Summary: 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?”
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.