What does the Bible say about racism?

While there is no ethnicity that can claim to be the exclusive recipients of racism, blacks/Africans are the recipients of racial injustice, prejudice, and discrimination more than any other ethnic group in most parts of the world. In the USA in recent years, there have been numerous high-profile examples of black men being treated unjustly, to say the very least, by police officers. It is distressing, shocking, and for some, rage-inducing, to see a black man die due to the treatment he received when a person of any other ethnicity, under the same circumstances, likely would have essentially received a slap on the wrist.

Before I dive into what the Bible says about racism, let me give a few friendly reminders:

(1) We should never be quick to judge or condemn. We should never assume intentionally malicious actions. This is relevant whether we are prone to defend the police officer or the black man involved. “Innocent until proven guilty” is a hallmark of our justice system. We should not automatically assume the black man is guilty, nor automatically assume the police officer is guilty. James 1:19 instructs us, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” Jesus strongly rebukes hypocritical judging in Matthew 7:1-5. How many times have we all prejudged a situation only to come to a different conclusion once all the facts are available?

(2) Only God knows the heart (Proverbs 21:2; 1 Samuel 16:7; Jeremiah 17:10). The “outward appearance” of something may seem clear, but we have no knowledge of what is going on in a person’s heart. What happened before the video recording started? What happened earlier in the day? What happened earlier in a person’s life? While these questions absolutely do not excuse evil actions, they should cause us to pause before coming to conclusions about the reasons and motives behind a person’s actions.

(3) Just as it is wrong to judge a person solely on the color of his/her skin, so it is also wrong to judge an entire career field based on the evil actions of a few of its members. There are approximately 800,000 police officers in the USA. The vast majority of them strive to treat people fairly and justly, regardless of race. To say that all police officers are racists, or at least racially biased, due to the actions of a few police officers is just as wrong as a police officer treating a black man poorly due to having difficulties with black men in the past. Again, we cannot automatically assume anything about the individual police officers or black men involved in a given situation. Nor can we automatically apply whatever was true in that situation to every other situation. Just because one black man committed a crime does not mean all black men are criminals. Just because one police officer abused his power does not mean all police officers do so.

Clearly our society needs healing, and specific solutions might come in a variety of ways. But what I would like to discuss here is the broader issue of racism in a bit more of a conceptual sense. Why does humanity even have this problem? For each of us as individuals, what is the solution?

What does the Bible say about racism?

Racism has been a problem throughout human history. Why? The answer is simple—sin. We harbor evil thoughts about other people and commit evil acts against other people because of sin (Romans 3:10-23). Sin appears to make us innately suspicious of people who look differently from us. Racism is clearly, biblically speaking, evil (Ephesians 2:14; James 2:8). We should never judge an entire ethnicity based on the evil actions of one member of that ethnicity, or many members of a particular ethnicity for that matter. Martin Luther King's dream was of a nation where people are not “judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Only through the transformative power of salvation in Jesus Christ can racism be overcome (2 Corinthians 5:17). Only through seeing all other people as being created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26) can we rid ourselves of racial prejudices. For some of us, that might begin by first acknowledging that racism exists and that we likely have prejudices of which we are unaware. For others of us, that might begin by acknowledging that not everything is about race. People treat one another differently for a variety of reasons, whether we are consciously aware of it or not. We all need to be willing to listen to one another. If we do not adequately understand the problem, we can do nothing to resolve it. As we each individually seek to set our prejudicial tendencies aside and to instead see people as God does, we can become part of the solution.

As said above, the only lasting solution is the power and work of God. When we are secure in our identity in Christ, resting fully in His forgiveness and His love, we are less likely to be defensive over the issue of racism. It comes as no surprise to us that human hearts, including our own, harbor sin. It also comes as no surprise that God transforms people and brings healing. It is only with God’s help that we can examine our hearts, listen to others in order to understand their perspective, and work together toward unity. While racism can be expressed systemically, it is ultimately a matter of the hearts of people. So, if we want to live in a society with less racism, we need to view others as God views them. More than that, we need to love them as He has called us to. And to do so, we need the redemption of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.

What is the end of the matter? Perpetuators of racism, you need to repent. “Turn now, each of you, from your evil ways and your evil practices” (Jeremiah 25:5). Victims of racism, as hard as it may seem, you need to forgive. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). All of us would do well to see each other as people loved by God, for whom Christ died, and whom we are called to love. No matter the color of our skin, we are all part of the human race.

We can celebrate our unique differences, and we can even disagree with one another, but we cannot discount one another's inherent value.

S. Michael Houdmann

Return to:

GotQuestions.blog homepage

What does the Bible say about racism?