Schirrmacher: Evangelicals combat Racism
(Bonn, 23.03.2012) In the following press release we have 1) an announcement from the World Evangelical Alliance, 2) a report from proKOMPAKT as well as 3) an interview with the author available for reprint.
Announcement from the World Evangelical Alliance
Are “white” people more intelligent than “black” people? Are Jews devious and grabby? Intolerance and violence through racism includes slavery, national socialism in Germany, apartheid in South Africa, or the genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia. “It might appear presumptuous to write in a way that ‘puts in a nutshell’ a phenomenon to which millions of people have fallen victim and which in the course of history has been used (...) to justify centuries of all sorts of human rights violations. (...) Still, it is only when one wants to grasp and refute racism ‘in a nutshell’ that the arguments against racism even have a chance”, says author and executive director of the IIRF, Prof. Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher.
The book is divided into three parts: Racism and its Refutation, where it speaks about various definitions of racism and the senselessness thereof, also citing important Bible passages which are directed against racism. In the second part “On the History of Racism and its Justification”, it introduces different kinds of theories that are based on racism and also illustrates genocide, listing examples from the recent past such as the Aborigines in Australia, the Armenians in Turkey, the genocide in Rwanda, and the Holocaust in Europe during World War II.
“I hope tears run down your face when you read both about the sin of racism as well as about the sinful theories people have taught,” Dr. Thomas K. Johnson, member of the Academic Council of the IIRF, writes in his preface to the book. "But our hope is that God’s Word, which we all must proclaim, will contribute something much more humane and godly to our many societies.”
The third part speaks about “the Situation in Germany” and its various facets, including the genocide of Gypsies, Anti-Semitism and National Socialism. In addition he outlines the situation of right-wing extremism in German speaking countries, including Switzerland and Austria, today.
“Thomas Schirrmacher’s short, serious book on racism richly illustrates the multifaceted relationship of God’s Word to our global social problems,” Dr. Johnson states.
But racism is not only wrong theologically, it is not only against the dignity of humans that guarantees their human rights, but newer genetic research also proves that the whole classification into races is without foundation. Schirrmacher writes: “In fact, everything that recent biology (in particular genetics) and cultural anthropology (including ethnology) have to say on the topic of race completely pulls the rug out from under racism.”
In an additional essay, Rev. Dr. Richard Howell, General Secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India and General Secretary of the Asian Evangelical Alliance, writes about the ‘Dehumanizing Caste System’, an Indian form of racism. “The caste system is based on the principle of discrimination and inequality. It is one of the most rigid and institutionalised brutalities of Hindu society,” he states. “While the agenda for political freedom of India from British rule was achieved in 1947, the freedom to emancipate the masses from perpetual exploitation and oppression remains to be won.”
“So read this book to learn, consider, weep bitterly, and then take action about racism. And along the way, notice the wide-ranging way in which the biblical message addresses all the problems of our broken world,” concludes Dr. Johnson.
Report by proKOMPAKT
With his new book entitled Racism, the Evangelical scholar and author Thomas Schirrmacher seeks to clear up existing prejudices – something that is still an important exercise to conduct at the present time. Additionally, he is convinced: Evangelicals have always vehemently fought against racism.
At the core of racism is ‘otherness,’ writes Schirrmacher, and the belief that this otherness makes people superior or inferior. Nevertheless, the following becomes clear very quickly when reading his work: From a biological point of view racism is nonsense: “The results of modern genetics have unobjectionably demonstrated that there are no different human races, but rather that there is only one species of mankind.”
Schirrmacher also establishes with the aid of the Book of James in the New Testament that even “proven differences between human races say nothing about the equal dignity everyone has.” There one reads: “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 . . . Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom . . .” In accord with Christian tradition, the following is retained in the Charter of the United Nations: “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 his conversation with pro, the author emphasized the positive connection between the fight against racism and the Evangelical movement: “The word ‘Evangelical’ was first used for a movement in Great Britain that called for the abolition of the slave trade and then of slavery. The movement finally achieved this. Evangelicals played a central role in the anti-slavery movement in the USA, for instance free-church Quakers and Methodists. The best known book about it is the Evangelical classic, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. In my book I quote a historian who demonstrates that racism had a greater chance in France and Germany due to the fact that there are few Evangelicals there. In the 18th century William Carey – many view this British missionary and language researcher as the father of Evangelicals – fought the racism found in Christian churches in India under the caste system, and his language and cultural research led to the preservation of numerous Indian languages.”
Nowadays the internationalization of the Evangelical movement means that racism does not have a chance. “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,” said 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 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 have long since set the tone in many committees.”
It is precisely the Evangelical movement in the USA that is frequently criticized on account of radical right wing views. In the process, many people forget that there are not only ‘white’ Evangelicals. Rather, a lot of African-Americans, Latinos, and Asians are Evangelicals. Unfortunately, there is a broad right-wing extremist spectrum in the USA that says that America is white, English-speaking, and Christian. However, that has little to do with Christian churches. Above all, Schirrmacher wrote his book to enlighten readers about racism – this is still important to do today. “Racism is such a seriously mistaken position that there simply cannot be enough written against it. You would surely 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’
The sociologist and theologian writes in his book 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 ‘blacks,’ Jews, and ‘gypsies,’ which in the latter case is to say against the Sinti and Roma. Schirrmacher has observed that it is simply nonsensical to speak about ‘racial differences.’ “If anyone in Central Europe wants to speak of some sort of race that has in any way been stable for millennia after all the ‘racial mixing’ that took place in the Roman Empire, subsequent migrations, campaigns of conquest from every direction, the invasion of mounted Asian troops, and immigration from all over the world, then the only explanation is that the wish is father to the thought. 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 of the Sociology of Religion at the State University of the West in Timisoara, 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.
Source of German original: proKOMPAKT 28/2009 pp. 17-18 (www.pro-medienmagazin.de/buecher.html)
Interview with Thomas Schirrmacher
BQ: Is a new book against racism necessary?
Thomas Schirrmacher: 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. I wanted to redress this situation.
BQ: An Evangelical opposing racism?
Thomas Schirrmacher: Yes, naturally. The word “Evangelical“ was first used for a movement in Great Britain that called for the abolition of the slave trade and then of slavery. The movement finally achieved this under the leadership of William Wilberforce (1759-1833). Evangelicals played a central role in the anti-slavery movement in the USA, for instance free-church Quakers and Methodists. The best known book about it is the Evangelical classic, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. In my book I quote a historian who demonstrates that racism had a greater chance in France and Germany due to the fact that there are few Evangelicals there. In the 18th century, William Carey (1761-1834) fought the racism found in Christian churches in India under the caste system, and his language and cultural research led to the preservation of numerous Indian languages. Many view this British missionary and language researcher as the father of Evangelicals.
BQ: So everything is just history?
Thomas Schirrmacher: Nowadays the internationalization of the Evangelical movement means that racism does not have a chance. 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.
BQ: I can agree that this is the case on an international level, but in Germany?
Thomas Schirrmacher: In any event, it is a fact that the Pietists always had a better relationship to people of other cultures than the majority of the people around them. And Evangelicals in Germany have inherited that from the Pietists. The longtime leading German Evangelical missiologist Prof. Peter Beyerhaus wrote a small book in 1972 with the title Racism and Its Reasonable Evangelical Conquest (translated title of Der Rassismus und seine evangeliumsmäßige Überwindung). The Young Christians’ Offensive in Reichelsheim grew up during the time of its ecumenical struggle to overcome apartheid in South Africa – mind you, only with peaceful means. 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 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 have long since set the tone in many committees.
BQ: But what about Evangelicals in the USA?
Thomas Schirrmacher: When the Evangelical movement in the USA is criticized, a lot of people forget that there are not only ‘white’ Evangelicals. Rather, a lot of African-Americans have been and are Evangelicals, and today this additionally applies to Latinos and Asians. Unfortunately, in the USA there is a broad right-wing extremist spectrum that says that America is white, English-speaking, and Christian. The only thing is, that has little to do with Christian churches. And it is far removed from the National Association of Evangelicals and the US Evangelical Alliance.
BQ: But don’t Evangelicals view Islam very critically?
Thomas Schirrmacher: As a religion, yes, but they can still treat Muslims with dignity, can’t they? I would like to brazenly maintain that no German group of people is as often a guest of Turkish families as Evangelicals are or invite Turkish friends over as often as Evangelicals do.
BQ: What distinguishes racism from other forms of discrimination?
Thomas Schirrmacher: The core of racism in comparison to other ideologies that are used to oppress people (such as class, religious hatred, or disdain for the handicapped) is that what makes the other person different is allegedly in the individual’s biological ancestry and for that reason is unalterable. Racism has namely two core elements. It constructs ancestral groups with allegedly common features and evaluates these groups and differences for the ends sought by the racist. This occurs to the detriment of the victim, legitimizing privileges and aggression.
Thomas Schirrmacher: Yes. In my book I compile the growing number of arguments arising from investigations into different peoples and modern genetic research. For centuries there have been attempts to classify races, but the division mostly only convinced the researchers themselves who conducted the work. Something has been clear for a long time: there is only one human race.
BQ: Do you have a vivid example you can give me?
Thomas Schirrmacher: Yes, for sure. The same blood groups are found throughout all people groups. If you have blood type A, you had better not let a ‘white’ with blood type B donate blood to you. However, the blood of a ‘black,’ ‘yellow,’ or ‘red’ with your blood type can save your life. And a person with blood type O can be a so-called universal donor for any person on earth.
BQ: But can’t races be identified by their skin color?
Thomas Schirrmacher: If you take the time to study the history of classification according to skin color, you will quickly realize that it has little to do with the actual skin color. All the constructed color charts founder on reality’s diversity. ‘Yellows’ are often lighter than ‘whites,’ ‘reds’ are not red, but rather their spectrum of lighter to darker is found in other ‘races.’
BQ: What about the IQ tests in the USA which supposedly demonstrate that blacks on average are less gifted than whites?
Thomas Schirrmacher: If one takes IQ tests to be a measure, Jews and Japanese score about 10% higher than whites. However, one would rather keep that quiet. There are problems, however: 1. There are no culture-free IQ tests, no neutral, international intelligence. If you ask questions that relate to what is relevant for Eskimo children, Germans will always stand there and look like the dumb ones. 2. It is always only a question of averages. The same extreme spectrum is found in every group. It‘s just distributed differently. 3. Additionally, it is still an open issue as to where the differences come from. Do they lie in the educational system, in the family, or truly, as is alleged, in the genes?
BQ: How does one argue against racism?
Thomas Schirrmacher: One has to argue against racism on two levels. First, there is the argument that even a demonstrated difference among human races says nothing about the common dignity found among people. And secondly, no evidence can be produced to support the assumption that such biological differences between divisible races exist at all, much less that any such attempts at evidence would be in sympathy with the assumption. Actually the second point should suffice. Still, although it is the case that with every decade the scientific evidence increases that says there are no races, it is common up to the present day to continue to use the ancient and frequently refuted division according to skin color, for lack of an alternative. Leading encyclopedias explain under the ‘racism’ heading that there is no such thing as races, only to then nonchalantly continue to refer to the differentiation under the ‘race’ heading or the headings of these individual ‘races.’
BQ: What are the most frequent forms of racism?
Thomas Schirrmacher: There are three types of racism that are the most internationally widespread and can be tracked over the course of many centuries. They are directed against so-called ‘blacks’ or people with darker skin color, against Jews, and against so-called ‘gypsies,’ which is to say against the Sinti and Roma, and members of other gypsy-like peoples.
The three international forms of racism are the defamation and fight against or oppression of
1. ‘Blacks’ (or of people who have a darker skin color than oneself ) – they are allegedly dumb, barbarian, and uncivilized;
BQ: But aren’t there Germans and French and for that reason a Germany and a France?
Thomas Schirrmacher: We are all half-breeds with a long cultural history. We are the result of centuries of migration, especially Germans, the French or, for instance, the Turks. The French and Germans are culturally and historically distinguished from each other, but thirty generations back we are talking about the same ancestral mix. Charles the Great is seen as the progenitor of the French and the Germans, but for the longest time both sides acted as if there were two different people, the king of France and the emperor of the Germans.
BQ: Are you against right-wing extremism, then?
Thomas Schirrmacher: Yes, naturally. It is scientifically indefensible, ethically questionable, and it does not escape the scrutiny of human rights questions. But I do not want to make it too easy on myself. Racism is everywhere, not just in rightwing extremism, which places it in the center. A leftist can also go hunting for votes with racist language. Just think about Lafontaine’s comments regarding Polish workers in Germany, or think about the Marxist dictator Mugabe in Zimbabwe.
Thomas Schirrmacher. Racism – With an essay on Caste in India by Richard Howell. The WEA Global Issues Series 8. Verlag fuer Kultur und Wissenschaft / Culture and Science Publ.: Bonn, 2012.
For ordering go to www.vkwonline.de.
· The whole book (pdf)
· Photo of the author (jpg)
· Cover (front) of the book (jpg)
· Cover (front and back) of the book (pdf)