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What does the Bible say about how to treat people from different race or faith backgrounds?
Jesus was a victim of both religious and racial discrimination. Israel was ruled by the Romans at the time he was born, causing tension and animosity on both sides. There was hatred between the Jews and their neighbours of mixed race, the Samaritans, people from a region called Samaria. Jews did not consider these people ‘pure’: although they were of Jewish descent, they had intermarried with other races, something forbidden in the Torah.
In his teaching, Jesus challenged the prejudices of the people of his day. Jews and Samaritans would not even talk to each other. In the famous 'Parable of the Good Samaritan', Jesus makes a Samaritan the hero who stopped to help an injured Jew (Luke 10:30 - 37). A Samaritan is also the only one who returned to thank Jesus from a group of 10 lepers healed by him (Luke 17:11-19).
In John’s gospel, Jesus makes a point of stopping at a Samaritan village and talking with a Samaritan woman (which would have been two counts against her). He treats her with courtesy and respect which proves to be a life-transforming encounter for her (John 4:1 - 42). In this, Jesus exemplifies his own teaching: that Christians should not just tolerate people of all races, but that they should actively show love to all, even their enemies.
'Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you.' (Jesus - Luke 6:27).
It is clear that the first disciples were not above prejudice. Even Peter was prejudiced – see his experience at Joppa (Acts 10:9-23), where God had to challenge his prejudices regarding Gentiles. After Jesus' ascension the new Christian 'church' had to rethink its attitude to Gentiles (i.e. non-Jews). Many Jewish Christians believed Gentiles must become Jews before they could become Christians. It was eventually decided at the Council of Jerusalem that Gentiles could now be admitted to the Church without first becoming Jews (Acts 15:5 - 21).