Columns share an author’s personal perspective.

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According to research published by Stanford psychologist Steven O. Roberts, people who perceive God as a white male are more likely to believe that white males make better leaders than other people. And since “People are constantly exposed to the image of God as a white man,” or so says Professor Roberts, this presents an obstacle for the future of race relations.

I question Roberts’s claim that people are constantly exposed to the image of God as white. It seems to me that people are seldom exposed to the image of God at all. But when they are, at least in American culture, the images do seem surprisingly Caucasian: the white-bearded grandfather God on his throne in heaven or the Jesus of popular conception.

From this state of affairs, it might be - and sometimes is - claimed that the Christian God is a white person’s God. The apt response to this claim is: “Of course he is the white person’s God. And the Black person’s. And the brown person’s. And all persons.” If the Christian God is God at all, he is the God of the whole earth and everyone in it.

It seems there must be some failure on the part of Christians, today and in the past, that has led to the erroneous and very odd misperception of God as a white man. By biblical standards, it is clearly erroneous. “God is not a human,” the Psalmist plainly states. Jesus himself said that “God is Spirit.” Whether or not spirit can possess the property of color I do not know but, if so, we are certainly not told which color. Besides that, both the Old and New testaments insist that God is invisible to humans.

The idea is not only erroneous; it is also very odd. The soil in which Judaism and Christianity grew produced Semitic peoples, not white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. If they, who were forbidden from making images by the second of the Ten Commandments, nevertheless carried a humanlike picture of God in their minds, it almost certainly had Semitic skin tones.

But the idea that people see God as white is odd for another reason. Christianity is not and never was a race-based or ethnicity-based faith. Within a few decades of the death and resurrection of Jesus, the church was smashing ethnic stereotypes and breaking down walls between people groups.

Simon, a leader in the influential first-century church at Antioch, was probably Black. Years before the Antioch Church was founded, the evangelist Philip led a high-ranking Ethiopian official - undoubtedly Black - to faith in Christ. Most people in the church were olive-skinned, including the Apostle Paul, yet they felt compelled to carry the good news of the gracious God across racial and ethnic lines. There was, admittedly, some debate about the propriety of sharing the gospel with outsiders, but it was not because of skin color, whether Black or white. It was because they were Gentiles. But even that wall, erected in the distant past, came crashing down.

Christianity is no more a white person’s religion today than it was in St. Paul’s time. Today, more than 60% of the world’s Christian population live in the global south. Nearly a quarter of those live in sub-Saharan Africa, another quarter in Latin America and the Caribbean, and approximately 13% live in the Asia-Pacific region.

People who turn up their noses at the God of the Bible as a white person’s God need to get out more. The God of Jesus is no pet European deity. Indeed, the people of this God, the Bible tells us, are comprised of men, women, and children from “every tribe and language and people and nation.”

Voltaire mockingly said, “If God has made us in his image, we have returned him the favor.” How could it be otherwise when imaginations are inevitably circumscribed by experience? Yet we would do well to regularly remind ourselves that the “God who is not a human” is nevertheless the God of all humans and each one bears his image.
Shayne Looper is the pastor of Lockwood Community Church in Coldwater, Michigan. His blog, “The Way Home,” is at shaynelooper.com.