For Christians, it should be obvious that racism is a sin. We’re all made in the image and likeness of God, so every single one of us has an immense dignity simply by virtue of being human (Genesis 1:26-27, 9:6). Plus, as Catholics, this fundamental truth is even more secure, as our Church explicitly teaches it. To take just one example, the Catechism of the Catholic Church condemns “discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language, or religion” (CCC 1935).
However, if we dig a bit deeper, it may seem like parts of the Bible actually encourage racism. In particular, the Israelites were God’s special people in the Old Testament (for example, Exodus 19:5-6), and he often fought against other nations on their behalf (Deuteronomy 20:1-4). That seems like a clear case of racism, so how do we reconcile these two seemingly contradictory viewpoints? If God can favor one race over all the others, why can’t we?
The Role of Israel in God’s Plan
The key here is that we have to understand Israel’s role in salvation history. We need to understand what it really meant for Israel to be the chosen people. Back in Genesis, when God called Abram (who was later renamed Abraham), he told him, “[B]y you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves” (Genesis 12:3), and later on he clarified that this blessing would come through his descendants (Genesis 22:18). God also reiterated this promise to Abraham’s son Isaac (Genesis 26:4) and Isaac’s son Jacob (Genesis 28:14).
This is significant because Jacob had twelve sons, and those sons became the progenitors of the twelve tribes of Israel. So when God chose Israel as his special people, he wasn’t doing it to the exclusion of the other nations; rather, he was doing it for the sake of those other nations. The Israelites were supposed to learn his ways and then go out and mediate his blessing to the rest of mankind.
And what was that blessing? The New Testament tells us that God’s promise to Abraham was actually a foretelling of the Gospel (Galatians 3:8), so this blessing was the salvation that Jesus would later win for us. In other words, the Israelites were supposed to evangelize the nations and bring them back to God so he could save them from their sins.
Equal in Christ
So God’s preferential treatment of Israel in the Old Testament wasn’t racism. Rather, it was simply his orderly plan to save the entire human race. And when we get to the first generation of Christians, we see no hint of anything even close to racism. In fact, we see the exact opposite; God’s salvation is available to people from every race. For example:
“Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” (Acts 10:34-45)
“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:27-28)
Once Jesus came, all racial divisions were done. God’s plan had reached its final stage, so he no longer needed to separate Jews from Gentiles. Rather, he now accepts all of us into his people, no matter what race we belong to. We’re all equal, just like he created us way back in Genesis.
So no, the Bible doesn’t support or condone racism. As the Catechism says, any discrimination based on race is wrong. Period. And if you look down on someone in any way simply because they belong to a different race, then you’re committing a sin, no ifs, ands, or buts.