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Bible and racism

A sign of the end of the age

The problem of racism is very much in the news today. Despite efforts to eliminate racism and ethnic hatred, the world continues to see race riots, civil wars that involve fighting between ethnic groups, 'ethnic cleansing', genocide, anti-Semitism and theories of racial superiority. That this should be so today comes as no surprise to those who seriously read their Bibles. Almost two thousand years ago Jesus Christ predicted that one of the characteristics of the time of the end would be fighting between ethnic groups:
"And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation [Greek ethnos] shall rise against nation, and kingdom [Greek basileia] against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places" (Mat 24:6,7).
In the above passage, the original Greek word rendered nation is "ethnos", from which we get our word ethnic. This word refers to an ethnic class of people. The Greek word for kingdom, "basileia", refers to a political institution. Thus the word ethnos, used separately from "basileia", shows that there would be clashes between ethnic and racial groups, as well as between nations, in the last days.

Were the black races cursed by God?

It is a common myth that the Bible, specifically in Genesis 9, condones the enslavement of the African races, and implies that the black races are inferior. Genesis 9 was used in the days of the black slave trade by supposed Christians who wished to justify their horrible treatment of African peoples. However, their interpretation of this passage was a flagrant misuse of Scripture, a misuse of Scripture that unfortunately continues to this day in some quarters. This incorrect interpretation has caused much tragedy and suffering among the African races, and we need to put it to rest immediately. Following an immoral incident involving Ham and perhaps his son Canaan, Genesis 9 describes how Canaan is cursed by Noah:
"And he [Noah] said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. And he said, Blessed be the LORD God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant" (Gen 9:25-27).
Those who try to maintain that the Bible teaches the enslavement of African peoples, argue that since Ham is the father of the African races, this curse amounts to a legitimization of racism against blacks. However, while it is true that Ham is the forefather of the races that became established in Africa, Ham was also the father of other peoples, such as the people who lived in the Promised Land prior to its being conquered by the Israelites. The main group of people living in the Promised Land at this time were the descendants of Canaan, the Canaanites. For this reason the land was also called the Land of Canaan. One group of Canaanites, the Gibeonites, tried to trick Joshua into a peace treaty:
"And Joshua called for them, and he spake unto them, saying, Wherefore have ye beguiled us, saying, We are very far from you; when ye dwell among us? Now therefore ye are cursed, and there shall none of you be freed from being bondmen, and hewers of wood and drawers of water for the house of my God" (Jos 9:22,23).
It was as a direct result of their trickery that the Canaanite Gibeonites were cursed into servitude for the Israelites. This is the Biblical fulfillment of the Genesis 9 curse. Even in the days of Solomon, several hundred years later, this curse was still being fulfilled:
"And all the people that were left of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, which were not of the children of Israel, their children that were left after them in the land, whom the children of Israel also were not able utterly to destroy, upon those did Solomon levy a tribute of bondservice unto this day" (1Ki 9:20,21).
Of the above listed groups, the Amorites, Hivites, Jebusites, and perhaps the Perizzites were Canaanite groups. Thus the curse (which actually became a blessing!) was extended to other Canaanite groups as well. The Gibeonites, according to Joshua 9:22,23 quoted above, were to be employed in the temple service. This association with the worship of Yahweh, the true God, opened up the possibility of salvation to these non-Israelites. This is a foretaste of the grace God would later extend to all Gentiles (non-Israelites).

"Christian" racism

While the Bible itself in no way encourages or tolerates racism, it is unfortunately true that some Christians have been and are racist, just as some non-Christians are racists. However, this is not a reflection on the true nature of Christianity. One of the perpetrators of the myth of the inferiority of the African races was the Catholic Archbishop of the Americas, Bartolome de las Casas (1474-1566). Las Casas was a champion of the rights of North and South American Indians, since he believed the Indians had souls and thus needed to be saved. Thus he fought to end the enslavement of the natives of the New World. However, he also recommended that African slaves be imported to America, since they did not have souls and were thus inferior! As we have already stressed, this view is definitely not Biblical.

Unfortunately, there has arisen in the minds of some Christians the illusion that Christ was racially white. But ethnology, history and the Bible converge to show just how much of an illusion this idea really it. It is common for people to portray the 'greats' in history in ways that are more agreeable to their own sensibilities. Thus many whites have simply assumed that Christ had fair skin, and some even assume that he had blond hair and blue eyes! Of course, the simple rebuttal to this notion is that nobody knows what Christ looked like. However, ethnologists affirm that Palestinian Jews living in the first century were quite dark-skinned, with dark hair and eyes. The Anglo-Saxon, Nordic and Slavic white races lived over a thousand miles to the north and northwest of the Palestinian Jews. Thus the racist portrayal of Christ as a 'Great White God', presented by such groups as the Mormons, is to be rejected.

We must distinguish between true Christianity as revealed in God's Word, and the corrupt manifestations of Christianity that owe their origins more to human reasoning. In other words, Christianity is not racist by nature, although some individual Christians are (as are some Hindus, atheists and other non-Christians).

Is Christianity a white man's religion?

It is sad, but true, that some white Christians assume arrogantly that Christianity is a 'white man's religion'. Partly because of these attitudes, many people misrepresent the Christian faith as the religion of the white races, in much the same way that native North American religions are the indigenous religions of native Americans.

However, historically speaking, the white races are relative late-comers to the Christian religion. For example, the ancestors of the northern European Anglo-Saxons continued to be full-blown pagans for centuries after the Gospel message first went out on the Day of Pentecost (c. 30 AD).

Christ himself was a Jew, and hardly the Nordic 'god' of some people's imaginations. Christ's immediate disciples were also Jewish, and it was to the Jewish peoples that the Gospel was first preached. Before Christ ascended into heaven, he told his disciples how the Gospel would first spread among the Jews in Jerusalem, and then to the Samaritans (who were part Jewish) and only then to the other parts of the earth:
"But ye [Christ's disciples] shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth" (Acts 1:8).
Thus while it may be fair to say that some institutions that call themselves Christian are manifestations of the modern 'white man's religion', it is clearly untrue to say this of the Christian faith as represented in the New Testament.

Evolution and racism

While the Bible teaches that God created all human beings equal, the atheistic ideas of evolution have led many to adopt racist views. Hitler, for example, was influenced by evolutionary Darwinism when he espoused the racist view that the 'Aryan' race was superior to all others. One manifestation of evolutionary thinking, known as social Darwinism, led to racist and class policies in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries:
"The theory [of social Darwinism] was used to support political conservatism. Class stratification was justified on the basis on 'natural' inequalities among individuals, for the control of property was said to be a correlate of superior and inherent moral attributes such as industriousness, temperance, and frugality. Attempts to reform society would, therefore, interfere with natural processes; unrestricted competition and defense of the status quo were in accord with biological selection. The poor were the 'unfit' and should not be aided; in the struggle for existence, wealth was a sign of success. At the societal level, social Darwinism was used as a philosophical rationalization for imperialist and racist policies, sustaining belief in Anglo-Saxon or Aryan cultural and biological superiority." [Encyclopedia Britannica, 1986, 10:920]
More recently, Philippe Rushton, a Western University (London, Ontario) psychology professor, created a stir when he published a race theory based on the evolutionary development of humans. Rushton claimed that the black races finished evolving first, followed by the white races, with the Asian races last. His theory proposes that Asians are the most highly evolved humans, followed by whites, with the blacks being the least highly evolved. Moreover, Professor Rushton claimed that this made Asians the most intelligent, the blacks the least, with the whites falling somewhere in between.

Rushton was roundly condemned in most quarters, and he lost some of his academic privileges. However, according to the principles of evolution, which openly teach that some species are more highly evolved than others, there is no reason why a theory such as this should be automatically condemned without serious investigation (which it was). Such a theory is quite compatible with the tenets of the amoral discipline of evolution. Most people seemed to reject Rushton's ideas for moral, ethical and religious reasons.

Those who believe the Bible to be authoritative in such matters do have reason to automatically reject all racist theories, as we will see. It should be pointed out, however, that it would be unfair and simplistic to portray all evolutionists as racist, just as it would be to call all Christians racist. Still, there is one major difference. Some Christians have read racist ideas into the non-racist Bible, while evolutionary principles inherently support the idea of one race or species rising above another.

Nevertheless, a chosen people

While the Bible does not teach that any one race or nation has guaranteed access to salvation based on their race alone, the Bible does affirm that God chose the nation of Israel as a special people to manifest His Name throughout the world. Early in the first book of the Bible, God made a special promise or covenant with Abraham, the father of the Israelites:
"Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee: and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: and I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed" (Gen 12:1-3).
Later, when the people of Israel had become a nation, God made a further covenant with the Israelites:
"Now therefore, IF ye will obey my voice in- deed, and keep my covenant, THEN ye shall be a peculiar [or, special] treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation" (Exo 19:5,6).
For about two thousand years, God manifested His truth through the Israelites and their religion. The special status of Israel did not mean that no other people had access to the true God and salvation. Many Gentiles (non-Jews) associated themselves with the religion of Israel and became proselytes (converts) to the Jewish faith, a faith that taught that God created all the world and all the people in it.

The wall of partition, and its removal

Unfortunately, many Jews became arrogant about their special status and treated the Gentiles as inferior in God's plan of salvation. This problem was epitomized in the following inscription in the Jewish temple court at the time of Christ:
"NO FOREIGNER MAY ENTER WITHIN THE BARRICADE WHICH SURROUNDS THE TEMPLE AND ENCLOSURE. ANYONE WHO IS CAUGHT DOING SO WILL HAVE HIMSELF TO THANK FOR HIS ENSUING DEATH." [FF Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (revised, fifth edition). (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1985), p 93]
However, one of the most important aspects of the work of Christ is that his sacrifice symbolically broke down this restrictive partition between Jew and Gentile. The apostle Paul, who was the Apostle to the Gentiles, wrote the following to Gentile Christians:
"Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; that at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain [two] one new man, so making peace..." (Eph 2:11-15).
Christ made peace between the races, and thus Christianity is a truly universal faith open to all races without restrictions of any kind.

The equality of all races

Along with the teaching that the Gospel is open to all races, the Bible clearly emphasizes that God created all humans equal, and all people who respond to the Gospel will be accepted by him. Now that's good news!
"... God shows no partiality. But in every nation [Greek ethnos] whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him" (Acts. 10:34,35).

"God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; and hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation" (Acts 17:24-26).
Racism, and beliefs of racial superiority were quite common in the ancient world. In addition to the Jewish feelings of racial superiority, the Greeks commonly called all non-Greeks Barbarians. In light of the above quoted passages that show the Bible teaching on the equality of all races, it is not surprising that we find the most liberating statement in the ancient world in the Bible:
"For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 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 if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Gal 3:26-29).
It must be stressed that the secular world can never offer the freedom from racism that Christ offers. It is only 'in Christ' through faith and baptism that this freedom exists.

The Kingdom of God: All nations living in peace!

The Kingdom of God is a hope that all people can share in through the Gospel, regardless of race. The Bible tells us that the Kingdom will be established when Christ returns to the earth, and it will be a Kingdom of righteousness and peace in which all races and peoples will live together in harmony with a common religion.
"And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD'S house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it" (Isa 2:2).
God's ultimate purpose is that the knowledge of His glory will eventually fill the entire earth, and thus all fighting and hatred between races will be eliminated. The Kingdom will be a beautiful contrast to what we see in the world today!


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