When my husband’s job was transferred to Arkansas, the idea of moving our family to the South—with its painful history and reputation of racism—was frightening. We had always lived in racially diverse areas in our home state of California and braced ourselves for culture shock.

From the day we arrived in “The Natural State,” some of our most welcoming neighbors were young White children. Our youngest daughters, ages 6 and 3, made friends immediately. And for years, the children played together, built things together, shared birthday celebrations, had sleepovers, and often rode to school together.

Most young children do not regard outward appearances the way adults do, or give credence to stereotypes. Generally speaking, they accept and lovingly embrace people who are different from themselves without reservation.

Sometimes I wonder if that’s one of the reasons Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

We live what we learn

Children are not born with prejudices or biases. Those negative viewpoints, attitudes, and beliefs are learned. Sadly, one day, one of those loving, accepting neighborhood children grew up and called our youngest daughter, whom he once loved, the N-word. It was jarring, deeply hurtful, and heartbreaking. Their friendship was shattered.

I was reminded of the poem “Children Learn What They Live,” written by Dorothy Law Nolte in 1954, which speaks to the powerful influence a child’s environment has on the way he or she treats other people. It states, for instance, that “If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.”[1] Likewise, if children live with bigotry, they learn to hate.

This learning has been passed down in America for generations, resulting in racial discrimination, indifference, and division . . . even in the church. Sunday mornings at 11 o’clock is known as the most segregated hour in American life. And yet, God calls His people to live in unity with one another. Jesus prayed that we would all be one as He and the Father are one (see John 17:21).

Unlearning to live

I’ll never forget the shock and horror I felt in the fifth grade when I learned that because of the color of my skin I am viewed in America as less than, inferior, and even hated. It was critically damaging to my young heart and soul. The effects of this racial trauma lasted for years.

Thankfully, as a follower of Christ, I unlearned racist ideologies and am learning to live according to God’s values and truth. My eyes were opened and my life transformed when I learned in Psalm 139:14, that I am “fearfully and wonderfully made” by God and am His image bearer. This truth set me free to value the beautiful, unique way in which God made me and gifted me, brown skin and all.

Though if I’m honest, there are times when racially offensive interactions and experiences occur, and I have to be reminded my value and worth is in Christ, and in who God says I am, rather than how society tries to label me. I’m also reminded the same is true about those who do not look like me, even when they’re acting unlovable.

Isn’t it encouraging to know that no matter what we’ve learned that has led us to value some and devalue others, there is hope? With God’s help and transformational power in our lives, we can unlearn sinful attitudes and beliefs, and learn ALL people are equally worthy of His love . . . and ours.

Additionally, we can learn to love the way God does, without partiality. As Peter said in Acts 10:34-35, “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”

You might be wondering, How can I unlearn what I was taught and have believed for so long? How can I learn to accept and embrace people who are different from me? And where do I even start? A great starting place for understanding God’s values is His word.

Here are some biblical truths that emphasize the value of all people.

God created the entire human race

Though we are a diversity of tribes, nations, languages, and families, we are one race with one common ancestor. The Bible says, “He himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth” (Acts 17:25-26). And every man, woman, and child was created in the image of God (see Genesis 1:27). As a Black woman, I am made in God’s very image. And so are you, whatever your hue. God is the author of diversity, and called everything He made good (see Genesis 1:31).

God loves all people equally.

Jesus didn’t come into the world to die for only one racial or ethnic group. He gave His life for ALL. The Bible tells us, “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). God paid the ultimate price of His own Son’s life to ransom people—like me and you—for Himself “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).

God is love.

Any form of hatred, bigotry, feelings of superiority, or indifference toward others is sin. Hate is a complete contradiction of God’s character and hinders one’s ability to even know Him. First John 4:7-8 says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

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Walking in His love

Armed with these truths, and with a posture of humility, here are five ways to begin to walk in accordance with God’s values and love without partiality:

1. Ask God to change your heart.

You may be thinking, “But I wasn’t raised to be a racist.” Or “I don’t have racist tendencies; I have Black friends.” The truth is, we all have biases—some conscious, some unconscious (see Jeremiah 17:9-10). These biases are the result of living in a sinful, fallen world. We all share the need for a change of heart—to repent of our sinful thoughts, attitudes, and ways.

In my own experiences with racism and the resulting trauma and pain, there are times when I’m not sure I’m processing my feelings in a way that honors God. It is in those times, I know I need to do three things:

  • Pray and ask the Father:Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me” (Psalm 139:23-24).
  • Repent of the attitudes in my heart that are not pleasing to Him.
  • Ask Him to create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me (see Psalm 51:10).

God can change our hearts, if we’re willing; and can help us grow to become more like Jesus. “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21).

2. See people through His eyes.

“And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). How could I, a mere human, call someone who God made in His image, bad? Or inferior? I’ve come to understand that how I feel about or treat another person, is reflective of how I feel about or treat God (see Matthew 25:40).

With a desire to please and honor God, we can choose to see people the way He does. We can value and appreciate the beauty of His diverse creation and resist making judgments based on outward appearance which reveals nothing about a person’s heart or character (see 1 Samuel 16:7).

3. Practice Humility.

Isn’t considering oneself better than another the direct opposite of what God expects of His children? His word tells us to consider others as better than ourselves (see Philippians 2:3). This means we are to acknowledge the sinful inclination of our own souls, that we are no less a sinner in need of God’s mercy than any other.

Additionally, we are to care about the interests of others, including the suffering and injustices they endure (see Philippians 2:4). Racism oppresses God’s image bearers; and affects everyone, including those in the body of Christ. “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12:26).

4. Reject stereotypes.

I’ve always wondered why people try to assign a skill, ability, behavior, or tendency to an entire people group, when every people group is made up of unique individuals. The truth is, there are Black people who don’t have an athletic bone in their bodies; and White people who have rhythm and some pretty good dance moves! Rather than believe generalizations about different racial groups—which are rarely ever true, we should get to know people for ourselves.

What has helped me learn to value all people, and grow in love and understanding, are the friendships I’ve developed with people who do not look like me. An authentic friendship is a safe space where awkward conversations can happen without judgement and where grace abounds. In relationship, we can learn about each other as individuals and about each other’s culture through the lenses of truth, grace, and love.

5. Appreciate the differences and acknowledge the commonalities.

It’s important for us to seek to understand and appreciate our cultural and experiential differences based on the diversity God created and the social construct of race. But it’s equally important for us to acknowledge we really do have more in common—physically, emotionally, relationally, spiritually, and so on, as members of the human race.

We all want to live good, productive, healthy lives with true freedom, real justice, and similar opportunities; have strong, loving, happy families and friends; to love and to be loved; and to be valued and cared for as unique individuals. But most significantly, we are all created equally in the image of God, and are all in desperate need of the Savior. “As it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one’” (Romans 3:10).

Living together in unity

The truth is, God has one big, beautiful diverse family—by design and for His glory. And as believers we share a common identity in Him, which takes precedence over any other identity (see Galatians 3:28). John Piper explains, “All believers in Jesus Christ, of every ethnic group, are united to each other, not only in common humanity in the image of God, but even more, as brothers and sisters in Christ and members of the same body.”[2]

We must learn to dwell together in unity (see Psalm 133:1). Pray for one another. Encourage one another. And above all, love one another.

Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

Future generations will know, too, and will live what they learn.

[1] Children Learn What They Live, by Dorothy Law Nolte © 1954, 1975

[2] John Piper, “Foundations for Thinking about Race,” Desiring God, January 16, 1996, http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/taste-see-articles/foundations-for-thinking-about-race

Copyright © 2020 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

Leslie J. Barner is the senior director of operations for FamilyLife. She is the author of numerous articles and several books and has overseen the development of numerous books and resources, including The Art of Marriage®, Stepping Up®, The Art of Parenting®, and The Story of Us—A Couples Devotional. Leslie and her husband, Aubrey, have four grown daughters and a number of grandchildren. They reside in Little Rock, Arkansas.