Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘racial tension’

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 (****)

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

… (read part 1 if you haven’t yet) And, in the continued research, I discovered that there are dozens of various statues and monuments to the man, especially in South Carolina. Schools, streets, and a city are named for him. Because of his military prowess, a ship was named after him in WWII.

I want to give an insider explanation about one aspect of this argument – Civil War Monuments are not there to celebrate American History. They are there to celebrate Confederate History and Confederate leaders – notice that there are very few Confederate leader monuments north of the Mason-Dixon line.

At this point, I am still not offering my opinion as to the rightness or wrongness of these existing, but I wanted to clarify that the argument that this is about “American” history is not necessarily true.

The Civil War was certainly part of our history, but these monuments are there to celebrate the Confederacy and her leadership, not the US and hers – and typically in competition with the other.

These were people who declared themselves independent from their federal government and tried to establish what they thought was a more perfect union that the Union at that time. They fought for State’s Rights; sadly, the main State’s Right they were fighting to defend was racial slavery – The “right” (shudder to use that word here) to own another human being as property. How could any reasoning human being have ever thought that was ok? I don’t know…

Side note – I do think that the nearest equivalent we have today is abortion. For mostly financial reasons, we determine that one human being is not worthy to have life, liberty, etc. It is an industry built around something morally wicked that we are not willing to expel because of what it would cost us individually and culturally…

But most cultures in history have thought slavery (and killing children) was acceptable at some point. We aren’t talking about the most common biblical kind of slavery – what we would call indentured servitude – largely the choice of the servant.

This is what is known as Southern Antebellum (meaning “before the war”) Slavery, and it was almost exclusively racial.   The culture of the South before the Civil War was almost entirely dependent on slavery.

Wade Hampton, for example, found that it was nearly impossible to turn a profit on his farms without free labor.

For those who do not know first hand, “Southern,” is a thing, and it’s not all or even primarily about racism.  “Southern” exists independent of racism.

Southern heritage is a real thing… and, like every other aspect of history, not an all good nor all bad thing. There is Southern cuisine, southern style, and southern art. There are certainly Southern courtesies and ethics. As an insider, I will tell you that the role of racism in “southern” anything has lost a lot of ground in the last few generations (and I assume consistently since the evil of Antebellum Racial Slavery was ended).

Even in the deep South, in a white-only situation, I rarely hear any kind of racially offensive humor or openly racist remarks… and I would admit it if the opposite were true – because it was when I was younger.

As a teenager, racially charged jokes were still common when there were only white kids around. Few of those kids probably had any serious racist sentiment in their hearts, but they thought they could get a laugh with a joke about a different race. However, even that has become very rare. I honestly cannot remember the last time I heard someone tell such a joke or use a slang term for any other race than Caucasians, not counting media.

How awful, ironic and hypocritical that Southern Hospitality is a thing. It really still is.  Driving across the country, I can begin to feel the sense of being welcomed and wanted – and engaged with by everyone from the gas station attendant to anyone you ask for help… I love that aspect of the South.  I think hospitality is a pure gold and is a beautiful thing!

But, what if my African American friends don’t experience that?  That is a hateful tragedy.  I am realizing now that some aspects of Southern Hospitality haven’t been for everyone.  I hate that.

Do you feel unwanted and unwelcome?  I pray that is by a tiny minority of people – I would pray that anyone of any race or color attending my church would experience extreme levels of hospitality.

The highest level of injustice would be that I experience that Southern hospitality every bit as much from black people as white people!

I know there are plenty of people who have every reason to expect a sense of hatred and dismissal when they engage with white people, though.  I have some friends good enough to tell me about their experiences with openly, unashamed racist people.  Apparently essentially every African American has experiences of this kind. It so infuriates me that it helps me understand the levels of anger felt by those who experience it… God knows racists of this breed are real and truly intentional racist behavior is a reality still… but I have never it seen as an adult in front of me.

I have never heard anyone brag about committing such an act.   But they certainly happen. They should never happen. That level of hatred and dismissal of another human is un-defendable.

What I do still hear regularly is “unintentional” racism. Things are said or done that reveal an ethno-centric tendency. It is HARD for us to see outside of our own instinctive ways of understanding things. (People ask all kinds of ridiculous questions about our adopted children – they don’t intend to be offensive , and they may even intend to be encouraging or seeking understanding).

Example – a common response I am hearing from those around me about re-naming our local “Robert E Lee” High School is “It doesn’t matter to me what we call it – it just isn’t a big deal…”

Notice that the person is making the effort to be conciliatory, but are still ethno-centric.  Their attitude may seem right and might be at the personal level, but sounds like it implies that the issue can be ignored or dismissed as “not a big deal.”

Perhaps to them, at the personal level, it isn’t a big deal, but it may be a very big deal to someone whose history doesn’t include a “grand Civil War General”, but a slave of that General.

They may not be at all dismissing the argument, but if an issue is a big deal to you, then it can easily feel dismissive.  See how that is unintentional ethno-centism?

I hope everyone can be patient and graceful with “well-meaning” human frailties in which even when the spirit is willing, the habit, ignorance, blindness, flesh is weak.

So, with all of that in mind… we are to the actual topic, I think.

Do we rename our schools? Do we take down the monuments?  Change the name of streets?

I think there was a day in which that answer was “no”. We were a literate enough and complicated enough culture to have the conversation in a healthy way and less likely to unnecessarily offend.

We (I admit that I am not sure who “we” is in this sentence. It seems that writings from the past and debates, like the debates about the Declaring of Independence or even slavery, indicate that people used to be able to have deep, complex, respectful conversations and even disagreements about things. But, were those all educated, well-off white people I am referring to? Did things like slavery give them the hours to do that instead of work? Even this is complex) could talk about the way people are complex. This isn’t new. One of the things I love about the Bible, for example, is that almost anyone who gets any press at all has at least a part of their lives revealed as dark, sinful, and reprehensible!

Abraham’s family all had a serious issue with dishonesty. They had a nasty tendency to lie their way out of problems, or at least to attempt to do so.

Many of the patriarchs were idol worshipers for at least some part of their lives; they could be unreasonable, easily misdirected and worse!

Of course, famously, King David managed to break pretty much all of the Ten Commandments in just a few months.

In the New Testament, the disciples were clueless at the best of times and deniers at the worst.

It is part of how we can know these were real people who behaved like real people and whose lives were complex – like real people.

People are complex? Read more (**** link to come)

Read Full Post »

Taking/tearing down Confederate Monuments

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” The Apostle Paul, Romans 12:18 & 21

Hopefully the verse above makes it clear that I am writing this to Bible – believing Christians.  If you have no respect for the Bible, I don’t have any thought that this article will impact you.

If you do, you might should check out my thoughts on the correct understanding of the biblical theology of race before diving into these applications.

I am not sure what order these thoughts should come in, and they may end up not in any order at all, but just in the order they came to my mind. I try to organize my thoughts well, but this topic has thoughts bouncing around in my head like a pinball game. I may not be competent to organize them well. Please excuse when I interrupt myself, I am sure it will be frequent.

I am committed to writing this stuff even if no one ever reads it. The new way of talking about serious aspects of life and culture with a Meme must be Screwtape’s dream come true. I refuse to engage in discussions of true significance without placing enough value on it to actually engage with it.

In the US today (and by the time this is published, this may be such old news that it is barely worth reading – but more on the “culture of crisis” at the end of this article) there is a cultural crisis about removing memorials and monuments that honor the Confederate leaders from the American Civil War.

I want you to know where I am coming from and so you can evaluate my own prejudices as you read this:

I am a “child of the South” – meaning “product of”. Though born in Michigan, where my father was in school, my family has a long heritage of being “Southern.” Though initiating in Scotland, most lines of my family were solidly in South Carolina or Alabama, etc. 150 years ago… what is called the “Deep South”.

I joke that I didn’t know that “Damn Yankee” was two words until I was in my 20’s. This isn’t true, since I never once heard the phrase “damn Yankee” except in the context of this joke. (Man, there are a lot of Southern things like this, there is a lot of jaw, jaw, jaw but I think the majority of modern Southerners just go about daily life with little consideration to any of what I am writing about until someone else brings it up.)

In my lineage is one “Wade Hampton” who was a confederate cavalry general. I was raised on stories of his heroism, kindness and generosity to his men and unsubstantiated accounts of his slaves defending his property against federal troops at some point (I have no idea of any accuracy in this, but I know it happened sometimes, but is often pure myth).

In fact, I was told he was the only man to ever own more than 1000 slaves – the only man in America to do so, I also cannot verify if he was the largest slave owner. This was not told with pride, but enough shame to ALWAYS be followed with the above story of his slaves defense of the property. It was also ALWAYS followed with a reference to that idea that he was kind to his slaves (no idea if this was true) and that he was known to be a violent man to other white men if he felt his honor was challenged (that he killed some number of white men in duels including beating one to death with an axe handle – again, no idea if any of this is true.) I do know that he was a Civil War Confederate Cavalry General.

I imagine part of why I have never researched him before is because I didn’t want to find out that none of the good aspects of this are true, or that worse was…

So, I Google-stalked Wade and uncovered that he had, as a legislator, opposed the division of the Union. He was wounded multiple times with saber, shot and shrapnel. His fiery temper, at least toward other white men, seems accurate, since he apparently nearly got into a fight with a Union general when Hampton surrendered. Though he apparently gave “tacit” support to the KKK in his region, he was not know to have active involvement with them. It sounds like he did openly support and was supported by the “Red Shirts” – a murderous and violent group dedicating to suppressing the black vote in South Carolina. Nothing about his treatment of slaves or their role in Sherman burning his property. (my family hates Sherman, by the way). A lot about his valor in battle, brilliant battle-field work and leadership.

Not to make light, but all I think of with “Red Shirts” is the poor guy who always transported to the surface of a planet with Kirk and Spock and always bought the farm when they did.

Side note – I think one of the challenges for someone from the South in all of this is, when you read Civil War history, the general honor that these men held each other, their opponents, is evident. They saw each other (with some obvious exceptions) as honorable men. I think it is a little sad that we cannot do the same anymore. We have lost the ability to see our own foes, even enemies, as honorable. I will have to give more thought to this in time.

Where did we lose that? It was still there in WWI mostly, I think. WWII, is that where we lost it – I know it was still there, but perhaps less evident or at least much less common. Maybe the degree and frequency of war atrocities in WWII are what cost us the generalized sense of holding our opponents in respect. Maybe we just became too pragmatic. This will be a good coffee conversation with my historian friends.

It turns out that the “Red Shirts” thankfully no longer exist – except as a branch of the “League of the South” – yet another ridiculous hate group made up of a few thousand people (7,678 likes on FB – Justin Bieber has 78,823,347 likes; Elmo has 5,663,499) who are dedicated to “free and independent Southern republic – which apparently would be a pretty small place. I am not going into it here, but I am annoyed by how much attention these hate groups get at times like these.

If there were 100,000 members of hate groups (3-8,000 KKK at the highest estimates **) they would represent .03% of our population (6,000 is .002%). I know we have to stand up against immoral hatred whenever we can, but these guys really should be allowed to vanish into history with a whimper.

More about “The South” next

**http://www.miamiherald.com/news/state/florida/article167261082.html

** https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ku_Klux_Klan

** http://www.cnn.com/2015/01/07/us/klan-numbers/index.html

Read Full Post »

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?

Read Full Post »

  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)

Read Full Post »

  1. Shem, Ham, Japheth

A common Jewish tradition is that the three “races” were the progeny of Noah’s three sons, Shem, Japheth and Ham.

Gen 9:18-19

The sons of Noah who went forth from the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) 19 These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the people of the whole earth were dispersed.”

Here is how they and their progeny theoretically became the various races of mankind.

1. Shem of the Mongoloid race:

The peoples of the Middle East and Southern Asia. (Gen. 10:21-32)

Eber: Abraham (the Jews) was the sixth generation of Eber who settled in Mesopotamia in the area of Ur of the Chaldees.

Elam:  The Elamites became a strong nation East of Babylonia.

Asshur:  The Assyrians of the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.

Lud:  The Lydians of Asia Minor.

Aram: The Aramaeans of Syria and Mesopotamia.

2.  Ham of the African race:

The Egyptians, Ethiopians, Libyans and Canaanites. (Gen. 10:6-20)

Cush: The peoples of central and Southern Arabia.

Mizraim: The Egyptians of upper and lower Nile River.

Phut: The North Africans & specifically Libyans.

Canaan: The Canaanites.

Sidon (Zidon): The people who inhabited the whole Phoenician coast.

3. Japheth is traditionally the father of the Western/Caucasian race:

The Indo-European of western Asia and of Europe. (Gen. 10:2-4)

Gomer:  The Cimmerians which are mentioned by Homer as the people of the far north.

Magog:  The Scythians of Southern Europe and the Tartars of Russia.

Madai:  The Medes who lived in area of Caspian Sea.

Javan: The Ionians (Greeks).

This is fine, I suppose, as a theory. I am not confident that the account of Noah is/was intended to be considered strictly historical, or if we even understand how it was intended by Moses (or whoever the original author of the account was).

I have no trouble with it being historical, if it is. I do think the language leaves a lot of margin for that conversation. However, this is probably still the most common biblical perspective for the division of races. I am concerned about building much in the way of theology from such a deeply ancient passage from the culture and literature that we understand with such uncertainty.

One of the things that is important to note about these biblical accounts is the curse of Canaan. (AKA by its misnomer, The Curse of Ham).

When I taught this material recently, I had an African American man ask me about “the Curse of Ham” which has apparently been used as an excuse to mistreat or diminish and even enslave people of African descent. I was a little stunned.

Here is the passage being referred to:

22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. 23 Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. 24 When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, 25 he said,

                        “Cursed be Canaan;

a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.”

26 He also said,

                        “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem;

and let Canaan be his servant.

                27      May God enlarge Japheth,

and let him dwell in the tents of Shem,

and let Canaan be his servant.” (Gen 9:22-27)

For the life of me, I do not see how this would be a curse of Ham. It is a curse of Canaan. Granted, I have no idea why Canaan is cursed;* clearly there is something we are missing here. However, it isn’t even that much of a curse of Canaan!

Canaan is going to be the “servant of servants” to his brothers, and apparently, his uncles.   Obviously, this is only, at its base level, about Canaan, personally. I know that it is taken as a curse that continues on through the generations, but that is certainly not clear in the passage. It just looks like Canaan is going to be on K.P. duty quite a bit for the rest of the family.

* A quick look at some of the various thoughts on why Noah would curse Canaan rather than Shem can be found here. I don’t know this website’s other material, but this seems as good a visitation of this topic as anything else… and any critical reader will see that anytime you are working with the deep Old Testament, there is as much guess work with an ancient culture that we honestly just don’t understand well.

So, even if you DID interpret this curse as somehow being something that is going to haunt Canaan’s descendent for time immemorial… it is still focused on Canaan and has no bearing whatsoever on the other sons of Ham that I can see! And, any remnant of that “race” would now be lost and intermixed with others and have no longer any kind of stand-alone culture. Soooo, there is no way to interpret the curse of Canaan as applying to people of African descent… and even if you did think this curse somehow made it ok or right to enslave the offspring of Canaan, that culture and race is long gone.  Any claim on slavery from this argument is off base.

So, what is the application to race from the theory of Shem, Ham, and Japheth? None, except that perhaps it would be further evidence that we are all one race and descend from a single couple somewhere in the past.

Not very divisive a view of race from where I stand… and even better, I have a little surprise for you at the end of this article that connects to this theory.

How about the Tower of Babel? That is next.

Read Full Post »