In current conversations about racism among Christians, I see many theological, historical, political, and philosophical disagreements. All these are good and necessary topics of discussion, but I want to take another angle.

We should see the fight against racism as spiritual warfare.

In his preface to The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis wrote:

There are two equal and opposite errors into which [we] can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors.

When discussing racism, we must not forget Satan.

Two Kingdoms

The Bible tells us God rules over all his creation, but as a result of the fall he gave this world over to Satan for a time (John 14:30). Becoming a Christian, therefore, is a change in allegiance. God “has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13–14). As believers we’re no longer under the Devil’s thumb; we follow Christ. Theologians sometimes call the church on earth “the church militant” because we’re engaged in spiritual warfare. Believers are soldiers in the fight against Satan and his evil, including racism (Eph. 6:11).

Believers are soldiers in the fight against Satan and his evil, including racism.

Satan’s Tactics

If the church is to combat the Devil, we must know how he operates. Let’s consider his greatest “success,” the crucifixion of the Son of God. Satan didn’t use a lone assassin. He used a corrupt religious and political system. When Jesus was arrested, the Jewish religious leaders were all there. Hence Jesus said, “When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53). Jesus wasn’t simply commenting on the fact that he was arrested at night. He was saying that these unjust rulers and Satan himself were having a moment of power. God allowed him to be arrested, to be taken by the power of darkness.

How does the power of darkness operate? Jesus was brought into a religious court, where he was falsely accused and found guilty. He didn’t find justice in a Roman court either. Though Pilate saw Jesus is innocent, he sentenced him to death anyway. Religious and political justice systems failed, and Satan’s power, permitted by God, was behind it all.

Christ’s arrest, trial, and crucifixion—one grand miscarriage of public justice—show us how the “ruler of this world” manifests his kingdom through broken and unjust institutions.

God’s Response to Evil

But as the Jewish and Roman leaders perpetuated injustice on a human level, God upheld his perfect justice. Ironically, Satan’s greatest victory sealed his defeat. The cross secured both our salvation and Satan’s doom:

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Col. 2:13–15)

Through the cross we see God’s incredible ability to bring blessing out of wickedness. Not only did he deal with our sin, but in the same moment he vanquished Satan and his forces.

Racism and Spiritual Warfare

Though Satan lost the war the moment Christ was crucified, the battle rages on. As Paul says, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).

The battle against racism isn’t merely a fight against any individual, government, system, or law; it’s a fight that confronts Satan and his demonic forces. Satan attacks individuals (see Luke 22:31) and systems. He corrupts people and works through the unjust laws, practices, and traditions they create. He does this both through the governments of this world and also through religious institutions that prize culture and tradition above the truth of God’s Word.

We see this propensity clearly in American history. Consider slave-owning preachers or Jim Crow laws. It’s imperative to acknowledge the spiritual reality behind these evils—and that these spiritual forces aren’t only relics of the past. There’s no doubt social, political, and legal progress has been made regarding racism, even enough that we might be tempted to think we’ve moved past it.

Nothing would delight the Devil more than for Christians to believe that racism in America, and particularly in the church, has been dealt with.

Nothing would delight the Devil more than for Christians to believe that racism in America, and particularly in the church, has been dealt with.

If we believe the task of racial reconciliation is over, while divisions that slavery and segregation created between white and black churches remain, we fail to see Satan’s hand still at work. The church is meant to be a diverse body of people called by God from every tribe, tongue, and nation to be one in Christ. Yet today’s church remains largely divided along ethnic lines. However we seek to bridge this divide, we must not forget that it’s a fundamentally spiritual battle.

Armor of God

In the battle against racism, we aren’t left defenseless. We have the armor of God: truth, righteousness, faith, salvation, and readiness given by the gospel of peace (Eph. 6:10–18). In addition to the armor, God equips us with two weapons: God’s Word and prayer. 

We must pray against racism. We must pray for justice and peace, for righteousness and unity. Do we dare pray that God would bring good out of the evil in our nation’s history? If God has blessed the nations through the blood-drenched cross, can we have confidence to pray he also would somehow bring good out of the evil of slavery or Jim Crow? If God has reconciled sinners to himself through the murder of an innocent man, how much more can he bring reconciliation and unity to his church today?