The issue of race and racial injustice has been a problem in America ever since the settling of this land: the enslavement of African blacks, the wars against, and extermination of native Americans, the mistreatment of Mexican Americans, the mistreatment of immigrants and of ethnic minorities, especially non-whites.
The really shameful thing is that the (white) church has been complicit in these sins. It has often been those who claim to be Bible-believing Christians who have been some of the greatest advocates of racism. Frederick Douglass claimed that “Were I to be again reduced to the chains of slavery, next to that enslavement, I should regard being the slave of a religious master the greatest calamity that could befall. For of all slave-holders with whom I have ever met, religious slaveholders are the worst. I have ever found them the meanest and basest, the most cruel and cowardly, of all others,” (Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself, 1845, Reprint, Barnes & Noble, 2003, pg. 72).
Although matters have improved in the last 160 years, the church is still one of the most segregated places in America. But what does the Scripture teach?
There is only one human race, not many. Genesis 1:26, 27 – Adam was the progenitor of the whole human race. See also Acts 17:26 – “He has made from (EX – “out of”) one every nation of mankind to dwell on all the face of the earth.” (Later texts add the word “blood,” after “one,” but no change in thought.)
Romans 5:12-19 and 1 Corinthians 15:21, 22, Paul distinguishes between those “in Adam” and those “in Christ.” If the human race is divided, it is divided not by skin color, but between those who are Christ’s and those who are not (1 Cor. 1:18; 1 Jn. 5:19).
In Ephesians 2:11-22, Paul argues that Christ on the cross, reconciled not only God and man, but also man and man. Though in this context, Paul is especially speaking of Jew and Gentile, yet in other passages, he makes it clear that this reconciliation eliminates all ethnic, national, gender and socio-economic barriers (Col. 3:11; Gal. 3:28; Rom. 1:14). Paul is not stating that these differences no longer exist, as he still recognizes the various relationships, such as husband/wife, master/slave, Jew/Gentile. What he is stating is that In Christ and in the church there is essential equality and that this equality is to be lived out in the “outside” world as well.
James also argues (Jas. 2:1-13) that to practice discrimination is a violation of the Law of Love.
Arguments that need to be addressed:
“The Curse of Ham” – Genesis 9:20-27 has been used in the past (and undoubtedly is still used by some) to justify the enslavement of black Africans and to “prove” the superiority of whites. However, it should be noted:
1. The curse was not pronounced by God, but by man, and not only that, but by a man awaking from a drunken stupor. Though a patriarchal curse was effective, it does not (necessarily) imply a judicial pronouncement by God.
2. The curse Noah pronounced was not on his son Ham, but on his grandson, Canaan. It is not my purpose here to deal with the table of nations in Genesis 10 and 11, except to point out that not all of Ham’s descendants were black. The Canaanites were descended from Ham, and later passages in the Torah point out that they were the despised group, not, however, for their ethnic makeup, but their behavior. The great majority of Ham’s descendants were not under this curse.
3. The curse was undoubtedly carried out in the conquest of Canaan by Israel and possibly other conquests in what is now the historical past.
4. Even if this curse were valid today, it is not our obligation to make sure it is carried out. We often labor to alleviate the sufferings brought on by curses such as Genesis 3:16-19, which speaks of pain in childbirth and of difficult labor in farming.
5. As we saw above, Christ’s death has removed the barriers between races.
Slavery in the New Testament – How do we deal with the fact that the New Testament seems to accept the fact of slavery? Paul even urges obedience on slaves (Eph. 6:5-9; Col. 3:22-4:1; 1 Tim. 6:1, 2; Titus 2:9, 10).
1. It should be noted that neither Jesus nor any New Testament writer advocated the overthrow of current social systems. They spoke within their contemporary situation.
2. The slavery in the Roman Empire, while often cruel, was different from the American system. Slaves could sometimes actually purchase their own freedom. Often slaves were debtors or prisoners of war. This slavery was not based on race as the American system was.
3. The first generation African slaves were people who were kidnapped from their homes. The New Testament condemns kidnapping (1 Tim. 1:10). Even the Mosaic Law, which permitted slavery, condemned kidnapping as a capital offense (Ex. 21:16; Dt. 24:7).
4. The New Testament radically altered the slaves’ status. In Christ, he was a brother (Phmn. 15, 16). The slavemaster had an obligation to treat him with respect (Eph. 6:9; Col. 4:1). While a slave was urged to be content with his position, he was encouraged to take advantage of freedom if he could obtain it (1 Cor. 7:21-24).