Racism and Christianity: Has Christianity previously changed its mind? Or is something else in play?

(Via Facebook)

I would personally argue that Christianity leans heavily in favor of racial equality. However, that is mostly due to an in depth reading that many people (believers or otherwise) aren’t willing to do. Not to mention I’m an African American raised in a predominately African American church. I’m also willing to accept that I might have missed something, so I’m putting this forward as an open question/post. Once again, the theme mostly surrounds Christianity, but anyone can participate as long as they stay on topic.

Why aren’t the scriptural condemnation against racial mixing accepted anymore? It’s not as if they are rejected, so much as they are ignored or reinterpreted. Skeptics and critics of Christianity are often knowledgeable of scriptures once used to justify racial division and racism. Here’s one of the more popular ones:

Genesis 9:24, 25

24 When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him,
25 he said, “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.”

In context Noah’s youngest son Ham had “saw the nakedness” of Noah when he was drunk after the flood waters receded. He went and told his brothers what he did, who subsequently covered their father up and told him of Ham’s indiscretions. Noah cursed Canaan, Ham’s oldest son and symbol of Ham’s descendants, to a life of servitude under the authority of the descendants of his brothers Shem and Japeth. From here you get this quasi-anthropological presumption, largely defunct today, stating that Ham’s descendants became the various groups in Africa and part of the Middle East. Shem’s descendants became the Israelites, the Russians, and the Europeans. Japeth’s descendants became the East Asian, South East Asian, Pacific Islander, and Native American groups.

(Note: While this can be explored independently, I’m more concerned with the scripture’s role rather than modern anthropology for the time being.)

In addition to this view, we see throughout the Old Testament that the Israelites were barred from mixing with the other nations. It didn’t stop them (more on that later) but this rule was also utilized to justify anti-miscegenation policies in the United States. All of a sudden, this sentiment seemed to have dropped off. Sure, I suppose if you look hard enough you might find people using scripture to justify their beliefs but they are most certainly the minority. However, this does not stop modern progressive thinkers (both from within and outside of Christianity) from bringing it up. Stating, “the church changed its mind on racial issues, why can’t it change its mind on ________?”

On Theology I think St. Augustine summed up my point the best:

“In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity”

Essentials are defined as the tenants and concepts “fundamental” to Christianity. There is some debate as to what is essential or not, but it’s generally agreed that the Bible is included within that category. Though some would argue that while the Bible is essential in our use, only some passages reflect essentiality (the New Testament).

Non-essentials are generally understood as church and some denominational traditions. Some churches still have relationships with each other despite them following the tenants of different denominations. A Baptist minister can be a guest speaker at the Church of Christ or a Methodist church or a Lutheran church, etc. Related to what I said above, some scripture could be considered non-essential from a Christian viewpoint. This generally includes most of the Old Testament that reflects a world prior to Jesus’s death and resurrection. As well as some of the Israelite exclusive traditions (holidays, feasts, etc.) I would argue that the church is generally free to “change its mind” on these issues.

In all things charity means our actions as believers are done in love. Love for God, love for our neighbors (and enemies) and love for our siblings in the faith.

First you have slavery. If you combine the “curse of Canaan” position with the fact that the Bible presents rules on how slaves and masters should treat each other (Ephesians 6-9 for the New Testament), many people at the time could have considered the “right to slave ownership” to be essential. However, the Bible (new and old testaments) really takes a passive approach to slavery. It acknowledged slavery as a part of life and presented rules for following it. The passages on slavery can be removed from Christianity and Christianity would remain intact. So were minds changed on slavery? Yes, but they were free to be changed.

After slavery you have racial discrimination and anti-miscegenation laws. I already broke those down before, however there is another caveat to be considered. You see, in the scripture you have passages that tend to validate racial equality. These include John 3:16 and Galations 3:28 which states”

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Other passages include the parable of the Good Samaritan as well as Jesus’ genealogy (which goes into the Old Testament). In the Old Testament you have women like Rahab and Ruth (as well as the wives of Joseph and Moses) who were not Israelites but accepted into the fold by accepting the Israelite’s God. Additionally, you have the entire book of Jonah where God warned the people of Nineveh to repent before he destroyed them. At the very least, it could be argued that both positions presented an impasse when scripture was involved in the policy regarding race. I would argue that, through a detailed reading, it’s tilted in the favor of acceptance.

However, that still does not explain why the church has largely forgotten its past on this issue. So much so that even the infamous Westboro Baptist Church resents the KKK for using Christianity to justify racial hate. (NOTE: KKK isn’t even immune as they publicly present themselves as no longer being anti-minority. It might be different behind closed doors, but if scripture were by their side they wouldn’t need to superficially change).

So when even the KKK will not read scripture in order to find justification for racism, why was there a change? What do you all think?


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