When Morgan Godwyn came to the American Colonies as a young minister in the mid-1600s, he came with a desire to convert African slaves to Christ. Unfortunately, his efforts were met with resistance from white slave owners, most of whom claimed to be followers of Christ themselves. Godwyn noted in his journal the typical response of these so-called Christians: “What, such as they? What, those black dogs be made Christians? What, shall they be like us?”
In my opinion, one of the saddest and most abhorrent blights upon the church of Jesus Christ has been the presence of racial bigotry among those who claim to be followers of Christ. As I stood to preach from Mark 7:24-37 yesterday, I told our people that racial bigotry has no place in the church of Jesus Christ. In this text, Jesus demonstrated God’s love for all people as he ministers to two Gentiles.
In the Jewish mindset of Jesus’ day, there were only two races of people on earth: there were Jews and everyone else. It made no difference the color of your skin, or your country of origin; if you were not an ethnic Jew you were a Gentile. Further, I believe it’s fair to say that many Jews were racially biased against the Gentiles. Much like the prophet Jonah, some could never conceive of God pouring out his love and forgiveness upon Gentiles, simply because they were Gentiles.
But such beliefs by first-century Jews were based on misunderstandings of, or ignorance of, Scripture. For instance, when Jesus encounters the Gentile woman in Tyre—located in Lebanon—she seems to know how the Old Testament prophets (Isaiah in this case) foretold of a time when God’s salvation would be poured out upon the Gentiles (Mark 7:24-30): “The deserts shall rejoice…the glory of Lebanon…will see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God” (Isaiah 35:2).
In other words, she seems to understand from Scripture what many Jews of Jesus’ day did not: God’s salvation offered to the Jews was also intended for Gentiles. The bottom line: all people are welcome in the kingdom of God, regardless of the color of their skin, their ethnic background, or their country of origin.
Like many Jews before, many self-proclaimed Christians have justified racial prejudice based on gross misunderstandings of, or simple ignorance of, Scripture. Some, for instance, have claimed that God forbids interracial marriage based on poor exegetical conclusions from the books of Ezra and Nehemiah (and other Old Testament texts). Not only are such conclusions based on faulty exegesis, they also show complete disregard for God’s character, and demonstrate ignorance of Scripture. Three examples should suffice.
First, Moses—perhaps the greatest Old Testament figure—was married to a “Cushite.” Cush was south of Ethiopia, where the people were known for their dark-colored skin. Interestingly, in Numbers 12:1-10, when Moses’ sister speaks against Moses’ interracial marriage, God strikes her with leprosy! Secondly, Joseph, the man God used to protect the human ancestry of Christ, married an Egyptian (Gen. 41). Third, there is the supreme example of Jesus Christ himself, whose human genealogy (Matt. 1:1-17) includes both Gentiles and Jews and at least one interracial marriage between Ruth (Gentile) and Boaz (Jew). Obviously, God has no problem with interracial marriage.
I say all of that to say this: racial bigotry has no place in the the life of those who claim to be Christians. Racial prejudice is an affront to God’s character and an affront to the gospel of Jesus Christ. If you harbor any ounce of racial bigotry in your life, you should seek God’s forgiveness and repent, lest God judge you as he did Moses’ sister.