Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at roger@preachitteachit.org.

Dear Roger,

I was recently asked when people of skin tone other than white as an indicator of racial or ethnic affiliation first appeared in the Bible. Was it before the Tower of Babel?

Sincerely, Matt

Dear Matt,

The first time I rode on a bus there were “colored people” on it. I was five. I’d never noticed there were colored people until my mommy warned me. “When we get on the bus,” she said, “colored people will be sitting at the back. Keep quiet. Don’t say a word about it. I’ll explain later.”

When we got on the bus I looked for the colored people. Sure enough, there they were in the back of the bus. I guess I expected to see a rainbow of colors like in my Crayola box. It didn’t take long to see that I only needed three crayons: black, brown and “flesh-colored.” My introduction to racism had begun.

“Most Americans, white and black, see racism as a lingering problem in the United States, and many say they know people who are racist. But, just 13 percent of whites and 12 percent of blacks consider themselves racially biased” (“Most Polls See Lingering Racism in Others,” CNN.com, December 12, 2006).

Matt, before I answer your question about skin color and the Bible, I want to share a series of questions on how we can determine if we are racially biased.

Peter Scazzero, pastor of New Life Fellowship in Queens, N.Y., developed what he calls The Racism/Bridge Builder Test.

  1. Is there a particular group of people/ethnicity/race that you simply can’t stand?
  2. Is there any particular group of people/ethnicity/race that you wished your child wouldn’t marry? Or you wouldn’t marry?
  3. Are there types of people who cause you to cross the street if you are walking alone?
  4. Does anything happen inside you when you see interracial couples? What types or combinations of couples?
  5. When was the last time you visited in the home or apartment of someone from a different culture or race? When was the last time you invited them to your home or apartment?
  6. What is your attitude towards people/groups whose musical preferences are different than yours? (e.g. Classical, classic rock, hard rock, Pop, Jazz, Hip-Hop, R and B (rhythm and blues), gospel, heavy metal, etc.
  7. What type of person would you most trust to invest or steward your money? What type of person would you least trust to invest or steward your money?
  8. When you meet people from another race/culture who do not fit your stereotype (i.e. nicer, smarter, dumber, aggressive, passive, and/or more articulate) than you expected, are you surprised?
  9. When a driver of a different ethnicity/race than yours is driving their car too fast, too slow, or makes a mistake, do you say to yourself, “Well that figures!”

During my last two years of college I pastored the Emmanuel Baptist Church in Penelope, Texas. It was there that I first encountered "colored town." My wife Julie and I were driving around one Sunday afternoon visiting people to invite them to come to our church. We drove down a dirt road we’d never been on before, crested a hill we’d never noticed before, and spread out before us was Penelope’s colored town.