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.
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, 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)
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 same 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 also all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory and can all only be redeemed through Christ.
Jesus hated racism
When Jesus was confronted with a (Gentile) Roman centurion, who demonstrated great faith, 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.
“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.
Racism is sin
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.
How should these truths impact our lives?
We should be actively working towards friendship with people of different cultures, ethnic groups and economic statuses. 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.
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.
I recommend John Piper’s book, Bloodlines. Available as a free download.