AMONG persons who consider themselves to be students of the Bible one finds with amazing frequency individuals expostulating on certain themes, using the Scriptures as evidence, either implicit or explicit, for their particular points of view. Unfortunately, the textual facts that they feel are so convincing prove after careful scrutiny to be misinterpreted, resulting in myths that have in too many instances been allowed to appear as veritable Biblical truths.
One such area that has been permitted in the minds of many to come under the umbrella of Biblical sanction is that dealing with the origin of race and support for segregation. It is to this question of Christianity and race that we as Christians and believers in the Holy Word must address ourselves.
In order to provide a frame of reference within which we may have a better understanding, I should state that by Christianity I am referring to that group of individuals who believe in the Holy Bible as a divinely inspired work and who believe in God as the omnipotent power responsible for the creation of man.
No Jewish Race
By race, I do not wish to connote the meaning as is used in popular parlance. How often have you heard people, preachers as well as others, refer to the Jewish race? This is one of the most dangerous myths in our contemporary civilization.
There is no more a Jewish race than there is a Catholic or a Protestant race. An individual is a Jew only when he adheres to the tenets of the Jewish religion. Thus he is a Jew because of his religion, and religions are not restricted to races. There are some Chinese, Ethiopians, and American Negroids who are Jews, which fact invalidates the common usage and concludes that a person of any color can be a Jew, and for that matter a Protestant or a Catholic.
Obviously, referring to the English, French, or the German "race" is another misuse of the word. These are national or linguistic groups.
Those who indulge in an extremely elastic use of the term race are also those who propound other racial myths that have yet to be proved, such myths as (1) the mentally superior and mentally inferior races, (2) racial morality, (3) racial cultures, (4) biologically inferior and superior races, (5) temperamental differences.
This confusion of ideas about races has caused many scientists to be reluctant about the continued use of this term, but most anthropologists and taxonomists appear to be in agreement in classifying mankind into three major races (in the scientific use of this term), or divisions, as follows: (1) the Mongoloid, (2) the Negroid, (3) the Caucasoid.
Others Use Four or Five Divisions
There are also other classifications that are in vogue, but it is not my purpose to enter into a lengthy monolog on race and its connotations. For the time being I accept this threefold division, aware of some of its objections and weaknesses, but on the other hand realizing that there must be a starting point. Within this grouping I shall be concerned chiefly with the discriminatory attitudes on the part of the Caucasian toward the Negroid.
Those who are the specialists in the study of mankind and his origins—the anthropologists, and often the sociologists—have yet to come up with an answer for the origin of man. Some of the more frequently mentioned reasons for the physical differences in man include the following: mutations, recombinations of genes, social selection, survival selection, adaptations to environment, and endocrine relation. Apparently the scientist has not been able to establish a sole cause for the existing racial picture.
As Christians we have too often looked to the scientist for an answer to some of these questions and fallacies, and not enough to theology and the study of the Scriptures. The social problem facing us today, one which is a paramount topic in higher government and judicial circles, is basically a theological one, especially so when we start with God as the Creator.
There are, unfortunately, many who believe that in religion there is evidence for the support of racial origins and discrimination. These beliefs, when analyzed, soon reveal themselves to be myths based on Biblical facts which in themselves have another meaning or provide no answer at all.
No Explanation of Mark
One of these beliefs has been founded on Genesis 4:11: "And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand," followed by verse 15, which states: "And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him." First, the fact that Cain was cursed is evident; second, that a mark was placed on him cannot be denied. But nowhere is there an explanation that the curse or the mark was a change in his physical make-up. Actually, the mark was placed on him to protect him from others, and the curse made him a vagabond or a wanderer.
Another even more common error is that the black race had its origin in Ham, one of the three sons of Noah. Recently a student asked me after a discussion of this topic, "Well, what about the fact that Ham was cursed and made a servant?" For the fact let us go and see what the Source does reveal. Genesis 9:25 tells us that after Noah awoke, he said, "Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren."
Canaan Not Ham
Note here that it was not Ham who was cursed, but rather his youngest son, Canaan, who was the progenitor, not of a black people, but of the Canaanites, who settled in the Palestine-Syria area. This myth might have been more realistic if the oldest son, Cush, had been cursed, for we find that Cush and his descendants did migrate to Africa and western Arabia, and the name Cush itself is often interpreted as meaning "black," or "Ethiopian." But it was Canaan who was cursed by his grandfather Noah, and not Ham or Cush.
There are others who think that perhaps the scattering of the people from the Tower of Babel resulted in different racial and ethnic groups. Genesis 11:1 informs us that the "earth was of one language, and of one speech." When Noah's descendants showed a lack of trust in God by the building of the Tower of Babel, God went down and confounded their language, so that today there is a great variety of languages and dialects numbering roughly 3,000. But nowhere is there any intimation in this instance that those around the tower were separated into different color groups.
No Mention of Race
The Holy Scriptures make no mention of a division of races. We do note that when the word race is used it is usually in the context of competition or a contest (Ps. 19:5; Eccl. 9:11; 1 Cor. 9:24; Heb. 12:1). At the same time there is reference to dark-skinned peoples not necessarily Negroid. Jeremiah (Jer. 13:23) raises the question, "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?" And an even earlier text, Numbers 12:1, finds Moses' wife, Zipporah, referred to as an Ethiopian.
In the book of Acts (chap. 8:38), Philip, one of the apostles, baptized an Ethiopian eunuch. In Amos 9:7 the Lord asks, "Are ye not as children of the Ethiopians unto me, O children of Israel?" Does this sound as if this group were inferior to God's chosen people?
From what has been presented we may conclude that theologically there is no answer as to the origin of race. But the problem facing us today is not so much the origin of race as it is man's inability to get along with man because of differences in the pigment of the skin. This problem, I believe, has a much better chance of being resolved through theology than it does through anthropology or sociology.
As believers in God's creation, we find that we have our origin with Adam. Paul highlights this when he frequently refers to Adam in Romans 5, and writes in 1 Corinthians 15 that as we all die in Adam, so in Christ we are made alive. He spells this out in more detail in his letter to the Galatians (3:28) when he says, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus," and a similar message is found in Colossians 3:11.
He does not imply by this that there were no slaves, for he lived in the Roman Empire, where Greeks and others were made slaves to the Romans. And in Ephesians 6:5-10 Paul admonishes the servants and masters of their responsibilities one to another. These relationships, please note, were not necessarily along racial lines, and nowhere is there any indication that one race is to be master and the other slave.
If we can conclude that the Bible does not advocate racial segregation, what can we say is the reason for its existence in Christian circles today? The answer may be found in one word—prejudice, a word that, I understand, is not in the Bible. In each of us there exists some degree of prejudice, and this was acquired, not inborn.
Bigotry, which we connect with religion; snobbery, which we connect with social class; and prejudice, which we ordinarily tie in with race, are not hereditary traits, but rather acquired characteristics of man. They are not limited to one color or race. In some cases these feelings are more intense among the Negroes, and more illogical perhaps than among the Caucasians. Among the colored peoples of the world generally there is evidence of class structure that is based chiefly on color. And as long as man is mortal he will continually be faced with the problem of prejudice, for this is an inward or internal part of man's being.
In discussing the problem of race relations, Billy Graham stated: "I am convinced that forced integration will never work. You cannot make two races love each other and accept each other at the point of bayonets. It must come from the heart if it is to be successful." The most successful solution must be sought through a moral and spiritual approach. In this respect the Christian church cannot be a part of the problem, but instead must lead out and provide the solution.
No Forced Love
Political, legal, or economic measures will not in themselves bring about a change in our basic attitudes. There is no law, not even the Ten Commandments, that can coerce one into loving a colored or a white person. No doubt one of the greatest shortcomings of the church has been its inability to convey the idea that prejudice is unchristian and immoral—immoral not only because a man's color is beyond his control but because this color has separated him from that to which he has a right to belong.
The problem at hand requires patience, understanding, and courage, not just of the white man but of the colored, as well. Most important of all is the need of Christian love in each of our hearts. The Corinthians received this message from Paul:•"For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:13). On Mars' Hill this apostle preached that God made the world: "And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth" (Acts 17:26).
With these very explicit statements, is it any wonder that Christians have so much difficulty in explaining why so many of their churches are still segregated!
As members of the church in Christ, we must recognize that in Christ there is the answer to this problem. The church has a duty to proclaim the answer: its followers must focus their energies on condemning the prevailing sinful attitudes, which through prejudice perpetuate segregation, discrimination, and injustice. Within each of us there rests the prerogative to decide what we will do about the matter.