In 1290, all Jewish people were ordered expelled from England. Political and religious leaders attempted to justify brazen anti-Semitism in a number of ways, including the spreading of rumors and falsehoods, such as saying that Jews were working to turn St. Paul’s Cathedral into a synagogue. Several Jews were executed for alleged crimes, and Jewish homes were ransacked.
By the 1600s, several trends began to help reduce the hostility. For example, publication of the King James Bible acquainted many with more knowledge of the Old Testament than had previously been known. A clearer understanding of Hebraic culture presented the Jewish people in a more favorable light.
Many Christians across Europe understood that it was through the nation of Israel that the Savior of the world had come. How could one harbor ill against the Jews when the Gentile world owed so much to these, God’s chosen people? (Deuteronomy 7:7-8; 14:2).
In 1655, in the town of Whitehall, Oliver Cromwell made a public argument that persecution of the Jews had no place in a Christian culture. Two years into his tenure as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth, Cromwell asserted that the gospel must be shared with their Jewish neighbors.
“[How] can we preach to them, if we will not tolerate them among us?” Cromwell asked. Sadly, his plea for tolerance and Christian charity was essentially shouted down by English clergymen.
Leading the way against bias
When speaking at colleges, I am often asked the Christian position on ethnicities or races. I point out the bottom line: There is only one race of people – the human race. What we call racism is really ethnic discrimination and bias.
The anti-Semitism present in certain quarters of Christendom during the post-Reformation centuries would not be the last time the church would “get it wrong” on the subject of ethnic bias. At numerous times in our own nation’s history, such discrimination has been tolerated – or even encouraged – by the American church, thus creating formidable obstacles for the gospel.
Christians today must be intentional about following Christ’s mandate in Mark 12:31: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Only one commandment – “Love the Lord your God” – is greater. God cannot bless this nation nor revive the church if there is bias in our hearts. God loves all people equally and desires that all come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:9).
The Bible speaks clearly on the unity shared by all humans; Scripture makes no place whatsoever for discrimination against any people group:
From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands (Acts 17:26).
But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them (1 John 2:11).
The church in heaven will be multi-ethnic, for sure. I often think about that great worship service described in Revelation 7:9, attended by believers from every “kindred, tribe, and nation.” Let’s do our utmost to help as many people as possible find their way to that heavenly gathering through the new birth in Jesus!
What is the greatest act of love, the most potent gesture to stand against the scourge of ethnic hostilities? I believe it is to make authentic friendships with people of all nationalities and share the love and truth of the Savior. Barriers of bias cannot stand if we live as one before the greatest unifier of all, Jesus Christ.
Editor's note: This first appeared in print in the AFA Journal in May of 2018 and can be found online with other articles from that issue here.
Along with Bert Harper, Alex McFarland can be heard on Exploring the Word on American Family Radio (M-F, 3:00 p.m. CT). McFarland founded and leads the “Truth for A New Generation” apologetics conferences. Learn more and find Alex’s books at truthforanewgeneration.com, afastore.net, or 877-927-4917.