Within the context of contemporary identity politics, it is sometimes asserted by those whose reforming zeal is greater than their historical knowledge that Christianity is a white, Western religion. It is certainly the case that white, Western people have been and are Christians and that white, Western people calling themselves Christians have systematically and personally oppressed people of colour through such malignities as European colonial empires, the transatlantic slave trade and the slavery and segregation of the American South. These were egregious systems built on the abhorrent ideology of racism. But to draw the conclusion, therefore, that Christianity in essentia is a white, Western religion used to justify racial oppression is an enormous non sequitur that does not bear theological and historical scrutiny. Let us look now at why this is.

Created by God in His Image

The Bible begins with the momentous declaration: ‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth’ (Genesis 1:1).1 Later in the chapter, God is described as having created all people, ‘both male and female’ in his ‘image’. Therefore, it is Christian belief that every person is God’s creation and is made by God in such a way as to resemble him. Made in the image of God is a mysterious thing to say, but it has been interpreted among a range of ways to refer to how humans are capable of a relationship with God which seems to be absent in other species. No person or ethnic group is an exception to this. There are no such things as master races and slave races.

All humans are equally loved by God

One of the most loved and quoted verses in the Bible is John 3:16: ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.’ God loves the world and that means all people. Whoever believes in Jesus will be saved. There are no ethnic groups that are more loved by God than others. All people, whatever their ethnic inheritance, can be saved equally and in the same way. If that were not the case, why does Jesus command his followers to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19)? Many nations have established multi-ethnic societies with differing degrees of success, but the book of Revelation provides a glimpse of the multi-ethnic paradise of God’s kingdom at history’s end:

‘After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb [Jesus], clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb [Jesus]’ (Revelation 7:9, 10).   

Only the God of the Bible can bring an end to racial strife and it is this God who is the God of Christianity.

Christianity’s Origins

Some social justice advocates think that Christianity was a white, Western invention. Jesus and his followers are often portrayed as a white men in Western popular culture which for people of different ethnic and cultural heritages living in the West can feel alienating. What needs to be said loud and clear is that Jesus, the founder of Christianity, and his first disciples were Middle Eastern Jews, not white Europeans. Most of the people who wrote the Bible were Middle Eastern Jews. This means that the anti-Semitism that has admittedly bedevilled the Church and the white supremacist views that have undergirded European colonialism are condemned by the very Christian values to which the Church ought to be faithful.

What is more, the first people to convert to Christianity came from diverse nations: Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Egypt and Libya (Acts 2:9-11). The first recorded black Christian was a very senior official within the Ethiopian government who immediately converted when Philip the evangelist told him the Gospel (Acts 8:26-40).

Christian Theology

Many people, including Christians themselves, are ignorant of the enormously influential role that ancient North African theologians played in the establishment of Christian doctrine. The names are a roll call of theological genius. They include Tertullian (c. 155-240), Cyprian (c. 200-258), Eugenius of Carthage (d. 505) and arguably the greatest ancient theologian, Augustine of Hippo (354-430). So Christian was ancient North Africa, it has been nicknamed by historians of Christianity as the Bible Belt of the Roman Empire!

The Miracle of the Black Church

As black Christians have had such a powerful role within Christianity, it might strike the reader that the Black Church is hardly a miracle. However, the miracle refers to the fact that many African people, enslaved and transported to pick cotton in America’s south states,  adopted the faith of their so-called Christian slave masters. They saw in Jesus the one who loved them and hated their suffering. Harriet Tubman, who helped many slaves to escape their servitude, was a Christian and was nicknamed Moses who according to the book of Exodus led the Israelites to freedom from Egyptian slavery. Fredrick Douglass, a leading anti-slavery campaigner, became a Christian at thirteen and describes himself as able to love everyone, even slave owners; but his Christianity made him loathe slavery all the more and motivated him to campaign for its abolition.

It was from African-American Christians who were descendants of slaves and who were still suffering segregation that the global Pentecostal movement emerged in the first half of 20th century. Pentecostalism, with its emphasis on direct personal experience of God, is reckoned now to be the fastest growing religious movement in the world. Perhaps the most important African American figure within the roots of Pentecostalism is William Seymour who was a leading figure in the Azusa Street Revival (1906-1915).

Where does modern racism come from?

If you are a Christian, you may have been told that it was the European Enlightenment of 18th century that overturned centuries of ancient and medieval Christian superstition and racism and established universal human rights. There is a great deal wrong with this assertion, but it is not my present intention to challenge this view. My focus is now on the origins of racism and it might surprise people that modern racism is born of Enlightenment philosophy and propagated through 19th and early 20th century anthropology.

According to atheist philosopher and historian of thought, John Gray, modern racist ideology is at the heart of the Enlightenment.2 Take, for example, David Hume who epitomises Enlightenment philosophising. He wrote that ‘negroes’ are ‘naturally inferior to whites’. 3Immanuel Kant, the other great Enlightenment philosopher, agreed.4 Their contemporary, the French writer Voltaire, added his authority to modern racism by arguing that people of colour were degenerate versions of humanity.5 Anti-Semitism is also embedded within the Enlightenment. Voltaire denounced Jews as greedy, usurious, and hateful,6 stereotypes that are at the heart of Nazism. The result of this racist pontificating was the Enlightenment’s conclusion that European civilisation was supreme among civilisations, a view that justified colonialism.

So much for Enlightenment values, but where does 19th century science fit into this? Science is not a morally neutral project. The desire to understand the material world as a good is in itself a moral value and scientific knowledge is applied through a moral lens. The racism of 19th and early 20th century Social Darwinism,7 a leading idea of science and popular culture8 which applied Darwin’s survival of the fittest to human races, is epitomised by the biologist Ernst Haeckel’s 1899 book The Riddle of the Universe.9 Hateful to Judaism and Christianity, Haeckel founded a new religion called Monism which ranked racial groups with Europeans at the top.10 Julian Huxley, the grandson of the fierce apologist for Darwinism, Thomas Huxley, promoted theories of innate racial inequality with black people described as the most inferior.11 Heinously, H. G. Wells, the writer famous for the science fiction novel The War of the Worlds, regarded the dying out of people of colour as beneficial to humanity’s chances of survival.12

Modern science rightly dismisses the notion of inherently superior and inferior races and the concept of race has been vigorously challenged by social science.13 It is significant that it was the Christian (and Jewish) belief that all humans are descended from a common origin-Adam and Eve-that made the notion of a hierarchy of races anathema to the Church. Take, for example, Bartolome de Las Casas who was a former slave owner and bishop of Chiapas and who sharply criticised the treatment of native South American peoples by the conquistadores on the ground that all people in the world are human.14 Not for the first time has Christian theology been ahead of the science of its time.


Christianity is not a white, Western religion exclusively. It is the first global religion whose origins lies in the Middle East, whose theology affirms in contradiction to racism the equality of all peoples, and whose history is profoundly multi-ethnic. What then do we make of those Christians who have held racist beliefs and have engaged in racist actions? What do we make of Martin Luther, for instance, who descended into anti-Semitism after his bitter disappointment that Germany’s Jews had not converted to Christianity? It is important to admit the racist skeletons in the Christian closet. Telling the truth is a Christian value. We also need to be careful of not falling into the No True Scotsman fallacy. A true Christian can be a racist as we have seen with Martin Luther. What can be said is that such racism is condemned by the very moral code of Christianity, the examples of its history, and God who loves all humankind with equal passion. What is more, Christianity teaches the way to repentance from evils such as racism and holds out the hope of a perfectly harmonious multi-ethnic community of saints in heaven. If you are a Christian, you have much reason to be confident in the battle against racism for in that battle, God is on your side.    

  1. All references and quotations are taken from the New King James Translation (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1979).
  2. John Gray, Seven Types of Atheism (London: Allen Lane, 2018), 57-62.
  3. Cited by Richard H. Popkin, ‘Hume’s Racism’ in Richard H. Popkin, The High Road to Pyrrhonism, ed. Richard A. Watson and James E. Force (Indianapolis and Cambridge: Hackett, 1993), 254-5. 
  4. Ibid., 259-60.
  5. Gray, Seven Types of Atheism, 61.
  6. Ibid., 62.
  7. Charles Hirschman, ‘The Origins and Demise of the Concept of Race’, Population and Development Review, Vol. 30, No. 3, September 2004), 392.
  8. Ibid., 394.
  9. Ibid., 53.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.
  12. H. G. Wells, Anticipations (London: Chapman & Hall, 1902), 317.
  13. Hirschman, ‘The Origins and Demise of the Concept of Race’, 386.
  14. Gray, Seven Types of Atheism, 59.