What The Bible Has To Say About Bigotry
It seems many people think the Bible speaks only indirectly against bigotry (things such as racism, sexism) through its admonition that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. That certainly gets to the heart of the issue but the Bible has many more direct teachings on the subject as well. For example, in the law that God gave to Moses to explain to His people, it says this:
When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. 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. Leviticus 19: 33 – 34 [ESV]
In other words, don’t be bigoted against someone who is of a different race or ethnicity than you. Those words have been taught to those who follow the Bible for 3500 years now. And the New Testament teachings of Jesus and His Disciples are even more direct and to the point than the verse above. In fact, the parable of the Good Samaritan is not about our need to do nice things for others, it uses the example of someone doing something nice for someone else to teach us not to be racist.
The scene is set this way by Luke: a gentleman who had studied the teachings of Moses was discussing those writings with Jesus and they agreed that loving God and loving our neighbors were the most important commandments. Listen, then, to Luke’s description of what the man said:
But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Luke 10: 29 [ESV]
The man only wanted to have to be nice to people who were the same as him racially and religiously. And he was wanting Jesus to validate or “justify” that approach. In response, Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan (which can be found in Luke 10: 30 – 37). In the parable, Jesus used the example of a Jewish man being robbed and injured and a Samaritan (whom the Jews sometimes referred to as “half-breeds”) being the only one who would help him. In America today Jesus would use the example of a white person who was robbed and injured (by other whites and passed up by other whites) who as attended to by a black individual.
But regardless of what ethnicities are used, the story is Jesus’ way of answering the question “who is my neighbor that I must love?”. And His answer was “everybody, including those of different races”. Later on, after Christ had ascended back to the Father, one of His Apostles, Paul, wrote the following about the fellowship of Christians.
Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. Colossians 3: 11 [ESV]
Again, those examples aren’t obvious to us but a little explanation will quickly bring the point into focus. Greeks and Jews were people of different races. Circumcised and uncircumcised were people from different religious backgrounds. Barbarians were people who did not speak the same language as the others in the Roman Empire (they were not a race or ethnic group the term was just used in a derogatory fashion as a way to label those who could not speak and write in Greek). Scythians – of whom the Jewish historian, Josephus, said “they were little better than wild beasts” – were considered to be people of no culture and no social status. And, of course, slaves or bond-servants were the lowest in terms of wealth and economic status.
Paul was stressing that nothing – race, education, income, social status, language, political differences – was to provide the platform from which bigotry separated God’s people. Let’s take a look at one more verse in this blog to drive the point home and hopefully make it more personal. There was a prayer famous in the time of Jesus and the Apostle Paul in which men would pray to God thanking Him for not making them a Gentile, a slave or a woman. So in his writing to the churches in the region of Galatia, Paul explicitly addresses the issue by saying the following.
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 [ESV]
Paul was saying to those who had prayed or heard that prayer that those statements are coming from a bigoted perspective and have been overturned for those who accept Christ. But, honestly, who would be the folks in your prayer that you are privately thankful you are not like? Do you resent people of different races? I challenge young men all the time about their sexist views. If you have made your mark from a wealth and income perspective, do you now consciously avoid those of a lower social and economic status than yourself? Do the people in your family, your church, your kid’s school and the neighborhood where you choose to live all look like you, with the same income as you?
Bigotry has been a historical and worldwide plague on mankind. The Bible has been teaching for thousands of years against bigoted views. It is always easier to see and call out bigotry in other people. But the Bible teaches us to first take the plank out of our own eye. I encourage every Christian to do some prayerful soul-searching in this area.
Andy’s book, Clear Vision: How The Bible Teaches Us To View The World, can be purchased here.