Race and the Image of God

By Don Morgan
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It's not hard to see how race-based discrimination is a direct assault on the sanctity and dignity of human life.

For Christians, the foundation of a pro-life ethic is the image of God. We believe that humanity – in all of its expressions and dimensions – is sacred because all individuals bear the imprint of their Creator. To the extent that racism is rooted in the twisted belief that one segment of the population is superior to another, it’s not hard to see how race-based discrimination is a direct assault on the sanctity and dignity of human life.

The Oxford Dictionary defines racism as “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.”

Now consider how, with just a few tweaks, that same definition could also be applied to a host of other pro-life issues:

“Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against preborn babies based on the belief that they are not fully human.”

“Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against those with physical or intellectual disabilities based on the belief that ‘regular’ people are superior.”

“Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against orphans … or prisoners … or the economically disadvantaged … based on the belief that they are inconvenient and a burden to society.”

In every case, we see one group being persecuted by another; the vulnerable overlooked or discarded by the powerful. When people are categorized in this manner, whether overtly or subtly, the effect is dehumanizing. This is why racism so clearly fits within the sphere of pro-life concerns.

Of course, the Bible offers a clear antidote to this. Paul reminds us that God “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him” (Acts 17:26-27).

While this passage and others help explain why all human beings are worthy of dignity and respect, there are many others in Scripture that focus specifically on the church. Our identity in Christ unites us in ways that transcend race, class, culture and even gender:

“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 no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:27-28).

This doesn’t mean, of course, that we must be “colorblind” in our efforts to combat racism. Cultural and ethnic diversity are wonderful gifts from God. When the book of Revelation gives us a tantalizing glimpse of the new heaven and the new earth, it is not a world of nameless, faceless, colorless beings. On the contrary, the coming kingdom will be one of rich diversity:

“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ ” (Revelation 7:9-10, emphasis added).

Is this picture of a redeemed and diverse church worshiping in spirit and in truth not the ideal model for our congregations and communities? In order for that to happen, we must understand that race is intricately connected to the sanctity of human life. We are all made in the image of God, and condoning or turning a blind eye to the evils of racism represents an assault on that image.

Trillia Newbell of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission understands that connection: “I believe there are compelling reasons why we should all care about the struggles of various ethnic groups in the U.S. The greatest of these [is] love. We should love our neighbor sacrificially through learning, listening, hospitality and sharing gospel truths.

“God loves so much that He deemed it necessary to give His only Son as a sacrifice for us. The very least we could do is ask God to give us a heart that cares for those He created in His image.”

The very least, indeed.

© 2017 Focus on the Family.

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