Christian Living

Re-Building Babel: The Danger of Seeking Racial Justice without Seeking God

Jemar Tisby

The opening plenary session of the November 2012 Facing Race conference reveals the danger of seeking racial justice without first seeking God.

The opening speaker, Rinku Sen, is the publisher for, “a daily news site where race matters.”  I stumbled across the website and the Facing Race conference they host because I’m interested in what people outside of Christian and Reformed circles are thinking about race.

Her opening speech, “We Are the Majority and We Demand Justice“, came just days after President Obama was elected to a second term.  In the midst of this milestone in racial history, she struck a note of empowerment…

I think that we [racial minorities] can be actual full human beings, and I think that we can change the way that human beings see each other. Not by applying some bankrupt concept of colorblindness that has no grounding in reality, but by demanding what we really want which is the taking apart of the racial hierarchy.

We are so well equipped to do this. We are such good strategists. We know how to run campaigns. We do this work with so much heart and so much humor. We have so much resilience. We can survive anything. We can do this, we can take the country and the world closer to a new humanity.

Rebuilding the Tower of Babel

While her words may be inspiring, Ms. Sen’s rallying cries for racial justice remind me of another time when humanity gloried in its own potential for progress.

In the days preceding the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-9), humankind has disobeyed God’s mandate to spread across the earth (Gen. 1:28), and instead aspires to build a tower as their attempt to create heaven on earth apart from God.  The motivation for their undertaking is their unity, particularly their united language (Gen. 11:1).

The use of humanistic, positivistic words is modern humanity’s attempt to re-create a universal language and reverse the confusion of languages God caused at Babel (Gen. 11:9).  Rinku Sen and others use jargon like “change”, “heart”, “resilience” and “we can do anything” to inspire the belief that human potential is limitless.  But as Dr. Bruce Waltke says in his book An Old Testament Theology, “[These words] are symbols of humanity’s vain effort to reunite and secure peace apart from God’s gift of the Prince of Peace.”

The Gospel of Unity

The only truly unifying language is the language of the Gospel. The Gospel teaches us that although He scattered the nations, God’s blessing will come to all people through Jesus Christ.

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The very next chapter after the Tower of Babel incident describes God’s promise to Abraham.  God would make of Abraham a great nation and through him all the families of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 12:2-3). That promise is fulfilled in the coming of the eternal Son of God, Jesus Christ.

In dying on the cross, Jesus Christ broke down the dividing wall of hostility between believers and God (Eph. 2:14). So racial unity is possible not because of human will or effort but because Christ has already secured our unity with the Father.  Therefore, no language, race, ethnicity or difference of any type can ultimately divide the household of God (Gal 3:28).  We are one new nation under God.

[Tweet “No language, race, ethnicity or difference of any type can ultimately divide the household of God.”]

Racial Justice Depends on God

Christians may share Rinku Sen’s passion for racial reconciliation, but the hope for a better future depends on God, not us. So we have to be careful when we talk about racial justice. Any efforts for positive impact apart from reliance on God are humanity’s prideful attempts to rebuild the Tower of Babel.

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It’s a glory issue then. If human beings rely on their own strength to pursue racial justice (as if true justice were even possible without God) then they get the glory.  But all glory belongs to God, so even our attempts to make the world a better place must be done by faith in the God whose strength fuels our efforts (Col. 1:29).

As Christians pursue the righteous cause of racial justice in the world, let us be careful to do so in the strength God provides so that God gets the glory.

“The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped..the Lord is the strength of his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed” (Ps. 28: 7,9).

7 thoughts on “Re-Building Babel: The Danger of Seeking Racial Justice without Seeking God

  1. Jemar

    Really neat, John. Thanks!

  2. Peterson Onyeukwu

    In a world where Christians can resolutely align themselves with evil forces, all that matters is that someone stands for what is right. Unfortunately christian history is littered with clear examples of outright evil.

    I will fight for what is right. Period. No qualifications.

  3. Jailer

    “As Christians pursue the righteous cause of racial justice in the world, let us be careful to do so in the strength God provides so that God gets the glory.” AMEN! And let us also be careful to do so in the spirit and manner He ordains, so that the cause of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not subordinated to any human endeavor, no matter how noble it may appear.

  4. john cummins

    This a wordle of your feeds!

  5. john cummins

    And just to add to the discussion, I would like you all to ponder this piece by my Bulgarian friend Bojidar Marinov on Special Grace and Common Grace. He gives one a lot to ponder!

  6. Jemar


    Praise the Lord for his common grace! I am in agreement with anyone who seeks the dignity of all persons. This post, though, is a caution that a righteous cause (racial justice) does not necessarily come from a righteous place (faith in Jesus Christ). While we may progress legally and socially, true racial solidarity will only be achieved when we are united as spiritual brothers and sisters by the power of the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ our Savior.

    I would stand with Ms. Sen in the cause of racial justice for all. I would have to part ways if she believes “we can take this country and this world closer to a new humanity” on our own. Only Christ can do that. And He will not only take us closer to a new humanity, He will bring us all the way there.

    Thanks for your comment!

  7. Peterson Onyeukwu

    I agree with you to a point… It can be said that much of the work accomplished for blacks during the Civil Rights movement did not come completely from a religious foundation. In fact there were many who alongside their work to establish rights for blacks, also wanted to tear down the religious “poison” that they viewed corrupted blacks and made them subservient to the dominant culture. (which is a fact: many used Christianity as a basis for their hierarchical system of racism)

    As a Christian, I thank God that men like Malcolm X who though not Christian believed and exercised a principle that is grounded in the scriptures. And that is that every person is created in the image of God and ought to be treated as such.

    That God would enlighten men to understand this truth and to feel this truth is an example of his common grace.

    As a Christian should I align myself with others who fight for racial justice only if they hold to my theological perspective? I don’t think so.

    I think all men and women should be respected regardless of their theological position and I feel that I need whatever I can to make this a reality.

    That being said, if I don’t make clear where my theological convictions come from I run the danger of leading others astray. Yet that is a risk that I need to take.

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