This is a translation of a German news article by A. Wirth written for ProKompakt on the publication of my book “Rassismus”, see here, see the German original here: proKOMPAKT 28/2009 pp. 17–18. An English translation of the book is underway.
With his new book “Racism”, the Evangelical scholar and author Thomas Schirrmacher wants to do away with prejudices – this is something which is still important nowadays. Furthermore, Schirrmacher is convinced: Evangelicals have always vehemently fought against racism.
The core of racism, writes Schirrmacher, is “what is different in the other person” and the belief that this otherness makes people superior or inferior. Nevertheless, in reading his work it quickly becomes clear: Racism is, from a biological point of view, nonsense. The results of modern genetics have unobjectionably demonstrated that there are no different human races, and rather that there is only one species of mankind.” Schirrmacher also justifies this position biblically with the aid of the Epistle of James in the New Testament, saying that even proven differences between human races express nothing about the equal dignity everyone has.
In this passage we find the following “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right.But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.” In the United Nations charter the following is stated and holds to Christian tradition: “All human beings belong to a single species and are descended from a common stock. They are born equal in dignity and rights and all form an integral part of humanity.”
Evangelicals called for the Abolition of Slavery
In conversation with the Christian media magazine pro, the author empahsized the positive connection between the fight against racism and the Evangelical movement: “Evangelical revivalism was significantly involved in bringing an end to slavery. It was at this point that the designation Evangelicals came about in the first place. This applies to the legal abolishment of slavery in Great Britain as well as to the anti-slavery movement in the USA. Among Evangelicals in general, free church Quakers and Methodists, for instance, played a central role in the anti-slavery movement in the USA. Best known in this connection is the Evangelical classic, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. In my book I quote a historian who shows that racism had much better chances in France and Germany, because there are hardly any Evangelicals there. In India William Carey, a British missionary and language researcher whom many view as the father of Evangelicals, fought racism found in Christian churches in India under the caste system in the 18th century.”
Nowadays the internationalization of the Evangelical movement means that racism does not have a chance, says Schirrmacher. “In my Evangelical environment, from the time I was small, there were Indonesians, Kenyans and Latin Americans whom I got to know as role models, so racism was obsolete before I got to know about it on the school playground. Additionally, the World Evangelical Alliance has repeatedly and clearly taken a position against all forms of racism,” says Schirrmacher. “As far as the present is concerned, I really would not know where racism could be expected to find a home in Evangelical churches. For a long time now we have been used to reading books from all over the world, taking the foremost spiritual leaders from all cultures as role models and welcoming people of all cultures and ethnic groups. Since the majority of the Evangelical movement stems from Asia, Africa, and Latin America, they set the tone in many committees.”
And what about North America, we ask the German professor of the sociology of religion? “The Evangelical movement in the USA”, he say, “is often criticized for having right-wing leanings. But at the same time a lot of people forget that there are not only ‘white’ Evangelicals. Rather, a lot of African-Americans, Latinos, and Asians are Evangelicals. Unfortunately, in the USA there is a broad right-wing spectrum that says America is white, English-speaking, and Christian. That has little to do with Christian churches.”
Schirrmacher primarily wrote his book in order to provide enlightenment about racism. This is something that is still important to do today. “First of all, racism is such a seriously mistaken position that there simply cannot be enough written against it. However, you would really be astonished at how few books in the German book market there are on racism. And most of them are very technical, very specialized, and hardly understandable for the man on the street.”
Against ‘Blacks,’ Jews and ‘Gypsies’
In his book the theologian writes about three “types of racism that are the most internationally widespread and can be tracked over the course of many centuries.” They are directed against the co-called ‘blacks’ or people with darker skin color, against Jews, and against so-called ‘gypsies,’ which is to say against Sintis and Romanies. Schirrmacher has determined that it is simply nonsense to speak of ‘racist differences.’ If anyone in Central Europe wants to speak of some sort of race that is in any way stable after all the ‘racial mixing’ that took place in the Roman Empire, subsequent migrations, campaigns of conquest from every direction, the invasion of Asian troops on horseback, and immigration from all over the world, then the only explanation is that the wish is father to the thought and the modern nation state would like to have a biological, religious, or other type of fixed anchoring for its citizens. Studies of Y-chromosomes suggest that the people of Europe have no identifiable origin, but that they all go back to repeatedly new waves of immigration from all different directions.
Thomas Schirrmacher is the head of the Martin Bucer Seminary, a Professor for the Sociology of Religion at the State University of Oradea in Romania, and the Director of the World Evangelical Alliance’s International Institute for Religious Freedom. He received his doctorate in 1985 in Ecumenical Theology in the Netherlands, in 1989 in Cultural Anthropology in Los Angeles and in 2007 in Comparative Religious Studies at the University of Bonn. He has released other works relating to the topic at hand, most recently The Multicultural Society and Hitler’s Religion of War.