In a recent Facebook Live video, the Rev. Canon Esau McCaulley, PhD, explained how the Bible addresses systemic racism. McCaulley, who is an Assistant Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College, believes the Bible shows us that sin is both personal and corporate in nature and that fighting systemic racial sin is not a political issue, but the church’s duty.
“What I really want to do in this video,” said Esau McCaulley, “is give a biblical understanding of how sin works and why it’s appropriate to talk about sin and racism in structures and in society as a whole.” His conclusion, he said, “is not cultural Marxism. It is nothing other than trying to live out practically what the Bible says about God’s concerns.”
Esau McCaulley: What the Bible Says About Systemic (Racial) Sin
In his presentation, Esau McCaulley said he wanted to address the following key questions:
- How does the Bible talk about sin? Is it just a heart problem or is it also a corporate problem?
- Does corporate sin exist in societal structures?
- How might these structural sins arise?
McCaulley examined various passages throughout the Bible in order to illustrate his points. He began with Genesis 3, pointing out that all sin and rebellion are the result of the Fall.
He then drew viewers’ attention to Genesis 4:7, where God warns Cain that sin had a desire to master and rule over him. This observation led McCaulley to ask, “What happens when those individuals who have been mastered by sin gain power to use in society?”
The answer, he said, is “they use that power to give full reign to those desires, and that power attached to sinful desire creates structures of inequality.”
For example, in Deuteronomy 16:18-20 the Israelites are commanded,
Appoint judges and officials for each of your tribes in every town the LORD your God is giving you, and they shall judge the people fairly. Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the innocent. Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the LORD your God is giving you.
The sin God is warning Israel about in this passage is structural sin, namely that Israel’s court system could be corrupted because of people in power taking bribes. This is similar to the U.S., said McCaulley, where “African American Christians have claimed that the court system has been influenced by systemic racial bias.”
Another passage that illustrates the potential for systemic sin is Deuteronomy 17:14-20, which warns the Israelites that when they appoint a king, they must be sure he does not accumulate wives, horses, or great wealth for himself and so turn away from God’s law. This again shows us that governmental authority can become corrupt.
We see the same problem can occur with pagan kings. Daniel 4 tells us that God sends a dream to King Nebuchadnezzar, warning him God will judge him with insanity because of his pride. Daniel advises the king to repent in hope that God will avert his judgment, saying, “Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.”