Progress article
July 3, 1992

“What Color is Your Idol?” Asks Christian Sociologist

by Carey Kinsolving

“Racism-Ethnocentrism has made a comeback in new forms,” says a Christian sociologist who recently organized a conference entitled, “What Color is Your Idol?”

“Like all idols, this idol threatens to redivide the world into a new Babel and promises the fool’s gold of racial or ethnic superiority,” said sociologist Tony Carnes, the co-organizer of the three-day mid-April conference in New York that drew 1,500 people.

Many of the 33 Christian sociologists, artists, psychologists and pastors who presented papers at King’s College in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., made a startling argument: some multiculturalism is nothing but a futile attempt to remake God in a human image.

Carnes is disturbed by a trend he sees among Americans who find their identity in their culture and hence use race as a criteria for judging people.

Some black pastors, for example, are being criticized for refusing to preach that “God is black.” The Rev. Ezra Williams serves as pastor of Bethel Gospel Assembly, a 1,000-plus member church in Harlem.

“When color becomes our focus, it takes us away from the universality of the gospel,” says Williams. “We narrow it down to our puny racial and ethnic molds.”

Williams’ church is a prime example of Christians realizing that their unity as new people in Christ supercedes racial barriers. Williams told the conference how his church was started 74 years ago because a woman of German descent, Lillian Kreiger, crossed racial barriers to start a Bible study in the Harlem home of two black women.

The two black women had received Christ as their savior earlier in an all-white mid-town Manhattan church – but had been refused membership. When Kreiger heard of the incident, she offered to travel to Harlem for the study in spite of her fiancé’s disapproval. She eventually lost the fiancé, but Harlem gained a thriving church.

“We meet people at their need, irrespective of race, simply because Lillian Kreiger realized we serve a God who is color blind,” Williams said. “We have to stand on the Word of God and treat all humans as potential brothers in Christ.”

The New York director of Jews for Jesus, Mitch Glasser, said God allows people to maintain their ethnicity but calls Christians to renounce parts of themselves that hate and despise others. Glasser appealed for “unity without uniformity.” He cited Galatians 3:28 from the New Testament, which says that distinctions such as Jew and Gentile, slave or free, and male and female are transcended by oneness in Christ.

But on a practical level, such oneness is far from reality among educators, according to David Ayers, sociologist at Dallas Baptist University. The prevailing thought, he argues, “arbitrarily divides the world into white and non-white. The whites are the oppressors and the non-whites are the oppressed victims. This paradigm is placed on all human history, all culture and on the minute problems with which we deal on a day-to-day level.”

Ayers adds that such racial theories tend to distort historical facts that stand in their way. Ayers recalled an exchange between a student and one of his associates at Dallas Baptist University in which the professor spoke about slavery of blacks among black African tribes. A black student said, “I can’t believe that.”

The professor suggested the student look up the historical references. “I’m not going to look at those references,” the student said. “Whites invented slavery.”

“To teach slavery as only something whites have done to blacks is not scientific,” Ayers said. “As a sociologist, I have to look at slavery wherever it occurs to understand its true dynamic. Otherwise we make white men the source of evil, rather than seeing the source of evil as originating in the condition of man’s heart resulting from the fall.”