Race and the Bible

A few decades back, Newsweek magazine had a cover story about the whole human species being related to one woman. This conclusion was drawn from studying mitochrondrial DNA, which is inherited exclusively from your mother, from diverse groups of people and concluding that we are all related to one woman–our mitochrondrial Eve. Other scientists would conclude that we have all descended from a small group of ancestors. Both conclusions fit the Bible. We are all descendants of Noah and his children and before that Adam and Eve. This is not a surprise, but nice to hear.

Related to each other or not, humans have always been very tribal, because of our sinful nature; especially when we feel stressed or challenged by our environment. It is easy to pick on the visually obvious differences, but when that is not good enough, we can even pick on ancestral countries of origin. It is all a sign of weakness and inherent evil.

The Bible gives no one a divine mandate to justify their racism, but that doesn’t prevent people from trying. One particularly odious heresy attempts to explain the existence of black people by reference to the “mark of Cain”.

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 anyone who found him should attack him.

Genesis 4:15

The mark of Cain is not being black. Still, this idea was used to support the slave trade by southern churches in the United States. It was also a formal part of the doctrine of the Latter Day Saints. Neither invented in the idea. It also was used for racist purposes earlier on. Clearly the idea is mere rationalizing to support sinful ideas.

The same could be said for use of the curse of Ham. In the story of Noah (Genesis 9), Noah gets drunk and naked and falls asleep. Ham sees his father but does nothing about it. Noah’s other sons, Shem and Japheth, cover their sleeping father by backing in and covering Noah. When Noah later finds out about it, he curses Canaan the son of Ham to be a servant of the others. Did the Jews later use this story to justify their conquering of the Canaanites? Perhaps. The actual justification comes from God’s condemnation of Canaanite occultic practices and the ritual sacrifice of their children. (see Deuteronomy 18:9-14)

One cannot say that God is race blind. In many Old Testament stories, God judges people not only as individuals but also as groups, and punishments (up to genocide) is brought upon various clans and tribes. Why? Our sense of justice holds only individuals accountable for themselves. Why would children, and in some cases even animals, be destroyed? It might be possible that some offenses, particularly those invoking demonic powers, may have left genetic damage as well as learned sin.

God instructs the Jews to remain genetically and culturally separate from the nations around them at least until the birth of Christ. It is because the other nations are “unclean”. The Bible doesn’t go into detail as to what exactly is unclean or where the “uncleaness” resides. Such restrictions are quickly rescinded after Jesus’ ascension. This makes me think that it wasn’t just a matter of religious practices. It may have been a genetic problem connected to sin somehow. Once Jesus is born as both God and man, the focus shifts to the salvation of all people.

That is how we should think of race. All of us are sinners and need a Savior. Jesus has completed the fulfillment of God’s Law and the requirement of God forsaking sinners by himself. Now it is God’s desire to save as many people as possible from all races by connecting them to Jesus.

Some object to the zeal to evangelize as a form of racism. They see it as an attack against a person’s culture or identity. Culture is nice. It usually enriches our lives. But when culture perpetuates false notions of God or segregates a person from the one source of salvation for all peoples, then culture is not a blessing. Culture also changes all the time. There is no need to preserve culture beyond a historical description of it, because changes in the environment, technology, and interactions with others will change culture anyway. A person is perfectly free to be culturally distinct in their worship and service of God, as long as, it reflects the truth of God.

The incorporation of American politics into church life has aggravated the unity of Church along racial lines. What do you do when right to life, and religious liberty fall with one party and care for the poor and racial equality fall more to the other? All are issues that God cares about. I would suggest that we prioritize our unity in Christ and look for non-political ways to solve the underlying problems together. Division is the goal of the enemy. We shouldn’t help him.

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