A Biblical View on Race
God’s history in Genesis makes it understandable that all races and ethnicities are descendants of Adam and Eve1, and then Noah2 and as such are equally created in the image of God to glorify Him on the earth. Because of that reality, people from every race and ethnicity are ultimately extended family and are meant to live in peace and harmony with one another as such.3 It was only God’s gracious judgment of mankind’s sin at the Tower of Babel that led to the segregation of different people from Cain to Lamech, and then ultimately to the scattering of people groups all over the world.4 (For more on how God’s judgment at Babel was “gracious” see our position paper on Nationalism here).
Even in the midst of God’s gracious judgment to scatter and separate different people groups on the Earth, His sovereign plan to display the beauty of unity in diversity by His grace was set in motion. We see this in His immediate desire to choose a people for Himself, Israel, who would begin to reconcile the world to Himself and “welcome the foreigner among you.”5This issue can be confusing to us when we read in the Old Testament God commanding Israel at times not to inter-marry with other people groups or make peace with them as a nation. But the heart of those commands was about religious syncretism, not race or ethnicity since no other nation had a relationship with God like Israel did.6 In fact, Jesus’ lineage is replete with marriages between Jews and people who had converted to worship the One true God from different ethnicities and backgrounds in the Old Testament.7
However, because Judaism as a formal religion rejected her true Messiah and her calling to preach the Gospel to all the nations of the world, God has called His church, full of Gospel believing Jews and Gentiles, to that ministry together. As Jesus was intentional about reconciling the human race to God, we are called to be intentional about joining Him in that ministry of reconciling others to God and each other.8
Ephesians 2:14-22: “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him, you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”
We are to be the first fruits of God through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, healing the segregation of the Tower of Babel. We must strive to be a picture of the glory of God described in Revelation 5 when people from every tribe, language, and nation would reign together as a family on the earth forever.9 Therefore, Christians personally and, as an extension, churches collectively are to stand up against racism. We must strive to reconcile the segregation of the Tower of Babel in intentional and sacrificial ways that reflects the intentionality and sacrifice of Jesus to reconcile humanity to God.
This belief in how the Gospel applies to race should impact the way that all Christians look at issues of immigration, systemic racism, anti-Semitism and many others that we see surfacing around us every day. For more discussion on some of these current issues, look at the applications below.
Immigration has been an issue of concern in the United States and countries around the world for hundreds of years. It relates to economic questions and jobs, national security, and general worries about preserving national culture and heritage. It is an issue with many nuances and complexities relating to our large-scale national policy, but it also has significance for us as Christ followers, both individually and as a church body. God’s desire to draw all of creation to Himself can be seen from the fall in Genesis10 to the imagery in Revelations11 , so as we consider the implications of immigration in our world it is important to remember this context and reflect on key scriptural principles.
Leviticus 19:34: “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.”
Revelation 7:9: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.”
- We are all made in God’s image and are valuable in His sight.
The diversity of humanity is reflective of God’s creativity and His desire to create a multiethnic family. As image bearers, we all have inherent worth and dignity, and His desire from the beginning has been to reconcile a people to Himself through Jesus Christ. 12
- We should all see ourselves as citizens of heaven first and foremost and as immigrants and exiles in a foreign land.
The word sometimes describing believers in scripture is parepidemos – one who comes from a foreign country to reside by the natives. We are reminded that as believers we are ultimately part of God’s kingdom, and we spend our time on earth as exiles or immigrants. 13
- Jesus is our role model for engaging foreigners
Jesus sets an example for us in the way that he engaged people of non-Jewish cultures. Not only did he reach out to foreigners, but he also did so in an intentional way, once again reflecting God’s desire that all people might know Him and follow Him.14
- We are all subject to the authority of our government
We live in a nation of law and order, and we must respect the laws relating to immigration. The laws of our country should protect current citizens, as well as fair treatment for immigrants.15 This is an area in the past where the United States has had failings, as immigration laws have been inconsistently applied, often for the gain of corporations and wealthy individuals.)
Common Cultural Concerns Surrounding Immigration
While immigration and issues relating to cultural mixing have been sources of conflict and controversy throughout human history, they have become increasingly significant as transportation, technology and our global economy have developed. Often, the most significant barriers for believers reaching out to immigrants are our tendency to focus on ourselves and the fear of the unknown. We need to be reminded that we should not be afraid of connecting with those different from ourselves because ultimately it will mature our understanding of the world around, open up opportunities for us to serve those in need, and help build bridges of peace to share the good news of Jesus Christ. 16
As Christ followers, we must apply scriptural principles as we encounter these concerns and fears.
- Influences from Other Cultures
Concern: Some have concerns or fears regarding the different worldviews of those desiring to immigrate to our country, especially from countries that do not have a strong Christian tradition. These concerns stir up fears that an influx of immigrants may dilute the “Christian Values” of our culture.
Response: Our faith is in Christ alone, not in an idealized view of our country being a “Christian” nation. If we see ourselves as Christ followers first, we should welcome diversity and see it as an opportunity to learn about others and share God’s love.17
- Extreme Views that Threaten our Security
Concern: Some are concerned and fear Islamic traditions because some organizations have taken radicalized views as justification for terrorist acts, especially against Christians and Jews.
Response: The threat of terrorism is real, and our government has a responsibility to protect us as citizens with immigration policies and processes to prevent those seeking to perpetrate attacks on our country from entering. As we make an effort to advocate and hold our leaders accountable, we should not do so from a position of fear, hatred, or desire for revenge for past attacks. Our ultimate desire should be that all come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and rest that God is our ultimate protector and comforter.18
- Negative Impact on our Economy
Concern: Some are concerned that immigrants coming into our country may take away jobs and opportunities from our citizens. There are also fears that immigrants may place a strain on social services that our government provides.
Response: This is no different than a multitude of other concerns about our financial security. We need to trust in the Lord as our ultimate provider19 and as the body of Christ position ourselves to help serve those in need.20 Many scriptures mention the sojourner in the same list as the widow and orphan, so as we seek to love our neighbor as ourselves we should put the needs of others above our own and engage the immigrant community.21
- Fear of Compromising Our System of Law and Order
Concern: Some are concerned about immigrants who may be in our country illegally and are unsure of how to engage them.
Response: It is not appropriate or the responsibility of Christians or the church to provide sanctuary or to shield those who are in our country illegally from the government, but legal status should not be a condition of our engagement with the immigrant community, especially for those in need. We are called to respect the governing authorities and the laws of our country,22, but as we engage immigrants and those who are in need in our community, we should not seek to do so only if they are here legally. At the same time, if we find that someone does not have legal status, we should help them attain legal status if that is their desire and should advocate for and seek to protect illegal immigrants who are being unjustly victimized and persecuted (by employers, housing, etc.).
- Unfair suspicion and fears of the Immigrant
Concern: Those who have legal status as residents or visiting our country are looked at with suspicion and fear because of past attacks and tensions across the world. Response: Jesus answered that next to loving God, loving our neighbor is the greatest commandment.23 This coupled with numerous commands to love and provide for strangers and the commands to treat foreigners as natives and love him as yourself,24gives us a picture of how we should approach anyone who is an immigrant or visitor to our country. Even in the regards to those who have harmed us, we are told to love them and pray for them.25 Those who are mistreated or with suspicion are likewise called to rise above their circumstances. We are not to harbor bitterness or resentment but are invited to a life of forgiveness and reconciliation.26
- Our immigration process is too hard to navigate
Concern: The process to become an American Citizen or gain legal status is too hard to navigate and takes much too long.
Response: In the face of adversity and trials, we are called to persevere. Difficult processes are not a reason to ignore the law or find ways around them. Whether seeking legal status or in a place to advocate for those who are, we can work to change laws and policies that are burdensome and educate ourselves to effectively navigate the processes within the law and help others to do the same.
We should see immigrants in our communities as a missional opportunity.
Those who live as immigrants in our communities face many challenges, including cultural differences, language barriers, prejudices, and economic limitations. Both individually and as the church, we should view immigrants in our communities as an opportunity to show love, hospitality and community, and ultimately to share the gospel. Following Christ’s example, not only should we reach out as we encounter immigrants in our daily lives, but we should also intentionally pursue relationships and be open to opportunities to engage immigrants in our community and desire for God to work in their hearts to draw them into His kingdom.
Systemic Racism and Individual Responsibility
One of the debates that sits at the heart of all of the racial tension that we see and feel in America and around the world is the issue of Systemic Racism. Systemic racism refers to idea that there is inherent racism in a given “system,” whether that system is political, economic, religious, or anything else. Do police stop, search, and arrest certain races of people at a biased rate compared to other races? Do employers give preferential treatment to certain races of people in hiring, firing, or promoting their employees? Do juries convict and give longer sentences to certain races compared to others? Is America systemically “unfair” toward minority cultures and self-protective of majority culture, what is known today as “white privilege”?
This question stirs up lots of emotion, therefore many institutions and people tend to avoid it altogether. After all, to admit that there is inherent bias in any system means you are admitting that some aspects of life may be “easier” for some races than others. As a result, some may feel this diminishes the accomplishments of majority culture and alleviate the personal responsibility of minority culture for their individual actions. At the same time to deny that there is inherent bias in any system means that we are denying the unjust reality that so many people of minority culture experience every day. As Christians, we do not need to fear conversations like these. The Gospel gives us the perfect framework to wrestle with these tensions and paradoxes that exist around us every day.
- When sin entered the world, prejudice and racism entered the world. Pride is at the heart of satan’s rejection of God before the world was made.27 And pride is at the heart of Adam and Eve’s rejection of God in the garden.28 Therefore, it should be no surprise that we see one of the natural forms of pride in racism prevalent throughout the Biblical telling of history and beyond.29 It is a natural expression of our rejection that we are all equally who God says we are from the beginning. Racism is real.
- Because every human is born sinful, every human struggles with the sin of prejudice that can lead to racism. In this conversation, words can be very inflammatory. Some use the word “racism” or “racist” to define any thought or action that is not perfectly unbiased. Others would make a distinction between prejudice and racism. For our statement, we will use both prejudice and racism as two different ideas. We will define prejudice as any preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience. And we would say that everyone struggles with some degree of prejudice toward other races, no matter how hard they try to fight against it in their own spirit. We will define racism as any prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior. And although many of us may struggle with true racist thoughts and actions more than we may realize, based on these definitions, we would say that everyone struggles with prejudice, but not everyone may take their prejudice to a truly racist thought or action in their sin. That being said, even though every person does not struggle with prejudice or racism to the same degree or in the same way, the idea that any person, except Jesus Christ, is perfectly unbiased toward every race is simply not biblical.30 We are all tempted to protect and exalt ourselves by protecting and exalting our given race. The good news of the Gospel, however, is that this reality doesn’t mean that we have to give into that temptation. By the power of the Holy Spirit who indwells those who believe in Jesus Christ, we can and should try to yield to His power in us to crucify our temptation toward both racism and the prejudice thoughts and actions that precede it.31 But not deny that it is a universal temptation that we need to fight against every day, and that none of us are perfect in our fight against it.
- Because every system is made up of sinful people, there must be inherent sin in every system, including the sin of prejudice and racism. The only perfect system is a system created by God and un-affected by sin. On the earth, that system will only exist when He returns and creates a new heavens and new earth and makes all things right once again.32 When Adam and Even sinned, the earth and all the people who would ever be in it, except for Jesus, fundamentally “broke.” And therefore, everything created by humanity, including broader systems, is broken.33 This does not mean that we cannot create systems and institutions based on the highest Biblical principles of justice and fairness, but as soon as a human being tries to lead, manage, or serve that system, their inherent sinfulness affects those principles. Even our best systems will be affected by prejudice and racism, and that is appropriate to admit.
- Although sinful systems can tempt people to sin because of the unfairness they feel, each person is responsible for the choices they make within even a flawed system.Satan can tempt mankind to sin, but he does not cause anyone sin. Trials can tempt mankind to sin, but they do not cause anyone to sin. Even other people’s sinful actions can tempt us to sin, but they do not cause us to sin. All of these temptations, merely give us opportunities to do what our own desires want to do.34 No matter how unfair any system truly is, we are all called to live within it in a responsible way.35 This does not mean we cannot protest it. This does not mean we should not strive to change it.36 But it also does not mean we can break its laws or rules without accepting responsibility for those actions. We live in a fallen, broken world and yet we will all have to answer for our individual sins to God.37 Praise God that Jesus Christ has forgiven us for our sins so that we are innocent in His court for all eternity!38
- Every Christian should care about the inherent unfairness in our systems and strive to make them fairer, not just those from minority culture. It is not only the responsibility of those who are negatively affected by any given system to fight for change, but it is the responsibility of those who benefit from it as well.39 Acknowledging that systems are inherently biased is not enough. Those from minority culture should feel those from majority culture using the unfair privilege they have in the system to fight alongside them to bring about change, even to the seeming “detriment” of majority culture’s current advantages. In the Kingdom of God, no one race will be exalted over another. There will be Jesus, and then there will be the rest of us. The world should see us striving for that reality, even if in a broken way, now.
Black Lives Matter / Blue Lives Matter / All Lives Matter
Although the statements written above are fairly timeless in their expression of Systemic Racism, we do want to address a current expression in our culture that may change over time. Applying the principles above, what would we say about the current relationship between civil authorities and certain minority cultures who feel uniquely mistreated? We could write a book on this topic, but in a few brief statements, we want to encourage all of us to wrestle well with these ideas.
- Police have a very difficult job keeping the peace in a sinful world. As ministers of justice on the earth under the sovereign hand of God, they should be respected and obeyed within the confines of the law.40 Every time a police officer has to use force to subdue someone engaged in criminal behavior it is not always unfair, no matter what race the perpetrator may be. And although every police officer will struggle with their own inherent biases, they are not all unfair in how they apply the law.
- In light of the above, the statistics, testimonies, and video footage cannot deny that there are police officers who are sinful in their application of the law. At times, officers have treated those of minority culture with unfair bias, suspicion, harassment and violence. To pretend that the current arrest rates, conviction rates, and prison sentences are perfectly just is to believe that some races are exponentially more “law- breaking” than others and some races are exponentially more “law-abiding” than others. That is not Biblical. Blacks and other minorities are targeted in unfair ways at times by some authorities and we should all care about fighting against those injustices.
- Finally, just because minority culture cries out for justice, that does not mean there are no other kinds of injustices that affect everyone, even majority culture. We all live in a fallen, broken world and we all have experienced injustice at times in our lives. But there have been especially hurtful injustice in our country’s history between whites and blacks. Slavery, Jim Crow laws, segregation, and the resulting generation poverty experience in black communities, are realities that whites cannot minimize or explain away. In general, those in power in our country do what they can to stay in power, and those considered unequal have had to fight an uphill battle to gain the equal rights that our constitution claimed were there from the beginning. This is true of more than blacks, but we should not diminish blacks’ desire for justice by acting like we are all fighting for justice ourselves in the same way. Of course, all lives matter equally, but it is appropriate to acknowledge when one group is experiencing injustice without having to defend your own injustices, or pretend they are the same.
There have been grave racial injustices in the past, we continue to struggle with prejudice and racism today, and this struggle will not end until Christ comes again, but there is hope. As believers, the Gospel gives us the ability and the humility to admit that we are sinners, and how we are sinners.41 Because sin is in the world, prejudice and racism is in the world, and we all struggle with different aspects of these sinful tendencies. We should not be afraid to admit this reality or get offended when someone suggests it to us or anyone else. Jesus did not teach His disciples to argue over what was fair, but to take the log out of their own eye so they could see clearly to take the speck out of their brother’s eye.42 One of the biggest reasons we stay stuck in our prejudice and racism is un-forgiveness with each other racially. We are too afraid to admit that it is real and that we all struggle with it. We are afraid to ask for forgiveness from each other, afraid to give away power to the other race by admitting our own guilt. And yet Jesus teaches that this is the only path to peace and forgiveness between us and God, and between us and each other. It takes faith to believe that if we admit our sin to God, and ask for forgiveness in Jesus’ name, that He will forgive us, accept us, and heal our hearts by His grace. In the same way, it takes faith to believe that if we admit our sin of prejudice and racism to those of other races, God will use that humility to soften and not harden the hearts of those around us toward forgiveness and unity. The Gospel is the hope of the world to reconcile us to God, and it is the hope of the world to reconcile us to one another.43
Because we believe this, Fellowship Bible Church will continue to strive to diversify our body, staff, and elders through building in depth personal relationships across racial lines. We recognize that isolation fosters ignorance of one another’s true perspectives and Christ-centered relationships can foster understanding and change. We do see color. Because God made and sees color. Diversity is beautiful and when we are unified in equality under the love of God the picture to the world is much more beautiful because of the diversity He has made. We will also continue to partner with churches from different racial backgrounds, desiring to understand God more fully through others’ perspectives and traditions. Finally, we will be intentional about the diversity of the people who we love on as a church in our communities, striving to help right the wrongs of a painful national past as we live out the love of Jesus Christ together.
1 Genesis 1:26-31; 2:7-25; 2 Genesis 7:21-24; 9:1;3 Genesis 9:18-19; 4 Genesis 11:1-9; 5 Genesis 12:1-3; Lev. 19:34; 61 Kings 11:1-2; 7 Matthew 1:1-16; 8 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; 9 Revelation 5:8-10; 10Genesis 3:15; 11 Revelation 7:9; 12 Genesis 1:27; 13 Philippians 3:20-21; 1 Chronicles 29:15, 1 Peter 1:1, 2 Corinthians 5:20; 14 John 4:7,9; 15 Romans 13:1-2; 16 Philippians 2:3, 4:6-7; 17 Romans 12:16; 18 Psalm 71:3; 19 Matthew 6:27-32; 20 Matthew 25:35-40; 21 Deuteronomy 10:18-19, Zechariah 7:10, Ezekiel 22:7; 22 Romans 13:1-7; 23 Matthew 22:39; 24 Leviticus 19:34, 1 Chronicles 29:15, Matthew 25:35-36; 25 Luke 6:27, Romans 12:20, Matthew 5:20; 26 James 1:2-4; 27 Isaiah 14:12-14; Ezekiel 28:14-18; 28 Genesis 3:1-6; 29 Genesis 9:24-27; Genesis 12:11-12; Genesis 16:11-12; Genesis 21:22-24; Genesis 24:13-31; 30 Mark 10:18; 31 Ephesians 2:11-22 connected to Ephesians 3:14-21; 32 Revelation 21:1-22:5; 33 Genesis 3:14-19; Genesis 6:11-12; Romans 8:19-22; 34 James 1:13-15; James 4:1; 35 Romans 12:13-13:7; 36 Psalm 10:16-18; Amos 4:1-3; 37 Romans 6:23; 38 Ephesians 2:1-10; 39 Genesis 4:9; Psalm 10:16-18; Amos 4:1-3; 40 Romans 12:13-13:7; 41 James 5:16; 1 John 1:9; 42 Matthew 7:1-5; 43 2 Corinthians 5:17-21