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Christian Ethic #2 for this conversation:

So, what about in 2017? Should we be removing monuments to Confederate Leaders?

Well, there certainly is wisdom in doing so… and then a Christian ethic for doing so.

First, the wisdom – and from what you might consider an unlikely source:

Lexington, VA., August 5, 1869.

Dear Sir–Absence from Lexington has prevented my receiving until to-day your letter of the 26th ult., inclosing an invitation from the Gettysburg Battle-field Memorial Association, to attend a meeting of the officers engaged in that battle at Gettysburg, for the purpose of marking upon the ground by enduring memorials of granite the positions and movements of the armies on the field. My engagements will not permit me to be present. I believe if there, I could not add anything material to the information existing on the subject. I think it wiser, moreover, not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered.

Very respectfully, Your obedient servant,
R. E. Lee.

Obviously, I cannot know the heart of the long-dead General.  Why did he prefer that there not be monuments for the American Civil War?

Was he ashamed of defeat? Did he somewhat regret his role in the Civil War (as I was raised to believe)? I don’t know. However, his advice, at least in this case, was to “commit to oblivion the feelings engendered”.   Whose feelings was he concerned about? I am not sure, but I think everyone’s. Who is hurting? Who is wounded?

“Let us remove the unnecessary reminders of those wounds.”   Maybe he had really come to the conclusion that it wasn’t worth the pain it caused anyone anymore.

This concern for the feelings of others brings about the second Christian Ethic, also found in Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (2:3-8)

Paul tells us that looking after others as though they were more significant than us, is the very mind of Christ, and thus should be followed.   Paul fleshes this out in Romans 14 further. If what I am doing, even if my motivation for doing it isn’t wrong, unnecessarily offends a sincere brother or sister in Christ, it should be a relatively easy call for someone who has already committed to death for the sake of Christ!

For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” (Romans 14:7-8)

If I am committed to dying to myself, then if a sincere brother asks me to stand alongside of him while we remove a monument to a part of history that he is asked to honor (by sending his children to a school named after someone who fought to defend a state’s rights to own people, for example), then even if I like that monument, it should be an easy call!

And, honestly, it is for me.

There is an African American pastor here in Tyler who is also a school principal. I have sat under his teaching numerous times. He is an excellent Bible teacher. I don’t know him as well as I should, but I certainly think of him as a friend, brother-in-Christ and a fellow worker and warrior. If Steven asked me (and he hasn’t, yet) to stand with him in an effort to change the name of a school in our district or to remove a statue that his congregation found offensive, I would happily do so.

He has faced racism in ways that caused me to shake with anger.

God knows that I would love to confront a group of White Supremacists about my reasons… especially one that claims to be a Christian organization (like the pathetic modern KKK apparently does). Please let me debate one of them on a stage. (If any of you are reading this, please learn some Hermeneutical techniques!)

But what if a Civil War re-enactment group wanted to use our facilities to practice? Should I refuse them – or at least those dressed in Confederate garb? What if I know them personally and I know they are not racists? I am sure someone would be offended by a yes or no answer. Maybe part of the Christian ethic would be to ask a wise, sincere member Christ-following representative of that group who might be unnecessarily offended and get their wisdom, too.

This stuff gets hard quickly. At least we have the Christian ethic of loving one another, dying to self, and looking first after the interest of others. It doesn’t make things less complicated, but it does mean there is a way to engage with these questions with grace and strength.

So, if this is the ethic, then it should be easy to make this call, right? I stand with all African American brothers and sisters and who want the statues down, right? Well, yes. However, how do I do it with the same consideration of the brothers and sisters who see these monuments as important to them?

As much as it is the American way to allow people to speak freely, even if the speaker is an ignorant hate monger. There is no freedom of speech if only inoffensive speech is protected.

Much moreso, it is the Christian ethic that if we only love lovable people, there is nothing special about following Jesus with His radical ethic of loving the “unlovable”.

“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same?” Luke 6:32-33

For more on this ethic, see also: Matt 5:43-48 Luke 6:27-32, Romans 5:8, I John 4:19.

There is another part of this mental exercise that I promised to comment on before I was done. This is primarily what makes it so hard to jump in on either side. People who I know well enough to discern that their motivation for being vocal about this immediate issue is toxic. They are motivated by a disease that is perhaps the main pollutant of current American culture. I referenced it in my opening remarks many pieces of this article ago when I referenced that it must be Screwtape’s dream come true (a reference to CS Lewis’ brilliant and somewhat terrifying (at the deep level, not the jump scare level) book “Screwtape Letters”.

Some of you might have noticed that earlier, I used the phrase “a sincere brother or sister in Christ.” I wonder if that raised any eyebrows.

I don’t just mean someone who sincerely feels something.   By definition, “sincerity” (as well as “authenticity” “genuine-ness” etc.) means “the same over time or under pressure”, right?

Well, then, feelings, though perhaps honestly what someone feels at the moment, cannot really be thought of as sincere, since they are so vulnerable to change.

(As I have considered making a more vocal statement about supporting

and even agreeing with the decision to move Confederate monuments, etc. into private collections or even museums – maybe even a whole new type of “monument museums” that could engage in the complexity of the conversation – I continue to see people, often the front people, engaged and I know them well enough to know that I don’t want to be lumped in with them.  Let them become part of history rather than to have places of honor.

To ask someone to remember something is appropriate for many different reasons, some of which have be enunciated here.  To remember is wise (ask about Holocaust museums, for example).  To ask

someone to honor someone who they believe was wrong is very different thing and is often wrong.)

But when it comes to drawing attention to my own opinions, especially without explaining them, I don’t want people to assume the same motives on me that they are probably rightly assuming on these other people. This brings me to my last rant in this rant-heavy article:

The Crisis Culture and our response (****)

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Here is a historical and human truth:  Essentially every human being has aspects of their lives that are noble (did you know that Hitler was an aspiring artist?) and aspects of their lives that were distressing (Did you know that George Washington was a slave owner?). This is according to the Christian understanding that though we are all created in the image of God, we all also have “sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). No person ever lived a life as a human without willful sin except Jesus Christ Himself.

About every significant historical person and event, there seems to be the deification movement and the demonization movement (we are a Borderline culture, after all – again, as I promised, more about that before we are done).   I keep running into this every time I study an event or person.

The Alamo was a Thermopylae-like, multi-day defensive struggle by heroic and able men devoted to death in order to give the Texian army time to develop, or they were a band of misfits who surrendered at the first sign of their own blood, only to be summarily executed by Santa Anna.

I have read both versions presented as facts.

Christopher Columbus was a Godly man, given a vision, by his dying father, of an entire land of people without the hope of Jesus Christ… and he then dedicated himself to finding a passage for King (whichever king would back him), Country (whichever country would back him) in search of wealth and mission, or he was a sexually counter-cultural creature of vile tastes who sought only to steal, kill and destroy in an utterly self-serving goal to use whoever it took to grasp for what he desired.

Both of these have been specified within my hearing.

So, which Christian doctrines or scriptural ethics can help guide a believer when it comes to cultural shifts, especially sudden ones, like we have seen recently in the US regarding the removal of monuments and memorials that honor Confederate leaders from the American Civil War?

Christian Ethic #1 for this conversation:

First off, I have thought of a bunch of Christian ethics – meekness, mutual submission, following leaders, being peacemakers – and some of these are wrapped up in the ones I chose.

But, I intentionally chose the ones that I am using with my kids to talk about these issues.

I think one, which can be used to walk our children through these crises (in addition to the Romans 3:23 above) can be found in Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (4:8)

It seems that a valuable use of time for the Christian might be to actually study the people at the center of the controversy and look for what might be “commendable” or “worthy of praise.”

It is an overly simplistic mindset to relegate someone to the “bad man” position and then walk away, and it steals from us the most important role of history and historical people from us – the ability to learn from them.

At least in my family, I want us to understand that there were noble traits even about people where were on the wrong side of history… even about ignorant and evil people! This allows us to see the evil in ourselves.

Trying to understand how intelligent people allowed themselves to be on the wrong side of history – to be clearly wrong, is valuable! How did a liberally minded, practical philosopher like Ben Franklin think it was ok to own slaves? How did a character driven moralist like Dr. King (according to some reports) justify being unfaithful to his wife? It allows us to ask:

“What, in my personal life… What, in my culture, our culture, will be viewed as backwards, barbaric and/or evil 150 years from now? Are we so prideful as to think as they did? They used and abused even Holy scripture to justify their arrogance and sin.

I bet we do too.

But how will we see it unless we learn humility?

This is among the most important Christian ethic. If we are Christ followers, we are always under the assumption that we still need to be working out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12); and keeping our hand to the plow and eyes forward (Luke 9:62)… and humbling ourselves under God’s mighty Hand! (I Peter 5:6).

The error and arrogance of our forefathers, all of our forefathers, is fertile ground for growing humility.

Next:  Christian Ethic #2

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Intermarriage

There were multiple commands from God to the Jews not to intermarry with the Canaanites and other tribes they were conquering in the Promised Land.

“You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods.” Dt 7:3-4

First off, though many of these people would be the offspring of Canaan, in some cases, like the Edomites and Assyrians, they would be other offspring of Shem! They wouldn’t even be a different race. I personally don’t think race was the main issue. The Persians (modern day Iranians) are descendants of Ishmael – another son of Abraham. Can these concerns be primarily about race? I don’t think so.

The evidence is in the passages themselves.

These instructions are found in Exodus 34, Joshua 23, and I Kings 11. Each time, the command is very implicitly connected to the warning that these people will turn them to other gods (except maybe in Joshua where it is still implied). The main concern in these passages seems to be that intermarriage with these other peoples will lead people away from Him!

This has a New Testament equivalent, too. Consider:

14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 2 Cor 6:14-15

Paul warns that key relationships, like marriage, can be dangerous for living out the Christian life if entered into with a non-believer. Consider the ramifications for the intimacy of the marriage if THE MOST IMPORTANT thing in a person’s life is not shared with the spouse.

So, what does the Bible say to New Testament Christians about marrying people of a different “race”? I think that the answer is: marry another Christian; I see nothing in the Bible that a New Testament Christian could apply that would limit what “race” a person chooses to enter into a marriage covenant with (and it seems like that was never the real issue).

If people want to make an argument about races not intermarrying, fine (I guess)… but I would say that they cannot use the Bible at all to do so.

11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. (Col 3:11)

*****

Are Ham, Shem & Japheth all welcome to the Cross?

Here is the cool surprise I told you about related to the Shem, Ham and Japheth concepts. In the middle of the Book – The Acts of the Apostles, there is an intriguing series of conversions… 3 of them to be precise.

In Acts 8:26-40, we see the miraculous (and seemingly non-sequitur) account of Philip the

Evangelist being led into the presence of a traveling Ethiopian (and what an Ethiopian, too – a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians! He was an African, just to be clear – and an exceptional example of an African!

 

 

In Acts 9:1-18, we experience the conversion of Paul. Paul is a Jew; a descendant of Abraham – and an exceptional one:

“…If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more:5

 

circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin,

 

a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” (Phil 3:4-7)

In Acts 10:1-48, we are privy to the conversion of Cornelius, a Roman , and his whole family. He is a member of the Italian cohort – a child of Rome!

In other words, in Acts 8-10, Luke specifically recalls that in his research, he heard a very clear account of a descendent of Ham, a descendant of Shem and a descendant of Japheth all saved by the power of the gospel… and all three very defined by their nationality! And yet, the message of Jesus Christ and their faith in Him made them brothers.

This is the theology of race.

We may (or may not) be divided by nationality, race, economic status, etc… but we are all brothers under Christ. He is the elder brother and we are all the younger siblings by adoption – equal in the Kingdom as princes and princesses.

Proper Christian theology is that there is no superiority among races. None is superior to the other. Jew or Greek, Asian, African, Caucasian, Latin… when it comes to value and dignity, we are all created in the image of the same God.

My view on the Christian Response:

Theology is truth that naturally leads to a response – worship or ministry.

I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of calling in which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  (Ephesians 4:1-3)

“Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10:11-13).

Let us always seek to love one another. Prioritize faith and identity in Jesus Christ over any other source for identity. Other things may be descriptors, but only Jesus Christ can define us.

I am not saying the “race” (though I dislike that word, I mean the concept of race) does not exist. It exists; skin color exists; cultural differences exist; they are real and they are very important.

In order to love someone well, it is vital to care about and seek to understand their context and their narrative and their heart.

All I intend to say is that important as race is – or historical heritage – even family – or any other thing, the thing that defines us is what we believe about God.

When I recently taught this material across a few weeks to a very diverse staff at the Mentoring Alliance here in Tyler, one of the African American staff said that at some level, he had always felt like he was a member of the White Man’s Religion.  He was amazed to find out that his view was completely off!  (If any argument was to be made, and it was for many years, Christianity is the Jewish person’s religion! – thankfully, God desires His gospel to reach all people and that His gospel transform them into professional ministers of grace and reconciliation!

Now, I accede the last words to another author – one of the most brilliant authors of all times, whose words will transcend race:

If God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.

God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.  We love because he first loved us.

(And the final stake in the heart of any “Christian” racial supremacist:)

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not lovehis brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. – The Apostle John.

In the US in 2017, we are facing a crisis that stems from our poor theology of race – it has to do with the removal of monuments of different people in history.  How should Christians engage in this conversation?

I pretty much never comment on the photos I take from the internet (I try to always use them in good taste and as I think the original artist would intend)… but I wanted to comment on the last one with the man hugging the trooper.  That is a member of the “Free Hugs Project” by Ken E. Nwadike Jr.  I know pretty much nothing about him and therefore cannot therefore don’t know if I can recommend him, but I like his idea of fighting the anger and hatred with a simple act of love and affection.

How might these biblical and theological understandings begin to impact our cultural issues, like Confederate Monuments, etc?

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  1. Tower of Babel

The Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-8,9)

The idea of a universal human language goes back at least to the Bible, in which humanity spoke a common tongue, but were punished with mutual unintelligibility after trying to build the Tower of Babel all the way to heaven. Now scientists have reconstructed words from such a language.

“Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.”

This passage, which is among the shortest and most obscure in the entire Bible to cover something so intense, would seem to indicate that language was the source, not of racial differences, but merely of the dispersal of humans to various parts of the globe.

I am going to approach these passages as having historical significance as well as biblical and theological significance.  I know that there are many, including serious Bible-believing Christians who think these are best understood as parables, not historical.  However, I am approaching them with their impact on racial thinking.

Of course, why would this have been across racial lines (by the Shem, Ham, Japheth theory)? Did God strike all the Shemites with all the same, or at least similar languages, and so they ended up lumping in together? None of the Hamites got those languages?

Again, as is always (or at least often) the case with deep and ancient passages of the Hebrew Scriptures, we scratch our head looking for good interpretation. It seems like these accounts explain two different things (racial development & division and language development & division) in two very different accounts that perhaps somehow overlap. Without a time machine, it is just not possible to interpret these with precision…

Now, certainly, this spreading out effect would work well with the idea of how genetic differences developed over time – evolution of the genetic structures over hundreds of generations of people isolated from one another would presumably begin to have phenotype differences as well.

As Noah’s descendants migrated from the Middle East after the Tower of Babel, their group numbers would have grown smaller as they extended further out. As the groups grew smaller, certain genes within the human gene pool became dominant, while others became recessive or even just latent.

The idea is that with time and generations, these genes produced the skin color, bone structure and other physical characteristics that made each group distinctive within its isolated geographical area.

Of course, what we know now is more complex than just “people who went North became white while people who went South became darker”… though there is a certain logic to nearness to the equator and sun requiring darker skin to survive, as we learn more about how early human migrated, intermarried, etc., we will continue to learn about the complexities.

That all being said, the theological concept buried here is that God was the impetus for man spreading out and forming into nations and eventually, what we call ethnic groups. Whether you take any of these as historical in nature, the vision for the ethnic diversity of the race of mankind rests with God.

In the simplest terms, all of the previous 9 chapters are summarized in Genesis 10:5

 “By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations”.

The first chapters of Genesis are meant to tell us the Who and the Why of the creation and early development of the race of humans as moral creatures who develop cultivation, pottery, and language under His guiding hands.

Overall, the Old and New Testaments show that God does not assign any special significance to race.

God sees all people as one people called “man.” Physical characteristics are not a part of God’s evaluation of man “. . .for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (I Samuel l6:7).

God states clearly He is not a respecter of persons, and that includes race or nationality – though Israel had a special covenant from God, that was not because of anything special about them.   In the end, He revealed to Peter the truth about God’s opinion of nationalities:

So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” (Acts 10:34-35)

Race, as defined by Webster’s Dictionary, is not really or clearly even a Biblical concept and nowhere can it be shown that physical characteristics of people are a reason or a guide to distinguish one from another that I can find.

God is not a respecter of race, nor sex, nor socio-economic status:

27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:27-28)

This is God’s view of humanity in regards to the diversity of humanity. In Christ, we are one.

One common application of bad theology of race has to do with intermarriage.  (**** link coming)

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Throughout Christian history, people have made great use, and sometimes great abuse, of the Holy Bible to seek to explain the diversity of human beings.

Obviously, in various ways, people are different from one another, and sometimes those differences are obvious – like skin tone. For years, people have used those skin tone differences to create otherwise completely arbitrary differences.

I am of the opinion that there is actually only one “race” of humans – that is the human race. I wish we could understand it that way.

I think it is best to think of any genotype or phenotype differences understood differently.   Usually that is what we think of as “race”.   However, I feel like the differences between people that create most problems today are about ethnic or cultural diversity, not strictly color (or race) differences.

Notice how quickly people will reject another person who has the same skin tone but different political views or backgrounds.

Rather than digging into a ton of materials, I will not be citing other authors here.  That is only partially laziness and the knowledge of what an internet search on the “theology of race” tends to draw as results (wow).

One, I want o offer up my own views and be right or wrong here on my own merits. So, this is MY theology on race.

Two, I wanted to challenge the different biblical opinions that I have been taught or shown throughout my Christian life by checking them via scripture and reason rather than other theologians; I typically study other’s views and think that is important, but on this topic, I wanted to engage alone.

I know and have learned over the years that I have many unintentional racist and prejudiced views. Though I certainly had some overt bigotry as a young man, (***link to appear later) I repented of those views long ago; since then, I have had a chance to slowly learn, through international travel (and getting to be the minority at times), mission work with and for all kinds of ethnic groups, and intimate conversations with friends who were part of minority groups and willing to educate me about my own views… and the power of the Holy Spirit to reveal pride and sin.

Anyway, I pray that the Church, and my church in particular would continue to grow up in this. We have been tossed around like in the waves… accepting absurd views because we were told to accept them; accepting what people say the Bible says because we were told to accept them.

Ok, so on to the scriptural perspectives:

Here are some theories about the “Genesis” of Racial/Ethnic Diversity I have seen:

  1. Cain

I was told early on that the first black man was Cain. I have no idea where I heard this nonsensical “theory”, but here it is nevertheless:

Gen 4:15-16

Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him. 16 Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.”

What was this mark?

I was told that God made Cain black and this was his mark.

Of course, this is absurd. If you think Cain was even an early human, much less the third one ever, then we now know that if there were an historical Adam and Eve, they would probably have been pretty dark skinned and from North Africa or some part of the Fertile Crescent. Anglo is really not a very valid theory for them, despite the old Sunday School pictures of them.

However, even if you don’t buy in to any evidence outside of the Bible, remember that with the biblical story of Noah, only one “race” would have survived the flood – so what would this have to do with modern race? All of Cain’s progeny would have died out. If Cain were initiation of the black “race” – why would there be any black people alive today.

Like I said, no matter how you look at that one, it is nonsensical.

Next, Shem, Ham & Japheth…

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