Where there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bondman, freeman; but Christ is all, and in all (Colossians 3:11).
One of the saddest parts of the story of America involves the history of relations among people of different races and ethnicities. It is a sad “heritage” that we have inherited: for hundreds of years, people were judged as inferior or unworthy of full human rights because of the color of their skin or because of their ethnicity. Even though the nation no longer actively discriminates through legislation, and we have a President of mixed racial ancestry, plenty of racial and ethnic tension still exists.
While this could be expected from those in the world, sadly, it also existed among those who claimed to serve Jesus Christ. Even though the Bible has always taught that Christians should not be respecters of person just as God is not a respecter of persons (cf. Romans 2:11), the church also has a sad history of racism and prejudice. It is good for us to recognize this and work to move forward, confessing and declaring that everyone is welcome to repent of their sins and to join the Body of Christ, and that believers should not be prejudiced against anyone on the basis of their race, ethnicity, or class (Ephesians 2:1-18, Galatians 3:28).
Let us first work to “clear the air” and demonstrate the error of many terrible arguments that were made in the past. For generations it was accepted as “common sense” that different races had reached different levels of development, and that the “white race” had developed better than all others, and it was believed that other races, especially the “black race,” were inferior and not worthy of equal rights with “whites.” Many believed that the “mark” that God gave to Cain in Genesis 4:15 was black skin, and thus it was accepted that black people were “cursed.” Others appealed to Noah’s cursing of Ham’s descendants in Genesis 9:20-25 and declared the same regarding black people. Segregation was encouraged and justified by appealing to Genesis 1:24-25 and the principle of “every creature” propagating with its “own kind”: thus, whites should propagate with whites and blacks with blacks.
These arguments were entirely wrong and based in misinterpretations and distortions of what the Bible taught. The nature of the “mark of Cain” is never revealed, and since we have no reason to believe that any of Cain’s descendants survived the Flood, the issue is really moot. The “curse of Ham” was limited in Genesis 9:25 to one descendant, Canaan, describing why it would be that Israel (the descendant of Shem) would dispossess Canaan. Furthermore, “according to its kind” refers to within a species, and as Paul confesses and modern science confirms, racial and ethnic differences do not lead to different species:
“And [God] made of one every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed seasons, and the bounds of their habitation” (Acts 17:26).
Despite the racism and prejudice of the past, in the new covenant, God has always affirmed the equality of all men and women before Him (Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11). We are all “of one,” that is, Adam. Therefore, we want to make it known that there is no Biblical justification for racism or prejudice. All human beings, regardless of race, ethnicity, language, class, or any other distinction, are all descendants of Adam, of the same species, and have the same opportunity to repent of sin and become servants of God (Ephesians 2:11-18)!
Therefore, while we must recognize that there are differences among people on account of race, class, ethnicity, language, and the like, such differences are not to justify segregation or exclusion; instead, they are to strengthen and encourage. We can all be part of the Body of Christ, and we can all bring different strengths and weaknesses, and we can all be made better people because of the strengths of others (1 Corinthians 12:12-28).
God actively seeks for those in His church to break down barriers like racism and prejudice. Paul declares in Ephesians 2:11-18 that God killed the hostility between Jew and Gentile through the death of Christ on the cross. The mystery of the Christ in Ephesians 3:4-6 is that Gentiles are to be fellow-heirs of life. This represents, at least in part, the “manifold wisdom” of God manifested in the church, and that “manifold wisdom” was according to God’s “eternal purpose” realized in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 3:10-11). Therefore, God’s wisdom is demonstrated when people who otherwise would not work together come together in Christ! The Bible speaks clearly about the hostility felt between Jews and Gentiles (cf. Acts 11:1-3, etc.) and the prejudice that existed among them. God intended to break this wall of prejudice down, and that He did, and for that we must be eternally grateful, for the majority of us are Gentile by heritage! If God exhibited the racism and/or prejudice that is so prevalent even to this day, what would have been our eternal fate? As God desired for Christians to break down the walls of prejudice between Jews and Gentiles in the first century, so God desires for Christians to break down walls of prejudice in their own lives among people of different ethnicities and classes today.
Let us therefore work to remove all prejudice from among us. Let us accept of people and families of different races from our own. Let us not condemn people who marry someone of another race or ethnicity. Let us not fall into the trap of stereotyping people of other races and ethnicities on the basis of their race or ethnicity. There are people of every race and ethnicity that are quite sinful; there are people of every race and ethnicity that seek to do what is right and honor God. Let us always remember that we are all of the same blood (Acts 17:26), and that if God exhibited racism and prejudice, we would be the ones excluded, shut off from salvation, and waiting condemnation (cf. Romans 6:23). Let us instead welcome and honor all those who turn from their sin toward Jesus Christ, and work together to demonstrate God’s manifold wisdom to a sin-sick and dying world!
Ethan R. Longhenry