Relationship Between Religion and Race

Religion created race, and race thereafter shaped religion.

(from Through the Storm, Through the Night, by Paul Harvey)

Reflecting on the quote from Harvey’s first chapter, I can see both the truth in it, but also the reasons why it should not be true at all. In Christianity alone, there is an abundance of verses that preach equality and love for all, regardless of gender, social status, or race. One of the key elements of the Christianity I know is Jesus preached a love that didn’t see social barriers. His message of love did not care who the person was. He saw them as a child of God, a human being with value, and responded as such. Here are just a few verses preaching that: “For He himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,” (Eph 2:14); “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another,” (John 13:34); “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” (Gal 3:28); and lastly, the one that seems to fit well in our topic of discussion, “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself,” (Lev 19:33-34).

Other major religions of the world all preach a similar message of love and equality. In a perfect world, I suppose, people would recognize the actual words and truth in all parts of scripture, not just the pieces that support a particular message, especially one of hate.

As we discussed in class, race is a social construct. At some point in history, some individual or group deemed the color of one’s skin, their ethnicity, etc., as cause for either superiority or inferiority, in relation to other groups of people. Since religion and religious traditions have always existed in cultures, at the “creation” of race, religion had a response. Even in our culture today, we associate different races with different religions, even if we mean to or not.

So as Harvey says, religion created race, and race shaped religion. In Raboteau’s essay, he discussed Indigenous African religions and their transformation upon reaching the Americas. Their indigenous religious elements separated them further from the Europeans, other than the already distinct differences of color, language, and family structure. Without intending it so, religion helped to create social status because there was the social “norm” of Christianity. If you weren’t Christian, you were clearly “missing” something in your life, and in the beginning years of the Americas, most Africans were not Christian. Later, race became intertwined because, as shown in the primary sources in Sernett, even as Christians, Africans and African-Americans were missing the whole picture, simply because as persons of color, white Christians thought they just wouldn’t “get it.” So first religion created the barrier, but then it was used later to support a barrier of race in society.

The reason for why Harvey’s statement should not be true is simple enough. Religion, specifically Christianity, teaches equality and unity in the face of God. God does not see color, class, gender–all He sees is a child of God, deserving of His love and grace. It makes me think of the song my Sunday School teachers sang with us, Jesus Loves the Little Children. The chorus goes, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world; red, brown, yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” The song is definitely insensitive in its terminology, but the message I remember is clear: regardless of skin color, Jesus loves you. There is no such thing as race in religion. But with both sides of the argument strongly supported, there has to be truth in both.

Pope Francis, of the Roman Catholic Church, stands with leaders from religious communities all over the world.

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