Over the past two weeks we have looked at the Bible and what it teaches about race and race relations. We have seen how everyone bears the image of God and should be respected as an image bearer. We have seen how we are all descendants of Adam and Eve and therefore we are all “family” being part of the one human race. Last week we looked at the parable of the Good Samaritan and saw that we are all neighbors and to act like a good neighbor to one another regardless of race, ethnicity or religion or even whether we like someone or not. Jesus taught this also in Mt.6:32-36;
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
Today, as I close out this series, I want us to consider the question: “So with the abundance of such teaching in the Scriptures denouncing racism, why has racism been such a problem for so long?”
Well, the obvious answer is “sin.” Sin always has a way of twisting and corrupting every good and beautiful thing God made into something bad and ugly. Such is the case with the diversity of race. But beyond that we should know that in particular the slavery issue of was defended by Christians as Biblical and therefore justified. Their central argument was based upon the text Gen.9 and the so-called “curse on Ham.” Gen.9 starts with Noah and his family after the flood. God tells Noah and his family to be fruitful and multiple and then makes a covenant with Noah telling him He will never destroy the earth with a flood again. Then starting in v.18 we read;
“ The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) 19 These were the three sons of Noah, and from them came the people who were scattered over the whole earth.
20 Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded[a] to plant a vineyard. 21 When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. 22 Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside. 23 But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s naked body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked.
24 When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, 25 he said,
“Cursed be Canaan!
The lowest of slaves
will he be to his brothers.”
26 He also said,
“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Shem!
May Canaan be the slave of Shem.
May God extend Japheth’s[b] territory;
may Japheth live in the tents of Shem,
and may Canaan be the slave of Japheth.”
28 After the flood Noah lived 350 years.”
Upon these few and unclear verses many Christians defended slavery. Their thinking went along these lines. The name HAM means “hot” or perhaps, “burnt.” This implies he was black. Having sinned against Noah he was rightly cursed by Noah. The curse fell upon one of his sons, Canaan, who would be forever a slave to Shem and Jepheth.
Now for a long period of time that interpretation was not challenged and it became the basis of the defense for enslaving the black race. However, such an interpretation has been found to be erroneous. So let me address these verses a bit before moving on since they have been central to the debate.
As many have pointed out, interpretive debates generally revolve around two interrelated questions:(1) What was the nature of Ham’s offense (why would Ham's "seeing" Noah's nakedness merit a curse?), and (2) What was the rationale for Canaan’s punishment (if Ham was the perpetrator, why was Canaan cursed?)
This whole incident is a very sorted and immoral event. Now as to the nature of Ham’s offense we have three main interpretations, all of them wicked.
First, it was voyeurism. Ham saw Noah naked. Now in that culture it was a serious crime to view another’s nakedness. But the penalty, everlasting slavery, doesn’t fit that crime. Besides that, Ham is not cursed but his youngest son Canaan is. This view doesn’t do justice to the evidence.
The Second view is Paternal incest or rape. This view contends that when Noah what Ham, “had done to him” indicates something much more illicit than just seeing. This indeed would be a much greater transgression than just seeing his father naked and deserving of greater punishment. Yet, it does not explain why Ham’s son was cursed and not Ham.
The third view is Maternal incest. This view contends that Ham had relations with Noah’s wife. Like the second the expression “saw him naked” is a euphemism for having sex. It is used this way a number of times in the Old Testament. A verse that sheds light on this is Lev.18:8 which reads in the KJV;
“The nakedness of thy father's wife shalt thou not uncover: it is thy father's nakedness.”
And also Lev.20:11;
“And the man that lieth with his father's wife hath uncovered his father's nakedness:”
These verses tells us that the expression, “Thy father’s nakedness” is really meaning, “Thy mother’s nakedness.”
So Ham in seeing his father’s nakedness really means seeing his mother’s and having relations with her. This is a wicked and vile act that deserves a heavy punishment. It was more than sexual and had implications regarding authority and control, which I can’t get into here.
But it also explains why Canaan, Ham’s youngest son was cursed because Canaan was the child born from that illicit union. The writer condenses time, as is very common in Scripture, so it sounds like it all happened in one day, but the cursing took place 9 months later at Canaan’s birth. None of Ham’s older sons were cursed, Cush, Mizraim, and Phut. Canaan would later give rise to the Canaanites a chronic enemy of God’s people who would eventually be conquered and subdued.
There is another sorted account that is parallel to this one recorded in Gen.20. There we find Lot and his two daughters having fled Sodom and Gomorrah. It reads;
“And the firstborn said unto the younger, Our father is old, and there is not a man in the earth to come in unto us after the manner of all the earth:
32 Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father.”
Their plan succeeds and the both give birth.
“And the first born bare a son, and called his name Moab: the same is the father of the Moabites unto this day.
38 And the younger, she also bare a son, and called his name Benammi: the same is the father of the children of Ammon unto this day.”
Both of these illicit unions give rise to future enemies of the Israelites, Moabites and Ammonites, just as the illicit union of Ham gave rise to Canaan. The curse fell only upon Canaan and the Canaanites not an entire race of people. The idea that the curse applied to the black race is far off the mark and should be thrown on the trash heap of erroneous interpretations.
Now, before proceeding, I want to mention another son of Ham, Cush. At one time Cush was a great kingdom just south of Egypt. It is often translated “Ethiopia” in Scripture. Cushites were black. Both the Bible and history verifies this fact. One author notes;
“Throughout the entire period suggested for the composition of the Hebrew Bible, the term ‘Cush’ would have been understood to refer to the black inhabitants of the civilization south of Egypt.”
“Can an Ethiopian (Cushite) change his skin or a leopard its spots?
Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil.”
Cush had a sort of ‘love/hate’ relationship with Egypt. Often they mingled and helped one another yet often they warred against one another. So Egypt knew them well and many inhabited Egypt.
Now, here is why I am telling you this. In Numbers 12:1 we read;
“Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite.”
Miriam and Aaron complained against Moses because he married a black woman. They went on to challenge Moses and God grew angry with them and summoned them to the tent of meeting. Then in v.9-10;
“The anger of the Lord burned against them, and he left them.
10 When the cloud lifted from above the tent, Miriam’s skin was leprous—it became as white as snow.”
How ironic that Miriam had complained because the woman was black, Miriam was afflicted and her skin became “white as snow.” There is not one word that God disapproved of Moses interracial marriage to the Cushite woman. The only prohibitions against marriage is in marrying a pagan. Again and again God warned the Israelites not to intermarry with the surrounding pagan nations, not because of race, but because of idolatry. One example is in Debt.7:3-5 where the Lord says he will drive out the seven nations before them. Then God said;
“Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, 4 for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods, and the Lord’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you.”
The prohibition on marrying those of the other nations is not race or ethnicity, but rather beliefs. We know this prohibition carries over into the New Testament in the familiar verse in 2 Cor.6:14;
“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?”
Again, it has nothing to do with race but beliefs that are the deciding factor. As J. Daniel Hayes, Dean and Professor of Biblical Studies concludes;
“What theological conclusions should we draw from this text? I would suggest that interracial marriage is strongly affirmed in Scripture. Marrying unbelievers, on the other hand, is strongly prohibited. The criteria for approving or disapproving of our children’s selected spouses should be based on their faith in Christ and not at all on the color of their skin…White Christians who say they are not prejudiced but who vehemently oppose interracial marriages are not being honest. They are still prejudiced and are out of line with God’s revealed will.”
So we have seen that the so-called ‘curse of Ham’ did not sentence a race of people to slavery. We also noted that Moses married a black woman and was blessed by God. One more point I’d like to make is the fact that apparently the early church was open to all believers, blacks included. I note this because in our country’s past, many white churches refused to admit black believers. But if you look at Acts 13:1 we find the early church had no such barriers. The verse reads;
“ Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul.”
The word N-I-G-E-R is pronounced NEE-ger so I am not using the offensive “N” word. One writer points out;
“The early uses of the word niger and later negro, were not racist, but were more descriptive of skin color. When slaves were brought to the Americas, the descriptive terms were later turned into racial slurs meant to degrade slaves and their descendants.”
Here in Acts is one example of a church leader who was a godly black man. He was part of the group the Lord spoke to to send off Paul and Barnabas.
The Scriptures are clear that there is no superior race and it condemns any idea of racial supremacy.
Within these three sermons I have attempted to set out the building blocks of a proper to race and race relations.
Every individual has dignity as the bearer of God’s image.
Every individual is of the same family as descendants of Adam and Eve.
Every individual is called to be a good neighbor and show compassion.
Reading the Scriptures more closely and interpreting them more accurately allows us to see that race was neither an impediment to community or marriage or serving in the church.
Our church operates on those foundational building blocks.
Yet, when we look at society we see a different picture. Division, injustice, hatred, violence, riots and death have destroyed the foundation. We ask ourselves, “What can I do?” “What should I do?” I think there are some things we all should do.
First, I think it’s important to point out that America’s goodness is not completely overshadowed by her imperfections. While systemic racism is still a problem (and by that I mean it continues to exist to varying degrees in every sphere of society) there is no longer systematic racism. Systematic racism was having actual laws that enforced segregation, the so-called ‘Jim Crow’ laws. Those laws, which existed for about 100 years, from the post-Civil War era until 1968, were meant to marginalize African Americans by denying them the right to vote, hold jobs, get an education or other opportunities. Those who attempted to defy Jim Crow laws often faced arrest, fines, jail sentences, violence and death. Thankfully, hose days are gone. And I think we do a disservice to our country by not acknowledging the freedoms, the advancements and opportunities available to all peoples including minorities. As an example, When I look at our own church I see people of color and different ethnicities who are doctors and nurses, lawyers and engineers, Professors and teachers, pastors and church leaders. You capitalized on the opportunities and you have succeeded as have so many throughout our country, in corporations, science, and politics. So let’s be fair to our country and maintain our perspective. Yes, work still needs to be done, but “We’ve come a long way Baby”.
Second, pray. At a time like this we need to pray for our nation that those who can effect change will do just that and bring needed changes. We need to pray that we may not be blind to the smallest bit of racism in our own hearts. We need to pray that we are not blind to injustice, and fail to show compassion simply because someone is different or is of a different opinion. We need to pray for healing for all peoples who have been affected by racism or hatred and that goes both ways. We need to pray for God’s mercy upon our nation and that we would turn back to Him and His precepts. “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,” and when we follow His precepts our nation is blessed and its people benefit. But when we drift away and ignore His precepts, upheaval follows and the people suffer.
Third, dialogue. Let’s talk to one another in a open, honest but respectful manner seeking to understand each other better. In a Christianity Today article, Zaykia Mims, a young black woman writes;
“Soliciting, receiving, and giving feedback can be hard, but feedback is an irreplaceable component of true reconciliation work. Ready yourself with humility to remember that perfection exists in only one being, the Trinity, and in one polis, New Jerusalem. Every other person and every other nation (including you and yours) should be expected to reflect glorious aspects of God and life-stealing aspects of the Devil.”
Only God sees the whole picture. We need to keep open lines of communication and do the hard but necessary work of listening and considering the other side without getting all defensive and angry. Prov.18:17 reads;
“The first speech in a court case is always convincing—
until the cross-examination starts!”
We’ve all heard the words, “There are two sides to every argument,” and we need to hear and consider both.
Fourth, take action. Dialogue is good and necessary, but it should not stop there. To truly love our neighbor is to take action on their behalf. The Good Samaritan did not just speak comforting words to the injured victim. Rather, he got involved even at his own expense to help him.
Now there are many ways to get involved in combating racism and the connecting problems. There are also ways we should not get involved. Any organization or group that participates in or promotes violence is to be avoided and condemned. Riots and mayhem are counter-productive and goes against Scripture. Paul remind us in Rom.13:10:
“Love does no harm to a neighbor.”
So whether left wing or right wing, such groups must be avoided. Also, be discerning in which organization you support.
And Folks, we need the Police. True, some changes need to be made to eliminate the small percentage of bad cops and bad tactics, but we need the police. In fact, the Bible speaks of the need for law enforcement. In Rom. 13:3-4 Paul states;
“For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”
When there is no more crime and no more criminals, we will no longer need the police. In a very small way this reminded me of a situation I experienced that supported this need. It did not have to do with the police, but with an umpire. Back in the 70’s the church I was attending, Syosset Bible Baptist joined the newly formed church softball league. Team captains from the different churches came together to organize and they decided, since we were all Christians, we wouldn’t need an umpire for the games. The catcher could call balls and strikes and the pitcher called who was safe on first etc. We would all be happy playing in a true Christian softball utopia. Well, as you guessed that idea didn’t last long at all. Our human bias proved we were unqualified to be truly objective and arguments abounded until we reconsidered and started hiring official umpires. Then the games ran smoothly. It’s sort of the same with the police, we need them.
In closing, as we consider what the Scriptures say about race and how we should relate to one another let us remember that Christ came to save us and restore the vertical relationship with God. Our salvation depends upon that relationship. But Christ also came to tear down walls, build bridges and foster genuine community and loving relationships horizontally among us. Remember, it is both, Love God and love your neighbor.” This is God’s ultimate goal as we read in Rev.5:9-10 of that multi-ethnic group;
“And they sang a new song, saying:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.”
Since we will, for all eternity, be shoulder-to-shoulder with our multi-ethnic brothers and sisters, praising God and Christ upon the throne, let us begin here and now, joined in love both for God and one another!