DNA, Ancestry and Identity

“There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).

I have a photo of my deceased father taken in the 1930s when he was a young man. He looks very handsome with jet black hair, dark brown eyes and a rather dark complexion. He is wearing a black business suit with a white shirt and tie. He looks like a Spanish aristocrat. Given the 80-years-war between Spain and the Netherlands (1568-1648), it’s not difficult to believe that there was considerable mixing of the gene pool between the two cultures.

I have been tempted to send my saliva sample to Ancestry.ca and spend the hundred dollars or so to get a DNA analysis of my cultural heritage. I wouldn’t be surprised to discover a fair percentage of Spanish “blood” lurking there. And clearly, given its popularity, lots of other folks are equally interested in doing the same thing. I wonder why? Maybe just for fun, but could it be that the direct-to-consumer DNA tests promising to uncover people’s genetic ancestry also risks reinforcing crude notions of race, and even racist thinking?

No biological basis
Scientists completed mapping the human genome in 2003 and confirmed that the three million base pairs of genetic letters were 99.9 percent identical in every individual. In other words, any given person is, on average, only 0.1 percent different genetically from every other person on the planet, irrespective of the race with which they identify. Broad racial distinctions such as Caucasian, Asian or African, and even finer distinctions based on nationality, are purely sociocultural distinctions that have virtually no basis in biology. The human colour coding of the South African apartheid regime, or Nazi notions of a pure Aryan race have no biological basis and serve purely racist ideologies. White supremacists are certainly no more “supreme” genetically that any group of people. Unfortunately, there is a distinct possibility that the hunger for knowing from which parts of the world our genes come can lead to a kind of racist reductionism or an unhealthy focus on nationalistic pride that serves only to mask racial prejudice. This, by the way, is my main critique of the modern Olympic movement which is often nothing more than a crude form of my country-is-better-than-your-country jingoism.

Jesus interacted with Samaritans and Roman centurions. St. Peter was instructed in a dream not to call anyone unclean (i.e. non-Jews) when God, in Jesus, views all humans as having been created in God’s image and thus worthy of salvation. And St. Paul also stresses that many differences, including those of nationality and race, are irrelevant to those who are “in Christ.” As St. Paul also pointed out, from a human standpoint, he had a lot to boast about given his pure Jewish ancestry and rabbinical learning. But he counted all of that as nothing compared to the salvation he had received in Christ. Note that this didn’t mean he boasted about being a Christian; rather, he gave all glory to Christ his Lord.

I’ve decided not to send my saliva to Ancestry.ca because I already know my true identity in Christ. 


  • Robert (Bob) Bruinsma is a retired Professor of Education (The King’s University) living in Edmonton. He has interests in language and literature and loves birds and the outdoors. To help pass the time on long winter nights, he makes wine and beer (and drinks it in moderation) with his wife of 46 years (Louisa). Bob is a member of Fellowship CRC where he tells stories for children and happily participates in weekly communion. He and Louisa have three grown children and three little grandsons.

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