Voices: The image of God and race relations: A response

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I am on the board of directors for the Baptist Standard, and I love that the Standard allows opinions to be shared, even when I disagree with them. It is important to hear opinions, evaluate them and, at times, also call them out.

In his article about the image of God, Jim Lemons—a professor at Dallas Baptist University—uses two examples. I see where he was going with this opinion, but a couple of issues within the two examples need to be addressed.

These examples are useful for the issue we have today within the American Christian church and racial conciliation.

“Jesus loves the little children”

Using the song “Jesus Loves the Little Children” is problematic. Part of the known text of the song is prejudicial and derogatory, and many would consider it racist.

You will be hard-pressed to find Christians of color joyfully singing, “Red and yellow, black and white,” or, “Red, brown, yellow, black and white.” As is well-known, “red” is a derogatory term against our Native American brothers and sisters, and “yellow” is a derogatory term against our Asian brothers and sisters.

I was the “red” example growing up when this song was sung—audibly and physically. I was pointed at when “red” came along, and teachers said my name—when I was in a majority white group—as someone Jesus loved. The experiences made me feel I was an “also.”

“Red” was the only color talked about. White children were not pointed at during this song. Interestingly, when I was around our Native American Christian church, this song never was sung.

To remain reverent to who Jesus Christ is, I vote never to sing this song again, but if sung, it should not be sung with these words. This song is not exempt from prejudicial and racist thoughts just because it is a cute song and was intended innocently.

This song teaches our children from an impressionable age that prejudicial language is godly and Christian. That language seeps into our young Christian minds and molds our young thoughts. As we grow—hopefully into mature Christians—that thinking becomes a theology—our thoughts about God. And we stand firm by our theology, don’t we?

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If those thoughts about who are our neighbors are not formed correctly in childhood, then parts of our theology and our words about Jesus Christ are warped. It is that distortion and warped portion being displayed in the worst ways in American Christianity.

This simple children’s song has been a subtle but early developmental player in the issue we have in the American Church.

The Declaration of Independence

The author points to Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence. Within the article, he uses the famous sentence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

I love that sentence. If only it were true, then and now.

Jefferson reveals in a later sentence his understanding of who he considered equal and endowed by their Creator with rights.

In his list of grievances against King George III of Great Britain, Jefferson wrote: “He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”

Jefferson—a “founding father” of the United States—viewed the Indigenous of this land as domestic insurrectionists and savages. They were seen and treated as the enemy for the defending their land, or what Jefferson called “our frontiers.”

For Jim Lemons to use these two examples to talk about the image of God is disappointing but classic, and it is this type of sincere—or perhaps strategic—ignorance that should be challenged.

A response to Lemons’ article soon followed—by the author’s colleague, no less. I applaud when colleagues can discuss and disagree. However, Jared Brandt also missed the above points in his response, though he wrote something important.

“As we stress the importance of the doctrine of imago Dei, we also must apologize for the way our predecessors have used this doctrine in service of hate and bigotry,” Brandt wrote. “We must repudiate these horrific ideas, strive to celebrate diversity within the human family and love our fellow human beings well.”


Mariah Humphries is a Mvskoke Native American and lives in Waco with her family. Her husband is senior pastor at Park Lake Drive Baptist Church. She holds a master’s degree from Baylor University’s Truett Theological Seminary and is a member of the Baptist Standard board of directors. The views expressed are those solely of the author.

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