Ethos Education

Lincoln: Why should Christians care about racial equality?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Recognition of the UK as a multi-ethnic society.
  • Understanding of Christian teaching that promotes racial harmony.
  • Awareness of modern Christians who have worked to oppose racial prejudice.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Reflect upon the unfairness of treating people differently for arbitrary reasons.
  • Analyse a film clip to understand the historical context behind the American Civil War.
  • Analyse historic arguments for and against granting equality to different races, focusing on how each side sought to use Christianity or ‘natural law’ to support their side of the argument.
  • Reflect on comments by the Archbishop of York and the teaching of Jesus from the Bible to determine a Christian perspective of racial prejudice and discrimination.
  • Reflect on less obvious expressions of racial prejudice in society today.
  • Synthesise learning by writing a letter to a world leader setting out the Christian basis of the case for racial equality.


Start the lesson by reading out a list of students’ names. Choose no more than half of the class to be on the list, either making an arbitrary decision as to who to choose, or by picking an innocuous trait such as having fair hair. Explain that the people whose names were read out will be allowed to remove their jackets (or some other trivial act), but the rest of the class will not. Try to select a suitable perk for the chosen group which is unimportant but likely to irritate those students who are denied it. If the non-chosen students don’t protest, add more and more liberties for the chosen group until you get a reaction.

Ask the protesters why they think it wrong to give different rights to different students. Draw out from them the unfairness of treating people differently without due cause. Explain that in today’s lesson you are going to be thinking about racism, and looking particularly at Christian responses to racially-motivated prejudice.


Introduce the clip from Lincoln (20th Century Fox, certificate 12). Click here to buy the film online.

Point out to the students that some of the language used to describe race in this clip may seem offensive to modern ears. The film recreates terms common at the time depicted, and is not intended to offend. Ask the students to pay particular attention to the attitude of Corporal Ira Clark (David Oyelowo) – the second soldier to speak – compared with the other black soldier featured in the clip, and to the arguments he puts forward to President Lincoln.

  • Start time:       0.01.21 (in chapter 1 of the DVD)
  • End time:         0.04.54
  • Clip length:      3 minutes and 33 seconds

The clip starts at the beginning of the film, with the caption, ‘From its earliest days…’ It ends with Lincoln (Daniel Day Lewis) saying, ‘He left me his scissors in his will.’

Ask the students why they think Corporal Clark is unhappy. What is the basis of his argument to President Lincoln? Are the points that he raises valid? Draw out that many of the freedoms and equalities between people of different races have taken a long time to be legally recognised, and that the film depicts a time where attitudes were very different.

Introduce a second clip from Lincoln. Explain that the three men in the balcony discussing the demeanour of the Congressmen have been given the job of persuading reluctant Democrats into voting with the President and his Republican supporters. Ask the students to pay particular attention to what both sides of the debate have to say concerning God’s attitude towards natural law and racial equality.

  • Start time:       0.34.28 (beginning of chapter 5 of the DVD)
  • End time:         0.38.20
  • Clip length:      3 minutes and 52 seconds

The clip begins with the Speaker of the House saying, ‘The House recognises Fernando Wood, the honourable representative from New York’. It ends with him calling for ‘Order in the chamber.’

Ask the students what Wood (Lee Pace) seems to think about God’s attitude towards racial equality? Remind them of his remark that, ‘Congress must never declare equal those who God has created unequal’. By contrast, remind them that Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) argues that slavery is against natural law and that its supporters insult God.

Explain that both the supporters and opponents of the abolition of slavery sought to use Christian arguments to defend their position. Today, most Christians accept that the Bible is clear in its opposition to racism. Passages such as Acts 17:24-26 talk of God creating all people, wanting all to reach out to him and to find him, while there are numerous instances of the Bible talking of God’s kingdom being made up of all nations.

Ask the students how they would expect a modern-day Christian to respond to issues of racial equality. What would they expect a specifically Christian perspective on racism to be like?

Give out copies of the following article, where John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York added his contribution to a media debate about racism in 2007, after Jade Goody was made to leave the Celebrity Big Brother house after making comments that were deemed to be racially abusive.

Read through the article with the students and ask them what Archbishop Sentamu suggests is the root of prejudice, and therefore the reason for racist attitudes. Draw their attention to his reference to Martin Luther King’s remarks that ‘ignorance is the root of all prejudice’.

While it is true that opposing racism is not unique to Christians, both Archbishop Sentamu and Martin Luther King were motivated by the values and principles they derived from their Christian faith.

Explain that Jesus lived in a culture where racial prejudice was commonplace. Jesus challenged people to reject prejudice and to show love to others regardless of their race or religion. If you want to give some examples, you could refer to passages such as Mark 12:28-34 (Jesus tells his followers to love their neighbour) and Luke 10:25-37 (the parable of the Good Samaritan). Ask the students to read through either or both of these passages and to write brief notes suggesting how a Christian might interpret them to support the views expressed by Archbishop Sentamu.

Ask the students to think of ways in which racial prejudice affects some people in the United Kingdom. Encourage them to think widely, and to identify subtle effects of prejudice as well as the more obvious ones. By way of an example, you could point out that some black footballers have claimed that they do not get the same opportunities to forge careers in football management as their white counterparts. As the students identify examples of racial prejudice, write them up on the board. During the discussion, ask the students what ordinary people like them can do to oppose these examples of prejudice.


As an assessment exercise, ask the students to write a letter to President Lincoln from the perspective of a black soldier, such as the Corporal in the initial film clip. The letter should set out the case for equal rights for black men and women and the argument should include a specifically Christian perspective on the subject of racial equality. Alternatively students could write a letter to the current President of America, or Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, making a similar case for the importance of racial equality today.


  • A copy of Lincoln and the means to play it.
  • Bibles.

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