Home > Commentary, Conferences, Deaf Ministry, Theology > T4G Session 2 – Thabiti Anyabwile (Race & Deafness)

T4G Session 2 – Thabiti Anyabwile (Race & Deafness)

Thabiti AnyabwileSome of you looked at the title and thought, “What? Race and Deafness?” Bear with me through this one and all will be revealed.

Thabiti Anyabwile delivered perhaps the most provocative, thought-provoking, challenging, and convicting message of the conference. Thabiti, pastor of First Baptist Church – Grand Cayman, began his message by joking that his name means “Sure, invite the black guy to talk about race.” I’m sure the irony was lost on no one, and many of the blogs out there that are not as friendly to Christian conservatism and Reformed beliefs have taken it upon themselves to hammer away at this point.

Thabiti was actually mentored by Mark Dever at Capitol Hill Baptist Church for several years before becoming pastor at FBC Grand Cayman and they consider each other to be great friends and brothers. It was made known during the panel session that followed that C. J. Mahaney also developed a deep and abiding friendship with Thabiti during his years at CHBC. For these reasons alone I would like to invite my readers to throw out this silly and quite frankly stupid prejudice, especially in light of the message Thabiti gave us.

Thabiti began with an assertion that at first left many of us slightly confused. We must, he said, throw out our concept of race. Race is not a “black/white” type of issue. Instead, we must have a biblical view of race if we are to address this issue correctly.

Race, he continued, is a biological term. It talks about our inherited genetics from the human family that passed these genetic traits down to us. In contrast, we have many ethnicities – many cultural divisions among humanity. We are familiar with many of these: black, white, Asian, Hispanic, Native American, etc. However, the world’s view of race is to conflate biology with ethnicity. Thus we have many “races” that follow these ethnic lines.

The biblical view of race is that there is one race, descended from Noah, who in turn is descended from Adam. The biology of every human being is derived directly from Adam through Noah. Every “race” is descended from one man, and as such it is wrong, biblically, to think that there are “many races.” This would mean that there is another person out there, not descended from Adam, who created a certain “race.” As such skin color, the world’s criteria for “race,” cannot be the correct criteria in determining “race.” Instead, it is biblically correct to think of one race but many ethnicities as humanity spread throughout the earth in obedience to God’s command to be fruitful and multiply, as well as a result of the Tower of Babel.

Thabiti then gave six reasons why our modern concept of “race” is wrong:

  1. It causes abuse of people and Scripture
  2. It makes racism possible
  3. Cooperation and fellowship becomes impossible, because “race” causes separation.
  4. It removes the authority of the Bible, since the world’s concept of “race” denies that we are one in Adam, as the Bible says.
  5. It causes us to resist the Holy Spirit – instead of being united, we are divided by “race.”
  6. It destroys the Gospel.

This last point is likely the most serious, though it is the result of the five that precede it. The world’s concept of “race” destroys the Gospel because it makes Jesus’ death contentious. It forces us to look at Jesus’ death as not for all people, but only for the Adamic race. Because of this, we will spend the rest of existence arguing about which “race” is truly “in Adam.” Is it the blacks? The whites? The Asians? The Native Americans?

The world’s concept of “race” further destroys the Gospel because it gives us no motivation for missions. We are already experiencing this today – we don’t do missions because other “races” are not like us. We want to do missions in a comfortable setting. We don’t want to go out of our comfort zone. That’s why we send missionaries – “You do it for me. I’m not comfortable doing it myself!”

Thabiti then called us to think and act biblically on the issue of race. We must see each other as “in Adam.” In John 17:20-21 Jesus prayed that we who believe would be one just as he and the Father are one, and by doing so the world would believe in him. Again, in 2 Corinthians 5:14-18 exhorts us to have a spiritual perspective on this issue, not a fleshly view, a worldly view. We are to regard no one according to the flesh, and in terms of race, not by the color of their skin. Christ has died for all – biblically all “in Adam.” If we allow the world’s view of race to dictate our view, rather than being led by a spiritual view, we have capitulated to the flesh.

As such, when we look at a person, we cannot look at their skin. Instead we must think, “He is created in the image of God, just like me. He is descended from Adam, he is ‘in Adam,’ just like me. He is a sinner, just like me. Therefore I can fellowship with him as a brother in Adam.” With believers, we are to take that one step further: “He is a sinner saved by grace, just like me. Therefore I can fellowship with him as a brother in Christ!”

This is why unity in Christ is far more important than “race.” Ethnicity – which is what the world is really talking about when it talks about “race” – is not permanent. Rather, our identity in Christ is permanent. Therefore, our churches must be a reflection of this reality until we get to heaven.

This was a jaw-dropping, deeply applicational message for me. I and many of the Deaf pastors there constantly looked at each other knowingly all throughout this message. We were furiously nodding our heads and “amen”-ing many of the things Thabiti imparted to us.

You see, our Deaf community is fractured along the same worldly “lines” as race. There are great divisions in Deaf culture that have caused much friction. Deaf people divide along lines of deafness (deaf/hard-of-hearing), language (ASL vs. Signed English or PSE), culture (culturally Deaf vs. mainstreamed/Oral), and psychological makeup (high function vs. low function), just to name a few. The ouster of Jane Fernandes from the presidency of Gallaudet University is a glaring example of this.

Yet we Deaf people, of every stripe, are all “in Adam.” We are all created in the image of God. We are all sinners under the wrath of a holy God in need of a Savior. As such, the Deaf community, in order to survive, must throw out its concept of “Deaf.” We cannot afford to accept the world’s concept of “Deaf.” We cannot afford to accept the division we have created through accepting the world’s concept of “race.” We must accept a biblical view of “Deaf” if our community is to thrive in the 21st century and beyond. And ultimately, Deaf believers must strive to bring these fellow sinners into Christ, just like us.

This message was the capstone of a major shift in my thinking on Deaf issues that has slowly been taking place. I had begun to move away from the rigid categories many Deaf had created for the different types of Deaf people, in order to emphasize that we are one Deaf community, not many. With this message, all the pieces came together with a resounding click and thud that can be both heard and felt. It is my prayer this click and thud reverberates through the hearing and Deaf world for ages to come.

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