What Is the Solution to Ethnic Intolerance?
IN Spain a referee interrupts a football match. Why? Because so many spectators hurl insults at a player from Cameroon that he threatens to leave the field. In Russia violent attacks against Africans, Asians, and Latin Americans have become common; during 2004, racist attacks there rose by 55 percent to reach 394 incidents in 2005. In Britain a third of Asian and black respondents to a survey thought that they had lost a job because of racial discrimination. These examples reflect a worldwide trend.
Ethnic intolerance varies in seriousness—from offensive or thoughtless remarks to efforts to exterminate an ethnic group as a national policy.* What is the root cause of ethnic intolerance? How can we avoid showing it? Is it reasonable to hope that one day all the families of mankind will live together peacefully? The Bible provides interesting insight into these matters.
Oppression and Hatred
“The inclination of the heart of man is bad from his youth up,” says the Bible. (Genesis 8:21) Thus, some get enjoyment from oppressing others. The Bible further states: “Look! the tears of those being oppressed, but they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power.”—Ecclesiastes 4:1.
The Bible also shows that ethnic hatred goes back a long way. For example, in the 18th century before our Common Era, an Egyptian Pharaoh invited the Hebrew Jacob and his large family to settle in Egypt. Later, however, another Pharaoh felt threatened by this large group of immigrants. As a result, the record says: “He proceeded to say to his people: ‘Look! The people of the sons of Israel are more numerous and mightier than we are. Come on! Let us deal shrewdly with them, for fear they may multiply.’ . . . So they set over them chiefs of forced labor for the purpose of oppressing them in their burden-bearing.” (Exodus 1:9-11) The Egyptians even ordered all newborn boys of the descendants of Jacob to be killed.—Exodus 1:15, 16.
What Is the Root Cause?
The world’s religions have rarely been helpful in opposing ethnic intolerance. While it is true that some individuals have heroically opposed oppression, religion as a whole has all too frequently sided with the oppressors. That was the case in the United States, where the subjugation of black people was enforced by law and by lynching and statutes banning mixed marriages continued until 1967. It was also true in South Africa under apartheid, when a minority protected their dominant position by laws that included a ban on interracial marriage. In each case, some belonging to the ethnic group that promoted intolerance were deeply religious.
However, the Bible reveals a deeper reason for ethnic intolerance. It explains why some ethnic groups oppress others. It says: “He that does not love has not come to know God, because God is love. If anyone makes the statement: ‘I love God,’ and yet is hating his brother, he is a liar. For he who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot be loving God, whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:8, 20) This statement identifies the root cause of ethnic intolerance. People practice it—whether they claim to be religious or not—because they have not come to know or to love God.
Knowledge of God—The Basis for Ethnic Harmony
How does knowing and loving God produce ethnic harmony? What knowledge does God’s Word reveal that restrains people from harming those who seem to be different? The Bible reveals that Jehovah is the Father of all men. It says: “There is actually to us one God the Father, out of whom all things are.” (1 Corinthians 8:6) Further, it says: “He made out of one man every nation of men.” (Acts 17:26) Thus, all men are, in effect, brothers.
All ethnic groups can be proud to have received life from God, but all have something to regret about their ancestry. Bible writer Paul noted: “Through one man sin entered into the world.” Thus, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23; 5:12) Jehovah is a God of diversity—no two creatures are exactly alike. Yet, he has given no ethnic group the basis for feeling superior. The widespread feeling that one’s own ethnic group is better than that of others runs counter to the facts set out in the Scriptures. Clearly, the knowledge we receive from God promotes ethnic harmony.
God’s Concern for All Nations
Some have wondered if God promoted ethnic bias by favoring the Israelites and teaching them to keep separate from other nations. (Exodus 34:12) At one time, God chose the nation of Israel as his special possession because of the outstanding faith of Israel’s forefather Abraham. God himself governed ancient Israel, choosing their rulers and providing them with a code of laws. During the time Israel accepted this arrangement, other peoples could see the results of government by God in contrast with the results of government by men elsewhere. Jehovah also taught Israel back then about the need for a sacrifice to restore mankind to a good relationship with God. So Jehovah’s dealings with Israel benefited all nations. That was consistent with what he had said to Abraham: “By means of your seed all nations of the earth will certainly bless themselves due to the fact that you have listened to my voice.”—Genesis 22:18.
In addition, the Jews were privileged to receive the sacred pronouncements of God and to be the nation into which the Messiah was born. But this too was so that all nations might benefit. The Hebrew Scriptures given to the Jews contain a heartwarming description of the time when all ethnic groups would receive great blessings: “Many nations will certainly go and say: ‘Come, you people, and let us go up to the mountain of Jehovah and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will instruct us about his ways’ . . . They will not lift up sword, nation against nation, neither will they learn war anymore. And they will actually sit, each one under his vine and under his fig tree, and there will be no one making them tremble.”—Micah 4:2-4.
Although Jesus Christ himself preached to the Jews, he also said: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations.” (Matthew 24:14) No nation would miss out on hearing the good news. Jehovah therefore set a perfect example in dealing in an evenhanded way with all ethnic groups. “God is not partial, but in every nation the man that fears him and works righteousness is acceptable to him.”—Acts 10:34, 35.
The laws that God gave to the ancient nation of Israel also reveal that he cares for all nations. Notice how the Law asked for more than mere tolerance of non-Israelites residing in the land, when it said: “The alien resident who resides as an alien with you should become to you like a native of yours; and you must love him as yourself, for you became alien residents in the land of Egypt.” (Leviticus 19:34) Many of God’s laws taught the Israelites to be kind to immigrants. Thus, when Boaz, a forefather of Jesus, saw a needy foreign woman gleaning, he was acting in harmony with what he had learned from God when he made sure that his harvesters left plenty of grain for her to collect.—Ruth 2:1, 10, 16.
Jesus Teaches Kindness
Jesus revealed the knowledge of God more than anyone else did. He showed his followers how to be kind to people who are different. He once struck up a conversation with a Samaritan woman. The Samaritans were an ethnic group that many Jews despised, so the woman was surprised. During this discussion, Jesus kindly helped the woman to understand how she could gain everlasting life.—John 4:7-14.
Jesus also taught us how to treat people from other ethnic groups when he gave an illustration about a neighborly Samaritan. This man came across a badly injured Jew who had been attacked by robbers. The Samaritan could easily have reasoned: ‘Why should I help a Jew? The Jews despise my people.’ But Jesus presented the Samaritan as having a different view of strangers. Even though other travelers had passed by the wounded man, the Samaritan “was moved with pity” and provided extensive help. Jesus concluded this parable by saying that anyone desiring God’s favor should do likewise.—Luke 10:30-37.
The apostle Paul taught those who wish to please God to change their personality and to imitate the way God treats people. Paul wrote: “Strip off the old personality with its practices, and clothe yourselves with the new personality, which through accurate knowledge is being made new according to the image of the One who created it, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, foreigner, Scythian . . . But, besides all these things, clothe yourselves with love, for it is a perfect bond of union.”—Colossians 3:9-14.
Does Knowledge of God Change People?
Does knowing Jehovah God really change the way people deal with those from other ethnic groups? Consider the experience of an Asian immigrant in Canada who was disappointed when she experienced discrimination there. She met Jehovah’s Witnesses, and they began studying the Bible with her. Later, she wrote them a letter of appreciation, in which she said: ‘You were very nice and kind white people. When I realized you were really different from other whites, I wondered why. I thought and thought and concluded that you were God’s Witnesses. There must be something in the Bible. I saw at your meetings crowds of whites, blacks, browns, and yellows whose hearts were the same color—transparent—because they were brothers and sisters. Now I know who made them so. It’s your God.’
God’s Word foretells a time when “the earth will certainly be filled with the knowledge of Jehovah.” (Isaiah 11:9) Even now, in fulfillment of Bible prophecy, a great crowd amounting to millions “out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues” are being united in true worship. (Revelation 7:9) They look forward to seeing hatred replaced by love in a worldwide society that will soon fulfill Jehovah’s purpose expressed to Abraham: “All the families of the earth will be blessed.”—Acts 3:25.
The word “ethnic” describes something related to a population distinguished from others by race, nationality, religion, language, or culture.
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God’s Law taught the Israelites to love alien residents
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What can we learn from the parable of the neighborly Samaritan?
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God has given no ethnic group a reason for feeling superior