On the night of June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof, a 21 year old white male, opened fire in a historic black church, in Charleston, South Carolina, killing 9 people, including the pastor, during a prayer meeting. Dylann Roof is a racist and his aim was to kill black people and start a race war.
Years ago in South Africa, you were classified according to the colour of your skin and the coarseness of your hair. You were told where you could and couldn’t live. You were told which bus you could and couldn’t ride. You we told who you could and couldn’t marry. Racism is part of our history. South Africa, the USA and many other countries have struggled and continue to struggle with racism.
A good definition of racism is: an explicit or implicit belief or practice that distinguishes or values one race over other races.
A racist believes that their race, whatever it may be, is superior to other races.
All ethnic groups have one ancestor and all humans are created in the image of God
According to the Bible, using the word “race” is wrong, because there is only one race and that is the human race. Within the human race there are different languages, culture and ethnic groups, but we are all members of the one human race. In Genesis 1-2 God created Adam and Eve and told them to multiply and fill the entire earth. We are all created by God, in God’s image, and all descendants of Adam.
By the time we get to the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11, instead of filling the entire earth, people have settled in one place and want to make a name for themselves – independently from God. God confused their languages and people scatter – and fill the earth.
God made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth. (Acts 17:26)
The Bible claims an ethnically diverse population with much biological potential for variation. As family groups were isolated by language barriers, environmental factors allowed particular qualities already present to be expressed more often and strengthened. The differences in genetics between the various ethnic groups are extremely small. The most noticeable difference is skin colour, but the truth is that we are all the same colour; some people just have a more colour than others. Skin shade is due to the amount of melanin in the skin. Dividing up people because of their skin colour is like dividing up people because of the amount of earwax or eye colour; it’s arbitrary.
God plans to have people from every tribe, language and ethnic group in heaven (Revelation 5:9). Being part of a particular tribe, culture or ethnic group is a good thing – we should celebrate our different cultures. But we must never forget that we are all created in the image of God.
Evolutionary theory says that the “races” evolved separate from one another and are in different places on the evolutionary scale. We reject that notion as false and leading headlong to racism. We all have one common ancestor; we are all distant cousins. We all also have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. All can only be redeemed through Christ.
Racism is a sin that Jesus condemned
Jesus was confronted with a Gentile, Roman centurion who demonstrated great faith in Jesus. Jesus said to him:
“Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.” (Matthew 5:10)
Jewish people back then, especially the Jewish religious leaders, prided themselves in their ethnicity. They saw themselves as superior to the Gentiles and having a privileged position with God – because of their ethnicity.
“I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 5:11-12)
Jesus said that the God’s kingdom is open to everyone, regardless of ethnicity, culture or language. One ethnic group thinking they are superior or have greater access to God is a sin against God and will lead to separation from God.
- In the story of the Good Samaritan, the foreigner was the hero of the story.
- In the healing of the 10 lepers, only one returned to thank Jesus, and he was a foreigner.
- Jesus heals a Syro-Phoenician’s daughter, present-day Gaza Strip.
- The wise men come from the East – probably Saudi Arabia.
- When Jesus drove the money-changers out of the temple he said the temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations
- Jesus said in the Great Commission: “Go and make disciples of all nations”
- “There is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” (Colossians 3:11)
Being racist is a sin and is not compatible with Christianity. We need to be, especially here in South Africa, constantly repenting of racism. Racism is one of the strategies Satan uses to divide people, even in the church.
Christians are especially called to love people of other ethnic groups
With the coming of Jesus into the world there is a radically new way of defining the people of God. In the Old Testament, Israel was called to be God’s people and were meant to be a blessing to people of all the nations. Since Jesus, the Bible says that God’s people are those from all the nations that put their faith in Jesus. In Jesus we are reconciled to God and our sin is forgiven. Not only are we reconciled to God, but we are also reconciled to other people. We are called to love all people, even those who hate us. We are especially called to love the family of God – whatever ethnic group they may be from. one of the chief marks of a Christian is that you start loving other Christians and non-Christians, especially those you disliked in the past.
The Bible forbids intermarriage between believers and unbelievers, but never between different ethnic groups
The Bible has always been for cross-cultural marriage, but never for cross-religious marriage. In 1 Corinthians 7:39, the Apostle Paul gave some good advice to Christians widows:
A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.
The principle is true for all Christians planning to get married. They are to marry “in the Lord” i.e. another Christian. However, the Bible is very much for cross-cultural marriage:
Moses married a black, African, Cushite woman according to Numbers 12:1-10. Cush was the region south of Egypt and its people were known for the colour of their skin. God did not get angry with Moses, but with those who criticised Moses.
The book of Ruth tells us that Boaz married Ruth who was from the tribe of Moab. Ruth was not an Israelite, but she had put her faith in the God of Israel. The Bible says that believers can marry anyone of any cultural background – as long as they are believers. Intercultural marriage should be celebrated as it pictures how different people from different backgrounds are united to Christ and to each other.
How should these truths impact our lives?
We should be actively working towards personal friendship with people for different cultures, ethnic groups and economic circles. When the white CEO is good friends with black cleaner and the black CEO is good friends with the white cleaner it is a huge demonstration of the power of the gospel.
We should be challenging any kind of prejudice we see in laws and policies (structural racism). We need to show that we believe that all people are created with dignity and respect in the image of God.
Through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 3:6)
The context of this verse is of Jews and Gentiles being reconciled to Christ and to each other. The church should be a small picture of heaven: where people from different tribes, languages and ethnic groups come together in love and unity. When the church functions as it should we are a demonstration to our society and to the heavenly powers of the power of the reconciling love of God.
The solution then for those who are tempted towards racism is to fall in love again with the gospel. The gospel that says, “God so loved the world that he gave…”
I recommend John Piper’s book, Bloodlines. Available as a free download.