history in Houston for a new life — a fresh start — after having worked in ministry for nearly a decade in his hometown. He needed to find a job. But during his time in Texas, Floyd was a force for good. He led a basketball outreach in the Third Ward, according to The Stream, and helped Resurrection Houston, an up-and-coming church at the time, secure space on a basketball court in the notoriously rough area for worship services. In an undated, now-viral video, Floyd pleaded with young men in the next generation to put down their guns and stop the violence. ‘Our young generation is clearly lost, man,’ said Floyd. ‘I don’t even know what to say…It’s clearly the generation after us, man, that’s so lost.’ To the young men who go out, thinking they’re tough for carrying a gun, Floyd added: ‘Come on home, man. One day, it’s gonna be you and God. You’re goin’ up or you’re goin’ down, you know what I’m sayin’? That’s gonna be it…My heart hurts.’” (1)
Other media reports indicate that George Floyd was active in sharing his faith in Jesus Christ, leading young men to saving faith, and helping baptize them to then walk with them in new lives as Christian men. Here is a photo of George holding his Bible that honestly brings me to tears as that same book commands love and justice for all human beings made and loved by God. (2)
The Bible that George Floyd held in his hand and shared Jesus from with others has a lot to say about equality and justice.
THE ORIGIN OF EQUALITY
The idea of equality did not pop into existence like a cartoon thought bubble. History shows where equality as a value and way of life did or did not emerge. And a pair of surprising forces have been no friends of equality. World religions did not come up with the idea of equal rights. Nor did it originate in a secular, non-religious outlook.
No major faith apart from Christianity mandates a deep commitment to the equality of all people. In every other religion, certain individuals and classes rank higher than others on a ladder of spiritual attainment. They are more enlightened, more holy, further along in paying their karmic debt, closer to the divine by virtue of their good works, and so on. And the result can be horrific inequities. In Hindu culture, for example, the caste system made untold masses unequal and untouchable. In Muslim culture, sharia law gives women and outsiders nothing resembling the rights and privileges of the male faithful. Eric Metaxas, author of Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery, sums it up this way in an email interview I conducted with him:
“In India, the concept of caste is a perfect example of how some cultures today believe and act upon the belief that some human beings are inherently better than other human beings. In many Muslim countries today, a Jew or Christian is viewed as subhuman, and they are routinely called “monkeys and pigs” and thought to be fit for extermination or slavery.”
Subjection breeds ignorance and pain. When you ask yourself, “Do the religions of the world contribute to equality?”, the honest answer is no.
The idea of equality of all people likewise did not originate in a non-religious belief system. The foundation of a dominant secular worldview— evolution—leads to the conclusion that some are more fit than others. Some deserve to be winners, and losers deserve to die. And by placing animals and human beings on a continuum of development, evolution has given rise to racist views that some individuals, peoples, and races are more advanced than others. In our debate on ABC Nightline, Deepak Chopra, for example, referred to me, and some other people including Christians, as “primitive”. Charles Darwin himself wrote, “At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised [sic] races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world.” (3) Taken to its logical end, an unadulterated evolutionary view of humanity cannot lead to equality.
Those who say Christians are haters and bigots are on the wrong side of the facts because the concept of equality, as generally understood today— though sometimes misappropriated—actually originated and advanced in Christianity. Human religions and philosophies have never seen equality as an idea worth espousing, but the equality of all people has been essential to our faith since the very beginning. The Bible teaches that everyone equally bears the image and likeness of God in creation (Gen. 1:26–28). As a result, we share an equal dignity as uniquely created beings. We have equally fallen into sin (Rom. 3:23). And we are equally forgiven and saved by Jesus Christ when we come to Him in faith (Rom. 3:21–25). Both the Old and New Testament put these assumptions into practice by affirming equality in practical ways:
- “Do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great.” (Lev. 19:15 NIV)
- “Showing partiality is never good.” (Prov. 28:21 NLT)
- “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” (Col. 3:11 ESV)
- “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.” (James 2:1)
The equality of all human beings is a biblical idea that has made a powerful impact far beyond the walls of church. It has touched societies around the globe and been adopted even by our most vocal opponents.
Scholar Nancy Pearcey points out that none other than the eminent atheist Friedrich Nietzsche gave Christianity credit for the concept of equality. In The Will to Power, he wrote, “Another Christian concept…has passed even more deeply into the tissue of modernity: the concept of the ‘equality of souls before God.’ This concept furnishes the prototype of all theories of equal rights.” Pearcey cites the postmodernist Richard Rorty as another radical atheist who admits that “the idea of universal human rights was a completely novel concept in history, resting on the biblical teaching ‘that all human beings are created in the image of God.’” Pearcey comments: “Rorty admits that atheists like himself have no basis for human rights within their own worldview. He calls himself a ‘freeloading atheist’ because he is fully aware that he is borrowing the idea of rights and human dignity from the Christian heritage.” (4)
Whether others acknowledge it or not, this basic Christian belief has driven the fight for equal rights throughout history. Pearcey maintains that the success of many secular movements advocating equality today derives from “a beauty and an appeal that comes from their origin in a biblical worldview.” Arguments are ripped from their Christian context, redefined, and distorted, but they retain a measure of their original power. (5)
She says, “The only reason that movements for equality are making headway today is that they borrow their best lines from Christianity.” (6)
Even as our neighbors and friends join together to right wrongs like racism, or human trafficking for sexual slavery, we should not let others hijack our leading role in human rights. Christians are not tagalongs or freeloaders. We have been at the forefront of battles for racial, legal, social, economic, and educational equality throughout history and across societies.
The evolutionary theories pushed in schools and the media today do not provide a foundation for racial equality. Charles Darwin himself wrote a famous book that you may have not known the full title of, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life. An evolutionary view of humanity cannot lead to equality because some races are more evolved and fit than others who are less evolved and fit hence the survival of the fittest.
Evolutionary thinking that contradicts the Bible’s teaching that God made us serves also as the foundation for abortion. Behind abortion is racism that began with Nazi mastermind Thomas Malthus who brought death in concentration camps to reduce minority populations, and Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger who brought death in clinics, both in an effort to reduce minority populations. Yes, clinics are little concentration camps. Trying to promote social Darwinism, Sanger set up the first clinics in the poorest and most ethnic neighborhoods to reduce the “less fit”. (7)
Theologian Wayne House says, “In 1933 the magazine for Planned Parenthood, known in Sangers [sic] day as Birth Control Review, actually published ‘Eugenic Sterilization: An Urgent Need,’ by Ernst Rudin, Hitlers [sic] director of genetic sterilization and founder of the Nazi Society for Racial Hygiene.” (8) Furthermore, later that same year the magazine “published an article by E. A. Whitney, entitled ‘Selective Sterilization,’ which strongly praised and defended Nazi racial programs.” (9) Sanger saw birth control as the most effective way to eradicate “feebleminded” people, whose mental ability was less than that of a twelve-year-old as well as racial minorities. (10) Sanger also said, “Birth control appeals to the advanced radical because it is calculated to undermine the authority of the Christian churches. I look forward to seeing humanity free someday of the tyranny of Christianity no less than Capitalism.” (11)
Why? The Bible teaches that every person is created by God in His image and descended from one family. Each has the opportunity to be adopted into a spiritual family with God as Father and Jesus as Big Brother. Racial equality logically follows.
Jesus Himself broke harsh racial taboos by making friends with a Samaritan woman (John 4:27–42). The Samaritans were the next-door neighbors of Israel who were despised for their mixed-race heritage and false beliefs. The Jews had a habit of walking the long way around their land to avoid contact with its supposedly disgusting people. But Jesus strolled right into enemy turf and sat down for a chat with a Samaritan woman drawing water from a well.
The woman was alone, an outcast among outcasts. After five failed marriages, she was living with the latest guy. But God had come to earth to court this woman at a lonely well in the heat of the noon sun. Jesus revealed her sin, exposing the dirtiest and most scarred portion of her soul, the part that smelled like sin and death and hell. He cleaned it, healed it, forgave it, and replaced it with grace.
People ask why Jesus, or His first followers, didn’t overthrow slavery in the Roman Empire if they cared so much about equality. Besides overlooking the ridiculousness of a few hunted disciples hurling themselves against an immense social institution protected by the might of Rome, that dig ignores the radical steps Jesus and early Christians took that set the stage for widespread change centuries later. Slavery was so pervasive in the days of Jesus that in some parts of the empire roughly half of the population were slaves. (12)
Jesus broke ranks with His religious and political peers by identifying closely with those in bondage, calling Himself a “servant” or “slave” and welcoming them as His friends (John 13:4–5; Mark 10:45; Phil. 2:7). The early church included many slaves who were attracted to a faith that treated them as equals. This reality explains why the New Testament contains instructions regarding slaves—many were church members, leaders, and pastors. The apostle Paul called himself a slave of Christ (Rom. 1:1; Gal. 1:10; Philem. 10). He listed slave trading among the most heinous of sins (1 Tim. 1:10) and pleaded for the escaped slave Onesimus to be received as a brother (Philem. 10–19).
Following in Paul’s footsteps some 500 years later, the former slave Saint Patrick became a powerful Christian voice opposing slavery, one of the first public figures to take such a bold stand on the issue. Historian Rodney Stark argues that slavery in medieval Europe ended “only because the church extended its sacraments to all slaves and then managed to impose a ban on the enslavement of Christians (and of Jews).” (13)
The power and reach of the church over civil authority made that prohibition practically a decree of universal abolition.
Eric Metaxas describes similar Christian involvement in bringing down slavery in England and the British Empire in the early 1800s in the email interview I conducted with him:
“It was Christians who fought passionately to end the slave trade and slavery itself. William Wilberforce and other Christians stood against secularists and for African slaves precisely because they believed that all men are brothers and all human beings are created in the image of God. Those who did not believe the Bible thought that notion a joke and thought the darker-skinned races to be as obviously inferior to the light-skinned races as dogs were superior to rats or bugs.”
Scholar Wayne Grudem added in an interview with me that fully two-thirds of the leaders of the American abolitionist movement were Christians preaching that slavery should end. In more recent years, it was Christians like Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson, and Martin Luther King Jr. who used biblical imagery and language to move a nation to stand against racial injustice, as Metaxas pointed out in our interview.
Christians across time and geography have followed Jesus’ example of welcoming all peoples. Today, Jesus is worshiped among more races and cultures than any deity in history. There is simply no organization of any kind that has as much racial diversity as Christianity.
Christians were pioneers for legal equality. In most places throughout human history, the dictum that might is right has prevailed. Those in charge made, enforced, bent, flouted, and changed laws to their advantage. But the kings and peasants of ancient Israel lived under the rule of law given by God. The Bible begins with five books referred to as “the Law” because they contain 613 rules governing God’s Old Testament people. Both the Old and New Testament contain other laws that grow out of God’s unchanging character. It’s important to note that Scripture holds these laws to be binding on all people—no matter who they are or where they rank in society.
We may assume that equality for all people under the law is normative, but it is in fact not so. In much of the world (past and present), those with power and money live completely above the law as a law unto themselves. The influence of the biblical concept of law ruling over all people equally has forever altered Western culture.
Christianity began as an unwanted and outlawed fringe ministry group that was often persecuted. With the Roman Emperor Constantine, things changed as Christianity found itself as the official religion of the famed Roman Empire. As a patchwork of previous political groups, there was no such thing as consistent laws across the empire. Making matters even worse, only the richest people could afford the professional help to navigate the complex legal system. As Christianity spread across the Roman Empire, spiritual leaders called bishops were given oversight of various geographic areas, and this included the legal right bestowed by the government to decide legal cases. Eventually, there was a Christian named Justinian who became Emperor, and he was largely responsible for establishing a more organized and formalized version of Roman law that helped pave the way for the legal systems in America and Europe today. As Rodney Stark notes, “Documents as important as the American Declaration of Independence or the European Charter of Human Rights can therefore be traced back to the ideas of the Christian legal system of Justinian.” (14)
Because all people equally bear God’s image, heterosexuals and homosexuals stand eye-to-eye as human beings and deserve equal protection under the law. For this reason, most Christian leaders I know agree that legal protection should be given to gay couples on issues like inheritance rights, hospital visitation, and end-of-life decisions. While many of us disagree with the gay community over the definition of marriage, we believe that all people—gay, straight, and otherwise—deserve legal equality.
Christians also took strides toward social equality—especially when it came to unwanted children. Children in the time of Jesus often lacked legal protection or parental affection. Sacrificing and abandoning children was common. Discarded children often died from exposure or were taken as slaves, prostitutes, or gladiators. This was especially true for children from the bottom rungs of society. But that’s just where Jesus came from. He was the King of the Universe come as a baby to a poor rural family. And in a society that dismissed and abused children regularly, Jesus loved kids and kids loved Him. They flocked to Jesus, and He welcomed, embraced, and prayed over them, as we learn from some of the fondest Bible stories ever. Because of His example, Christians began to treat children differently, including adopting discarded children. That work still continues with orphanages, foster care, and adoptions around the world developed and operated by Christians who have God’s heart for the value of all children from all backgrounds.
That same heart was extended to the way Christians cared for the needy. Hospitals in the Roman Empire were not open to the poor. But Jesus the Great Physician (Luke 4:23, 5:31) and healer inspired Christians to care for people’s physical as well as spiritual well-being. Luke the medical doctor and author of the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts wrote more of the New Testament by volume than anyone, attentively recording the healing ministries of Jesus and the early church. Later, the Council of Nicaea (AD 325) decreed that hospitals should be established wherever there was a Christian church. Many modern hospitals and senior care facilities trace their roots to Christian denominations. Even the Red Cross began as a medical ministry founded by a Christian businessman and activist, Henri Dunant.
Christians were also pioneers for economic equality. The Bible from beginning to end describes God’s heart for the poor and commands His people to be generous toward those who possess little or nothing. Jesus Christ understood this life firsthand. He was born poor. He lived poor. He did miracles for the poor, including feeding thousands to set an example for Christians to follow. And the poor found that same welcome in early Christian congregations. Historian Wayne Meeks concludes that churches connected to the apostle Paul’s ministry drew people from a wide array of social classes. “A Pauline congregation,” he says, “generally reflected a fair cross-section of urban society.” (15)
Christianity does not allow us to equate net worth with self-worth. Efforts like soup kitchens, food banks, and homeless shelters funded and staffed by Christians find their origins with Basil the Great, bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia. (16) It is believed he piloted the first versions of these ministries to the poor and established the first social service support network. (17)
While Western critics of Christianity often forget the Christian roots of economic opportunities in their own nations, outsiders sometimes have a less clouded perspective. Historian Rodney Stark quotes one of China’s leading scholars:
“One of the things we were asked to look into was what accounted for the success, in fact, the pre-eminence of the West all over the world. We studied everything we could from the historical, political, economic, and cultural perspective. At first, we thought it was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next, we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West is so powerful. The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics. We don’t have any doubt about this. (18)
Educational equality is a hot topic in politics these days, and once again, history shows Christians to be at the forefront of this campaign. Jesus Himself was well taught. He was called Rabbi (“Teacher”). And His followers have shared His commitment to learning:
- Didymus the Blind essentially invented Braille in the 4th century. (19)
- The Christian Emperor Charlemagne ordered monasteries to open schools to educate children. (20)
- In AD 797, priests were sent to open schools in every community so that the poor could be educated. School was priced according to what parents could pay and offered for free if necessary. (21)
- During the so-called Dark Ages, Christian monks hand-copied books to save them from being lost.
- Oxford University started in a church. (22)
- The University of Paris had a strong theology department that graduated one of the world’s greatest thinkers, Thomas Aquinas. (23)
- Ignatius of Loyola and the Jesuits pioneered education that continues in many schools today. (24)
- In the 1500s, John Calvin opened one of the first tuition-free schools, which eventually grew into a university. He helped start other universities that worked together to form the first free and integrated educational system. (25)
- The first society known to achieve full literacy was educated by the Jesuits in the 1600s. (26)
The entire Protestant Reformation was made possible in large part by the invention of the printing press, by language formation and translation, and by systematic education. Christians want everyone to be able to read the Bible for themselves in their language, so they have spent countless dollars and hours creating written languages in cultures where a written system does not exist and translating the Bible into languages spoken around the world. Education in America was made possible in large part by Christians and churches. From the landing of the Puritans in 1637, virtually all education was private and Christian, often housed in churches for more than 200 years. Literacy rates were high, and nearly every one of the first 123 American colleges and universities founded in the United States were of Christian origins, including Yale, William and Mary, Brown, Princeton, NYU, and Northwestern. Harvard was started by a donation of money and books by Rev. John Harvard. Dartmouth was founded to train missionaries to the Indians. Many schools in the United States and around the world remain Christian by heritage, including schools Nelson Mandela attended. (27)
I know we cannot argue anyone into agreement on this issue. More than anything, non-Christians want to see living proof of our commitment to equality. But I do think it is fair at some point in our conversations with non-Christians for us to say, “In the Bible all people are created equal because they are made by God who loves them. So why do you think people are equal?”
The burden of proof falls on our critics, because other belief systems do not come with a built-in respect for human worth. Whatever value non-Christians place on equality derives from the lingering ideals of Christendom. Like most people who move homes, when folks move on from Christendom to their new cultural worldview, they bring a few of their favorite things with them from the past.
Without a thorough grounding in the biblical truth that all people are created equal, people come up empty on reasons to advocate equality. With no moral justification for equal rights or background in the ideals inherent in the Bible, they offer up all kinds of inconsistent ideas of where equality does or does not apply.
Ponder the responses from a research project I led that culminated in the book Christians Might Be Crazy that serves as the basis for this blog:
“There’s [sic] too many kids being born that shouldn’t be born.”
I wonder who decides which kid is one too many—and on what basis.
“Maybe society is better off with abortion. Maybe people’s individual rights aren’t particularly invaded upon with abortion.”
I think the aborted child would disagree.
“If abortion wasn’t legal then you’d have all these people that shouldn’t be having kids having kids.”
I wish I had been there to ask, “What kind of people having what kind of kids?” The answers all added up to kids born to mothers who are young and poor as the majority of abortions today are in poorer communities to minority mothers.
Do you see the hypocrisy? These guys argue in the abstract that everyone is equal—everyone except a child with Down syndrome or a child unlucky enough to show up in the womb of a poor teenage mom. Why are those reasons okay and not others? Why not abort a girl if you want a boy? Why not terminate the babies born of certain races if we are discriminating on the basis of class? Does anyone care that abortions devastate minority populations? What about the rights of the half of all aborted children who are female? Apparently, some people are more equal than others.
God is a Father and His heart is for all the people that He created. All of us are equally made in God’s image. All of us are equally fallen sinners. All of us equally need a forgiving Savior. All of us can equally receive full forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. All of us can equally become new people living new lives by the new power of the Spirit. All of us can equally be together forever as one big, loving, unified, diverse family as God intended.
Thankfully, George Floyd is with the God who made him, and Jesus who saved him right now. Today, he is enjoying perfect peace, justice, and love in a world that is not anything like the one he left.
I recently preached an entire sermons series on Heaven called “GOOD NEWS”. My point was that we know what is wrong in the world, but we don’t know what the world should look like. The perfect culture will be in Heaven where Jesus loves and serves people from all nations and makes the one big, loving family living together in the Father’s house. Revelation 7 gives us a glimpse of this place that awaits us saying, “I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb [Jesus Christ]…and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”
Salvation from sin, death, injustice, evil, and suffering are what Jesus Christ provides for God’s people from every nation, language, and culture. Today, we have a lot of tears in our eyes, but the day is coming when once and forever, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
One way to honor George Floyd is to read the Bible he read, trust in the Jesus he trusted, spread the message of forgiveness of sins and new life in Jesus Christ he preached, and respect all human life just like the Bible that he held in his hand teaches.
- Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man (1871), Volume I, Chapter VI: “On the Affinities and Genealogy of Man,” 200–201.
- Nancy Pearcey, “Sexual Identity in a Secular Age.”
- To learn more about the history of Planned Parenthood, read George Grant, Grand Illusions: The Legacy of Planned Parenthood (Nashville, TN: Cumberland, 2000).
- Ernst Rudin, “Eugenic Sterilization: An Urgent Need,” The Birth Control Review (April 1933): 102.
- Leon Whitney, “Selective Sterilization,” The Birth Control Review (April 1933): 85.
- Wayne House, “Should Christians Use Birth Control?” Christian Research Institute, http://www.equip.org/site/c.muI1LaMNJrE/b.2717865/k.B30F/DE194.htm.
- David Goldstein, Suicide Bent: Sangerizing America (St. Paul: Radio Replies Press, 1945), 103.]
- Walter A. Elwell and P. W. Comfort, P. W. eds. Tyndale Bible Dictionary (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001) 1206.
- Rodney Stark, The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success (New York: Random House, 2005), 28.
- Wayne Meeks, The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul, 2nd ed. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), 73.
- Ibid., 158–159.
- Stark, The Victory of Reason, 235.
- Ibid., 14.
- Ibid., 93.
- Ibid., 96.
- Ibid., 97.
- Ibid., 98–99.
- Ibid., 102.
- Ibid., 101–102.