The scourge of racism is like the ancient Hydra from mythology. Every time we think we’ve made some progress, it’s like we take another step back. Cut off one head, and two more grow in its place.
Palestinians vs. Jews, Black vs. White, Mongolian vs. East Asian, Dominican vs. Puerto Rican. Wherever human civilizations exist, people struggle with racism and ethnic division. Like dust in the air waiting to settle as soon as you turn your back, we can’t seem to get rid of it.
But is there a way to break through to a reality where race and ethnicity no longer divides us?
What does the Bible say about racism?
The history recorded in Scripture is rife with ethnic tensions.
The Bible repeatedly warned against treating foreigners badly (Exodus 22:21, Leviticus 19:34, Deuteronomy 23:7). Yet in their quest to live holy lives, many ancient Jews made it socially acceptable to look down on outsiders. Even Jesus’ disciples struggled to follow His example of acceptance and love.
The Apostle Peter needed a direct vision from God before he realized it was OK to associate with a Roman Centurion (See Acts 10). Peter’s vision helped him get past this racism.
Thankfully, God left us everything we need in His Word. So what does the Bible say about racism? Plenty.
We are all made in God’s image
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).
Every man, woman, and child (born and unborn) bears the divine image of God. His infinite beauty and complexity are reflected in the diverse tapestry of humanity. Removing any one thread prevents us from seeing God as clearly as we should. To reject the full image of God reflected in His creation is to reject God Himself.
“But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (James 2:9).
Every life is precious
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31).
If anyone has the right to look down on someone, it is God. He is infinite, eternal, all-powerful, and perfect. We are not. Yet, for some reason, He values us anyway. He lovingly numbers the hairs on our head (see above verse) and willingly sacrificed His own Son to give us a pathway back to Him (John 3:16).
If our lives matter that much to God, what right do we have to devalue another human life? By God’s example, we should be people who understand that every life is precious.
We are all sinful
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9).
When you hear a negative story about someone of a different race, is your default to believe it or do you offer the benefit of the doubt?
No one believes they have racist tendencies. But even if we do not, the potential is there.
The evil we see in others lurks in the shadows of our hearts, too, waiting to be fed, looking for a way to escape. If we refuse to examine our hearts, we leave ourselves vulnerable to the very behaviors we despise. Jeremiah 17:9 reminds us, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
Like King David, we must continually pray, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24).
When we confess our sins to God, He forgives us and gives us the ability to live differently.
Racism has two sides
“The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?’ (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)” (John 4:9).
The Samaritans in Jesus’ day were often on the receiving end of Jewish prejudice. When the woman at the well met Jesus, everything she knew about Jewish men told her to expect treatment as a second-class citizen. But Jesus surprised her.
Thankfully, her assumptions about Jesus didn’t keep her from engaging in the life-changing conversation that followed. That “scary” person of another race might just be God’s answer to your prayers.
As a Hispanic man, I cannot allow past experiences of racism to taint my perception of reality. If I assume racist intent without objective proof, I’m the one who is exhibiting racism and must seek forgiveness. I must be as comfortable walking into a room filled with people of another race as I am walking into a room full of Hispanics. If not, I have work to do.
Christ offers us a new heart
“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26).
A cold heart in the face of suffering is a sign of rebellion toward God. It is often easier to look the other way if we are not directly involved. Yet Romans 12:15 calls us to “weep with those who weep.”
Racist incidents are traumatic experiences. A single event can scar an individual for life. Repeated incidents can result in something similar to post-traumatic stress disorder.
Many within the body of Christ have been forced to carry the burden of these injuries alone. But if racism affects one part of the body, it affects every part—no matter the hue.
“If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12:26).
God can soften our hearts and inspire us to move toward those hurt by racism with the same overwhelming compassion and grace we would offer any other injured person. If we are willing to let Him.
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
Know the difference between righteous anger and sin
“Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Ephesians: 4:26-27).
Seeing the innocent suffer should break our hearts and not only stir us to compassion, but to action.
We must hold ourselves and those around us to a higher standard of behavior and call out racist attitudes and assumptions. As we do, we must take care not to allow our anger over injustice to lead us to sinful behavior.
“Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (Romans 12:17-19).
Even those who perpetrate evil are image-bearers of God and in need of Christ. We can’t allow our actions to inhibit our witness.
“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isaiah 1:16-17).
We should offer abundant grace
“Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9).
It would be wonderful if we could outlaw evil, but only God can change a heart. Thankfully, He can use us in the process. When our reactions are directed by the Holy Spirit, they stand in stark contrast to the rest of the world. And people take notice.
“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).
Our abundant grace can often do more to convict a person of their sin than any passionate speech ever could.
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27-28).
In Christ there is unity
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:13-14).
Before the foot of the cross, we are all the same—sinners in need of forgiveness. When we accept the forgiveness Jesus offers, His Spirit lives within us. He gives us unity with Him and the ability to have unity with other believers.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
Christ made a way. If we follow His way, our differences turn from a source of tension to a source of beauty—each of us uniquely reflecting a portion of God’s glory.
“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 … crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10).
So what does the Bible say about racism? A lot. The question is, will we listen?
 Williams, Monnica T et al. “Assessing Racial Trauma Within a DSM–5 Framework: The UConn Racial/Ethnic Stress & Trauma Survey.” Practice innovations. 3.4 (2018): 242–260. Web.
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Carlos Santiago is a senior writer for FamilyLife and has written and contributed to numerous articles, e-books, and devotionals. He has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in pastoral counseling. Carlos and his wife, Tanya, live in Little Rock, Arkansas, with their two children.