Race and Ethnicity

Christianity calls us to embrace people of other races and include them in our common life. This call is rooted in Jesus Christ’s radical call to love others as we love ourselves.


Key Points

  • Christianity requires us to strive to end discrimination and ensure that all races enjoy an equal opportunity to make the most of their God-given potential.
  • Culture powerfully shapes who we are. Christ calls us to value one another’s differences, not just tolerate them.
  • Each generation of Americans has been transformed by the contributions made by immigrants. A Christian immigration policy should honor those contributions while affirming our common humanity.

Issue Analysis

Evangelical leader Jim Wallis calls race “America’s original sin.” Our nation’s long history of oppressing racial minorities — from the enslavement and segregation of blacks, to the “removal” and killing of Native Americans, to the internment of Japanese Americans — has greatly improved in recent decades, but we still have a long way to go. The gap between whites and other racial groups, especially blacks and Native Americans, remains massive in almost every conceivable category: income, net worth, education, health, corporate leadership, visibility on television, and numerous others. Racism remains a fact of life in America.

Sadly, Republican policies perpetuate the gap between the races. Cutting taxes for the rich, gutting social service programs, under-funding public schools, opposing affirmative action, increasing the penalties for undocumented immigrants — all serve to entrench racial disparities and discourage Americans from coming to terms with the reality that race still matters in this country. Indeed, some politicians have even tried to score political points by playing on whites’ fears of minority groups.


Surely, our nation has a higher calling. Christianity asks us to love and understand one another, especially those of other races, backgrounds, and countries. As Pope Benedict XVI has said, “Anyone who needs me, whom I can help, is my neighbor. The parable of the Good Samaritan remains as a standard which imposes universal love toward the needy whom we encounter ‘by chance,’ whoever they may be.”


We must therefore demand that our nation work to include all races in the American family. We must protect affirmative action, improve funding for public education and health care, encourage savings and the building of wealth, and promote cross-cultural understanding.


What Scripture Says

Scripture is filled with passages that emphasize the radically welcoming nature of Jesus and the unity of all people under God’s reign — including those who seem different from us, racially or otherwise:

“One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table.” (Luke 7:36)

“While he was at Bethany, at the house of Simon the Leper, he sat at table.” (Mark 14:3)

“On one occasion, when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal.” (Luke 14:1)

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

Perhaps the ultimate example of our common humanity is the parable of the Good Samaritan, in which Jesus calls us to love and help those who are not from our own community:

There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test him and said, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” He said in reply, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” He replied to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.” But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead. A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn and cared for him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction, ‘Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.’ Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:25-37)

Moreover, the Christian value of diversity is rooted in the creative activity of God, which is redeemed in the Pentecost:

“Then God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth all kinds of living creatures: cattle, creeping things, and wild animals of all kinds.’ And so it happened: God made all kinds of wild animals, all kinds of cattle, and all kinds of creeping things of the earth. God saw how good it was.” (Genesis 1: 24-25)

When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. They were astounded, and in amazement they asked, “Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? Then how does each of us hear them in his own native language? We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.” (Acts 2: 1-11)

Finally, Scripture is filled with passages that speak to the Christian duty to reach out to the alien and the stranger:

“You are to have the same law for the alien and the native-born. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 24:22)

“If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him as you would an alien or a temporary resident, so he can continue to live among you.” (Leviticus 25:35)

“The community is to have the same rules for you and for the alien living among you; this is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. You and the alien shall be the same before the Lord.” (Numbers 15:15)

“The same laws and regulations will apply both to you and to the alien living among you.” (Numbers 15:16)

“When you have finished setting aside a tenth of all your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give it to the Levite, the alien, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied.” (Deuteronomy 26:12)

“We are told that [God] defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:18, 19:3)

“The Lord watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.” (Psalm 146:9)

“Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels.” (Hebrews 13:2)

“When an alien resides with you in your land, do not molest him. You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; have the same love for him as for yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt. I, the Lord, am your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-34)

“When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 23:21-23)

“Do no wrong or violence to the alien.” (Jeremiah 22:3)

“I was a foreigner, and you invited me in.” (Matthew 25:35)

“When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-34).


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