August 16, 2017 § Leave a comment
The Bible’s antidote for racism (and other bad ideas)
The defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945 signaled the end of Adolf Hitler’s poisonous ideas about “superior” and “inferior races” of humanity. But the recent displays of white nationalism resurging from relative dormancy in Charlottesville, Virginia remind us that evil persists in a fallen world. In America, we can’t put our own racist history to rest when it’s still so pervasive in our culture.
In the Bible we read about divisions of race and ethnicity, Jews and Gentiles, about women and children often viewed as property, and the enslavement of foreigners and those viewed as inferior. None of this was part of God’s good creation. While Scripture describes racism, sexism, and supremacism, it prescribes a solution through understanding who we really are.
First, we are all one race: mankind. All human beings are descendants of Adam and Eve (who, contrary to popular depictions, were likely not white). Genetically or taxonomically, there are no differences that provide a rational basis for ranking people by physical characteristics like skin color.
Secondly, we are all image-bearers of our Creator. As descendants of Adam and Eve, every human being—man, woman, child-—is made “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:27) and therefore equal in inherent dignity and value. By Genesis 3, Adam and Eve had sinned, and it wasn’t long before racial discrimination was conceived as sin spread to all mankind.
Thirdly, and consequently, we are all sinners for whom Christ died. Because “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), we have more in common than we like to admit. But the good news is that God loves us all so much that He sent His Son to pay the penalty for our sin, so that through faith in Christ we are saved (John 3:16). This offer is available to everyone. From God’s perspective, “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 3:28)
Far from condoning racism, the Bible is an invitation to freedom for those Romans 6 describes as “slaves to sin.” From liberating Israel from Egyptian bondage (Exodus) to Paul’s message that it is “for freedom that Christ has set us free…” (Galatians 5:1), God is clearly for freedom and equality and against sinful notions of human superiority and inferiority.
“Monkeys are superior to men in this: when a monkey looks into a mirror, he sees a monkey.” (Malcolm de Chazal)
Racial differences are artificial, idealized by people seeking to control other people. If we choose to see ourselves and our neighbors as God sees us—one beloved yet fallen race of God’s image-bearers for whom Christ died to redeem—we can see there is no room for racism and a lot more room for love.
“For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14)
(Related post: Why Racism Shouldn’t Exist)
February 17, 2015 § 16 Comments
Remember the General Lee? I spent too much of my grade school years watching The Dukes of Hazzard on CBS, which you probably know is about the antics of those Duke boys, a tiny but tubby crooked county commissioner, and other country hick-ish characters in fictional rural Hazzard County, Georgia. Well, it was really about the cool car. The General Lee was a customized ’69 Dodge Charger stock car detailed with a large confederate flag emblazoned on the roof.
Because of this show, my understanding of the confederate flag growing up was simply as an icon of southern pride, banjo music, NASCAR, and all that good ol’ stuff portrayed on the show. While I watched The General race around the country, I never thought about the racism in our country it helped to communicate. Even as an adult, after learning of the confederate flag’s origin during America’s Civil War, it never was for me a representation of the Southern States’ desire to keep slaves, which was of course one of the two questions the war resolved (the other being states’ rights). Of course, I was raised in a white middle class family in the midwest, and my ignorance about this was probably pretty common.
Currently, a “confederate flag” news search on the internet yields pages of stories about controversy over the uses, personal or official, of the flag that linger today in some southern states. A recent incident at the high school down the street (we live in Iowa, which many non-Iowans rightly recognize as not a southern state) made me see with a new light that many people still associate the confederate flag with our nation’s sad history with slavery and slavery’s root in racism. In the school, 3 fights broke out in one day over a Facebook selfie that included a confederate flag in the background. Some of the students offended and affected by that controversy were kids, both black and white, that also came to our church youth group, so I tried to pay attention. Obviously, people will see completely different things when they see a confederate flag. For too long I saw only stuff like cowboy boots and Gettysburg re-enactments (and of course the General Lee).
While our past national affinity for racism and slavery has been for the most part dealt with, it still lingers, like the remnants of every other sin that has had its hey-day. We can’t put our racist history to rest where it still pervades parts of the culture.
Racism is a problem in large part because of our thinking about the concept of race. From a Biblical perspective, there is only one race. All human beings are made in the image of God and are descendants of Adam and Eve (who can hardly be found depicted as anything other than a white couple—they were most likely a middle brown). We read about this racial singularity in Genesis chapter 1. By chapter 3, they both had sinned, and it wasn’t long before the sin of racism was conceived. That wasn’t part of the original plan, and it doesn’t make sense scientifically or rationally. There are no differences in the human genome that provide a basis for hierarchical ethnicity, no taxonomic distinction that says we should categorize people that way. Races are mankind’s invention and frankly classifications the Imago Dei can do without. We are all human beings. And we are all sinners, for “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) We have more in common than we might care to admit.
But doesn’t the Bible condone racism and slavery just as much as the South did? In short, no. This is a complex topic, but I’ll try to refute this briefly with two points.
First, there various definitions and different models of slavery, so we need to have a clear idea of what we’re talking about when we use the term. The type of Ancient Near East slavery most often seen in Scripture is closer to our idea of indentured servitude rather than the chattel slavery we most readily think of modeled in the New World (i.e. the African Slave Trade). Most servants entered the arrangement by choice in order to pay off a debt they couldn’t handle financially. At the same time, slaves in the Bible were generally considered property. Many people were forced into slavery, sometimes as a more favorable option over killing enemies captured in war, and sometimes in outright abuse.
Second, as in any other true account of history, the Bible records sinfulness. Nowhere in the Bible do we see God creating or condoning slavery, and it was clearly not the ideal. In fact, forcibly capturing innocent people and selling them was actually forbidden by God (Exodus 21:16) and harming or killing servants was likewise severely punishable under Hebrew law. God has tolerated various forms of slavery, as He does with a great number of sins, as an accommodation for sinful people who were bent on going our own way. God’s sovereignty and justice often comes as His leaving us to see our own consequences for our actions. This is often a kinder judgment. Where man insisted on making his neighbor his property, God regulated the practice for their protection.
People owning people was never a part of God’s good creation. In fact, the overarching message of the Bible is an invitation to freedom from sin that is described as slavery (See Romans 6). We see some examples of slavery in the Old Testament, but there is an entire book called Exodus describing God’s abolition of an entire nation held in bondage to Egypt for centuries. Paul reminds the church in Ephesians 5 to treat slaves with respect (Ephesians 6:5-9), so slavery was still a cultural reality in the New Testament. But Paul’s gospel message to all was that it was “for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1) The alignments of God’s Word is clearly against the concept of slavery, not for it.
The Transatlantic Slave Trade from the 16th to the 19th centuries represents the development of slavery to an intolerable level. You might say God finally did to a large degree judge and eliminate slavery, as it was for the most part abolitionists like William Wilberforce and Abraham Lincoln, guided by Christian principals and the Imago Dei, who led the charge. Wilberforce wrote, “So enormous, so dreadful, so irremediable did the Trade’s wickedness appear that my own mind was completely made up for abolition.” Lincoln too thought it self-evident that “all men are created equal” and on this Biblical truth initiated an end to slavery in America that followed the Civil War. He concluded, “…he who would be no slave, must consent to have no slave. Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it.”
The confederate flag or “southern pride” should have never been symbols of racism because racism should never have existed. The apostle Paul made it clear that in God’s kingdom there is no room for it. On racism, sexism, or supremacism for that matter, “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 3:28) We won’t see the complete end of racism on this side of eternity. Only then will every knee bow and accept the truth about who we are. Looking back to creation, we can see we are one race. Before we began enslaving each other, we fell and were enslaved to sin itself. Looking back to the sacrifice of God’s own Son for our sin on the cross brings full circle the freedom and redemption and oneness we have in Christ. “For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14) Amen?
March 28, 2013 § Leave a comment
Does something smell fishy about the Human Rights Campaign‘s “Stand For Marriage”? You may be detecting the foul malodor of the red herring. In the arena of rational discourse, a red herring is something that draws attention away from the central issue. The term comes from the practice of using fish to lay a false trail while training hunting dogs. A red herring is a diversion or distraction from the real issue. And it’s a favored recourse for those standing on a weak argument.
HRC’s recent logo memes voicing support for gay marriage carry on the familiar equal sign theme in an attempt to portray a movement toward equality and freedom. But is this really about “freedom for all“? For “equal rights for all people“? For “diversity of all kinds“? The Human Rights Campaign mission is more specific: “Working for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equal rights.” But this goal is still exclusive and narrow. Even GLBTIQ leaves out 20 other letters.
Don’t be fooled by the red herring. Highjacking the civil rights banner because it worked to solve the legitimate problem of racial segregation 50 years ago, gay marriage is not about universal freedom or marriage equality or the American way. We are already equally free to marry any non-relative of the opposite sex we choose, and merely holding to the established, globally-affirmed, humanity-dependent, definition for marriage cannot possibly be hateful or bigoted. Gay marriage isn’t about that either. It’s about exchanging marriage for some other discriminative thing, something that does the opposite of marriage, something that prohibits human flourishing, weakens the family, endangers the normal development of children, and runs counter to the Creator’s design. And it stinks.
February 28, 2013 § Leave a comment
Jon Huntsman’s recent article in the American Conservative, Marriage Equality is a Conservative Cause, is not a call to conserve marriage but a call to compromise it. Huntsman says that “we must demand equality under the law for all Americans.” But under the law, where the law limits marriage to one man and one woman, all Americans are equally free. We are free to marry any non-relative of the opposite sex we choose. Where the law allows gay marriage, all same-sex couples are equally free to “marry.”
Gay rights and the legalization of same-sex marriage is sold by advocates as a fight for freedom, but that’s misleading. The goal is to gain freedom that is currently not allowed “under the law”. Isn’t this valid though, the pursuit of desired freedom that we don’t have?
Not always. When the option is thoroughly examined, I think you’ll find that total freedom is something nobody really wants. Unlimited freedom isn’t truly attainable anyway, because one person’s complete freedom will inevitably take away from another’s freedom. I can’t have everything I want without stealing something. You simply aren’t free do anything and everything.
We readily accept all kinds of boundaries in our freedom, and there are two types of boundaries that are useful to recognize: What we can do and who can do it. Both are legitimate restrictions and widely accepted in various situations.
In what we can do, certain laws limit how fast we can drive, which national borders we can cross, what we can wear in clubs and restaurants, which public restroom we can use (unless you’re a student in Massachussetts), what type of speech we can use in public discourse, and how many fish we can take home from a Canadian excursion. We are not free to harm or kill or steal or cheat in our activities with fellow citizens.
As far as who can or cannot do these things, there is freedom within limits as well. A ten-year-old is not free to drive a car. A citizen cannot enter most other countries without the fulfillment of certain conditions. Men cannot use the womens showers at the Y, or vise-versa. No matter how unfair I think it is, I cannot fish without a license, dine at a country club without a membership, skateboard in front of the QuikTrip, or play a trumpet in the local library.
There are practical reasons why certain activities are prohibited or that only certain people are free to do them. The point is there are plenty of restrictions on the what and the who every day, and we are generally fine with that. Freedom and equality aren’t universal, nor should they be.
Likewise, in the case of marriage, there is equal freedom, but with limits on what and who. The case for gay marriage is not linked to a lack of freedom, but rather a desire to destroy the boundaries that naturally exist in marriage.
I say these boundaries “naturally exist” because marriage was designed to function a certain way within certain limits, just like everything else. But designed by whom? If marriage was designed by people then people have a right to redefine it. If it was designed by God (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:4-6), then we don’t have the right to redefine it.
Of course, not everyone will agree with an appeal to the Bible for the design of marriage by a divine Creator. So, let’s assume this is not the case and pretend the boundaries to marriage—specifically its confinement to a man and a woman overwhelmingly demonstrated by every civilization throughout human history—don’t truly belong, but were set in place by past cultures and are subject to revision. Let’s see where that logic leads.
If marriage was not relegated by God to include a man and a woman, then men are morally free to marry men and women to marry women—so far, so good for the cause of gay marriage rights. But it also follows that individuals ought to be able to marry their parents, siblings, children, or close relatives. If God didn’t design marriage or doesn’t care what we do with it, we ought to think it acceptable to take anyone for a mate. But do we allow this? Isn’t incest simply immoral?
Perhaps it could be argued that the risk of abnormalities in offspring is enough cause to classify incest as immoral. However, since there are health risks involved in homosexual relations, and even sometimes in heterosexual relations, this can’t be sufficient cause to deem incest morally wrong. Based on the same logic, if marrying family is morally permissible, then polygamy and even bestiality should be too.
At this point, proponents of same-sex marriage might declare a slippery slope fallacy and interject that marriage ought to be limited to two human, consenting adults who love each other, which would prevent an ever-widening definition of marriage. Such a requirement would leave out children, animals, non-sentient life forms and inanimate objects. But on what basis can we limit marriage to two consenting adults who love each other? Why grant that freedom but insist on restrictions that alienate people with pedophilic, incestuous, or other perverted inclinations, thereby denying their happiness? What is the basis for requiring mutual love in marriage? Certainly many people marry for reasons other than love and we don’t prohibit that.
For the non-religious, we still know by moral intuition that many types of relationships are just wrong. As thousands of years of practice reveal, regardless of religious cultural beliefs, humanity has held to and flourished by heterosexual marriage. Setting that aside yields more freedom for more people, but then there is then no true basis for restricting anything at all. We can try to condemn some types of relationships that seem harmful on the common ethical grounds that we should do the least harm to our neighbor. But that moral principal doesn’t mean anything without the moral law-giving God of the Bible, so there’s no rational moral basis even for denying “taboo” relationships that risk disorders in offspring (incest), are cruel to animals (bestiality), are abusive, or aren’t based on mutual love (objectum sexuality). It boils down to being able to ground the fundamental moral values that we all assume, which we can’t ground outside of the truth of God’s word (Rom. 2:14-15). A fuller discussion of morality is beyond the scope of this post (but not this one).
For the Christian, if on the Bible’s numerous passages on marriage we have somehow in the last decade or so stumbled upon their true meaning, that it doesn’t mean to limit the institution to one man and one woman and forbid homosexuality despite longstanding historical Christian teaching to the contrary, then we can’t look to the Bible for any kind of guidance for marriage. Since there are 6 or 7 passages forbidding homosexuality that we must discount in order to validate it, for consistency we must also ignore the relatively fewer number of passages that forbid incest and bestiality (only 3 or 4) and other revolting practices.
There are many ways people manage to live inconsistently with what they claim to believe. One is to reject the Biblical account of the origin of mankind, relationships and sexual morality, and then live as if it’s all true. We do this when we deny there are any God-given rules about how to live and then cherry-pick certain rules that we expect everyone to follow, as if they were handed down from on high.
Observation and logic show us that we never accept freedom and equality without limits and boundaries. Nature shows us that heterosexual unions lead to human flourishing whereas other types of sex run counter to it. God’s revelation shows us that there is moral law that tells every one of us what we can’t otherwise rationalize—that some things are independently right or wrong. Marriage, for one, is right as it was intended, an equally free union with few other limitations but this one: It’s designed for one man and one woman.
[Related post: Examining the Biblical View of Homosexuality]