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R acism—prejudice against someone based on race or ethnicity—is inherently divisive. To mend that brokenness, much is needed. It can feel overwhelming to tackle a beast like racism, but, as always, a good place to turn for guidance is God’s Word. So, what does the Bible say about racism? Where are there conversations, conflicts, and resolutions around race in the Bible? Here, pastors and leaders delve in from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds and ministry contexts.

This conversation took place at the joint executive meeting of the Reformed Church in America’s racial and ethnic leadership; hosted by the Office of Diversity and Belonging. It has been edited for clarity and continuity.

Racism is nothing new

There’s nothing new under the sun, King Solomon famously wrote in the wisdom book of Ecclesiastes. And these pastors agree: the Bible says racism is nothing new. Though the prevalence around racism may have ramped up in our day, the conflict around race is definitely something we find in the pages of Scripture.

“Racism goes back to Genesis. And it continues to be alive. It continues to be in our communities and in our churches,” says Rev. Dr. Micheal Edwards.

However, if you were to search for the specific term “racism” in the Bible, you wouldn’t necessarily find it. But that doesn’t mean that the problem of racism isn’t in the Bible, or that we can’t learn from God’s Word as we seek to eradicate racism from our communities and churches.

“Race really wasn’t a construct in [Bible times], but there were differences in that time based on ethnicity, based on location, based on Israel—the people of God—being the selected, chosen people of God, therefore being the ‘us’ and everybody else being the ‘them,’” says Rev. Dr. Denise Kingdom. “So, maybe the better question is how does the Bible talk about those differences?”

Oppression is as old as the Old Testament

A significant amount of ethnic tension in the early Old Testament occurs when the people of God are in Egypt. As God flourished and prospered the Israelites, the Egyptians grew angry and resentful and oppressed them through slavery. And it is that difference of master versus slave that often stands out to Rev. Sharon Atkins in the pages of the Bible.

“The context of slaves and obeying your master really played out in the lives of so many people [in the Bible]. And that oppression still stands today in some places,” she says. “People may not utilize the word for the context, depending how people were raised and what they pointed to the next generation. And sometimes what they put into the next generation was a kind of mentality, saying, those people are always gonna oppress us. Those people are always going to have their feet upon our necks. That was one strong phrase, even when I didn’t know the Bible like I know the Bible; that was a theme that came up.”

Otherization made plain in the New Testament

In the New Testament, as God lives among the human race in the form of Jesus, there are plenty of Bible stories dealing with “the other,” says Rev. Dr. Denise Kingdom. These are a few of those stories of race in the Bible.

“There are varying occasions when God speaks directly into differences based on ethnicity,” says Kingdom. “For instance, I think that the differentiation between the Jewish people and Samaritans was a huge conflict between them. ‘Who are you?’ the woman says in John 4, ‘that you’re talking to me? You’re Jew. I’m a Samaritan. We have so many differences among us.’ But yet Jesus continues to stay and maintain and to live into that relationship with her.

“And even later on, there’s a parable that has the Samaritan as the one who is actually the one who is doing the favorable act as opposed to the priest, the Levite, or any of those. So I think that’s a picture of how Jesus, therefore God, views and acts in these chasms between ethnicities and people.

“I also think about Peter when he had the vision, and [he went] to go talk to Cornelius,” adds Kingdom. “Here’s an otherization, and God makes it clear: ‘You don’t call unclean what I call unclean.’ And then, later, in Galatians 3, Paul comes and … what does he say [to the Galatians]? ‘Who’s bewitched you?’ he says. ‘Don’t you know that we are one in Christ?’”

Racism goes against God’s will for unity

Racism isn’t merely tension or bad blood between people of different racial or ethnic backgrounds. These pastors make it clear that racism is a sin—and that the Bible confirms that truth, pointing to racism as a result of the fall, a brokenness, and a deviation from God’s perfect will.

“Racism goes against God’s intention for humanity,” says Rev. Eddy Alemán. “When God created us, he put his image in us. In the whole creation, only humans have the image of God, the imago Dei. Racism goes against the imago Dei because racism talks about one race being more important than another and is higher. It goes against the creation of God, against every human being bearing the image of God.

“Racism is also an attack to the unity of the body of Christ,” he adds. “It’s clear that in the Bible, God created us, men and women, to be servants of God in this world. And when we deal with situations of racism, it goes against the intention of God.”

That is the definition of sin: anything against the will of God. Thus, when dealing with racism, we’re dealing with sin. And that’s something we are all accountable for.

“Romans 3:23 says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We have to focus in on the root. The root is sin,” says Rev. Dr. Andres Serrano. “And until Jesus dwells in our heart and changes our heart, nothing is going to happen. … If we don’t focus [on racism] as a sin, then we lose the target.”

Like sin, racism is a widespread, pervasive brokenness.

“Racism has deformed us, as persons, as communities, as families,” says Rev. Dr. Pedro Agudelo. “And racism isolates us from each other, separates us, and we are designed by God to complement each other.”

Dr. Peter Watts agrees with that deformation:

“Spiritual formation is about discipleship and about becoming more and more like Christ, or the image of God, the image of Christ,” says Watts. “Racism is a deforming of that. We’re supposed to be a body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12). But there’s part of the body that’s aching and disconnected. And it has been impacted by generational, intergenerational trauma.”

With racism as a sin that goes back generations and generations, there is no quick fix. Rather, knitting the body of Christ back together takes heart change. A step in the right direction is focusing on that unity, says Agudelo. And the Bible has much to say about unity.

“The book of Ephesians talks a lot about unity,” he says. “So to me, the way to deal with racism is [to ask], how do I practice unity? How do I welcome others that are different from me? How do I create a space where we’re safe, where we help each other, where we could tell our stories, where we value each other, and differences don’t have to divide us?”

Jesus broke barriers of racism

In a miracle of love, God became human. Not only did Jesus break the barrier between God and humans, he broke countless other barriers. The Bible is full of those stories.

“The genealogy of Jesus Christ in Matthew 1 includes women, like Rahab and Ruth the Moabitess, who is not Jewish. And the coming of Jesus breaks the barriers of racism and gender,” says Leo Poluan. “And that happened 2,000 years ago, and as we see now, we continue to work trying to to break this barrier of racism, even as the coming of Christ and his work, his life, and his death and resurrection is what unites us as we are raised in Christ from many different diversities.

“And I think this is what Paul and John and Peter tried to advocate also,” adds Poluan. “I remember the story in the Bible when Peter was only hanging out with the circumcised, with the Jewish, and Paul accused him: ‘This is a sin of partiality, of prejudice. Don’t you know that these are part of Christ?’ So there is no more just this specific group of people, or that specific group of people. It’s everyone because Christ has died for all people. And it’s also part of the Great Commission, calling out for discipleship for all people, all nations, leading up to Revelation 7:9.”

“For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” –Ephesians 2:14

“This verse says by Christ different groups are brought together into one. And Paul’s talking about the first-century context, Gentiles and Jews. And it is the same thing for us today—that in Christ we are one,” adds Agudelo. 

As disciples of Christ in this twenty-first century breaking barriers of division among us, we continue to look to Jesus as our teacher and guide, our pattern for faithful Christian living. What does Jesus say about racism?

“Not so much [in] explicit words of what to do or what not to do, but [as] we watch the way of Jesus, we understand God’s character and God’s nature,” says Kingdom. “But if we need something to point to, I’m gonna take you to First Corinthians 12, not 13, which tells us how to love. First Corinthians 12 is clear about saying we are different members of one body.

“And when I think about that from a racial standpoint, I’m like, at this table, you may be one part of the body, and you’re one part of the body, and we’re one part of the body because we represent maybe different expressions and ethnicities and backgrounds in what we call race,” she adds. “But we cannot say to the other, ‘Because you’re not African American or Caribbean, or because you’re not Asian or Korean, or what, that we have no need of you.’”

It’s a positive and joyful feeling to be included around a table, isn’t it? Around the Lord’s table, there may be different expressions of race, as Kingdom says, but Christ, the host, is the head and we, the church, are his one body. There is need for all the members, says the Bible.

“When I accepted Jesus into my life 20 years ago, I felt like I was part of something,” says Nathan Gullion. “It’s that unity. Even within ‘community,’ right at the end is ‘unity.’ And those two words go hand in hand. When I became a believer, I started looking at the world through Jesus’s eyes, through the lens of Jesus. And that’s the way I see people. I do a lot of preaching on community and unity, and I walk with people of many ethnicities.”

There is hope for healing

Racism is a heavy topic, for there are deep wounds in the body. But there is also biblical hope for healing that helps us move forward in love and unity. Like there is hope for salvation from sin through the sacrificial love and grace of Jesus, the Bible says there is hope for healing from racism.

“I don’t think we’re going to solve racism. It’s a sin. And it’s part of the brokenness in this world,” says Watts. “So to think that we’re going to solve it is wishful thinking. But we can be healed from the impact that it has had on us so that when we show up in spaces, we can show up in spaces truly healed and not reacting or acting in a way that just shows a manifestation of the trauma that’s impacted us that we’ve not been healed from.”

That healing should be a holistic, all-together healing—all parts belonging and working together.

“We have need for the whole body to function together, not one weaker and one stronger, not that one gets more attention than the other, but that we all work together for the body, and I think that that is what the Lord would want us to know about racism,” says Kingdom. “And we’re all image bearers of God. So anybody who was on the receiving end of racism, they can know that they have a right to make their own decisions, and to live and to flourish, and to use their voice and their agency, because God gave it to them, and they can do that for the glory of God, and we’ll make room for it.”

That agency—expanding the circle around the table—allows us to take part in forming (or re-forming) the beautiful, diverse family of God. And that’s a privilege, says Gullion.

“I see this diversity that God has created. And we get to bring it together, and we get to be inclusive. We get to be tolerant. We get to be generous to each other. We get to give grace and extend grace,” says Gullion. “Somebody extended me grace at some point for me to accept Jesus at 30 years old. Coming from my background, that’s the same grace that I offer today to everyone. And it brings peace. There’s a level of love that’s there, that’s opposite racism and kills racism.”

That’s the love of Jesus, found in the Bible and in the world today. It’s a deep love that continues to overcome barriers and unify us today.

“It is in the body of Christ we can overcome the ills of this world, the injustice,” says Rev. Dr. Micheal Edwards. “God brings hope, joy, strength, in the brokenness of this world. And one day we will continue to sing, ‘We shall overcome.’ But some of us already have overcome the ills of racism because we know the source of our power, the source of our prayer, and the source of our praise.

“One person asks in the Bible, ‘What good can come out of Nazareth?’” adds Edwards. “Similar to that, what good can come out of Harlem? And I’m thankful that I am a product of the goodness of God from Harlem.

“One of my joys in being part of the RCA was to attend a World Council of Churches gathering in Sao Paulo, Brazil, one year. And to see all people of color, all Christians gather and singing: ‘This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long.’ And they sung the song in their own language. They were praising God from their own experience and their own culture. And it illustrated a taste of what heaven is all about, when we can come and tell our story and share our story and praise our Savior all the day long. Amen.”


Special thanks to those who contributed to this piece. All are executive leaders connected to the Reformed Church in America’s racial and ethnic councils.

  • Rev. Eddy Alemán, general secretary, Reformed Church in America (RCA)
  • Rev. Dr. Pedro Agudelo, coordinator for RCA Hispanic Ministries
  • Rev. Sharon Atkins, pastor of Bethany Reformed Church, chairperson for the RCA’s African American Black Council
  • Rev. Dr. Micheal Edwards, executive minister, RCA Regional Synod of New York
  • Pastor Nathan Gullion, pastor of Calling Lake campus (Athabasca Reformed Church)
  • Rev. Dr. Denise Kingdom, pastor of mobilization and renewal at Mars Hill Bible Church
  • Elder Leo Poluan, president, RCA Council for Pacific and Asian American Ministries
  • Rev. Dr. Andres Serrano, director of RCA church multiplication
  • Rev. Jeremy Simpson, director of diversity and belonging, RCA
  • Dr. Pete Watts, pastor of the ROCK Church, coordinator for the RCA’s African American Black Council