The Bible, Christianity, Race, Ethnicity, and Culture
We live in very tense times when it comes to the issue of race. In the land several years we have had many high-profile confrontations that were sparked due to racial tensions. In August 2014 Ferguson Missouri was set ablaze following the shooting death of Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer. In April 2015 poor predominantly, black neighborhoods in Baltimore Maryland burned following the death of Freddie Gray while in the custody of the Baltimore police. In September 2015 a series of protest over race issues at the University of Missouri lead to the resignation of the University president and the chancellor. The following school year the university saw a decrease in enrollment that some attribute to the protest the year prior. On July 7th, 2016, 5 Dallas police officers were gunned down by a black gunman who angry about recent police shootings. In August of 2017, there was violence at a Unite the Right rally of white nationalist who were marching in opposition to the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. During the violent clashes between protesters and counter-protesters, Heather Heyer was killed and 19 others injured when James Fields drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters. In the spring of 2017 protest began at Evergreen State College in Olympia Washington over perceived racial insensitivity and injustice. Like the University of Missouri Evergreen experienced a decrease in enrollment in Fall 2017 and they are expecting a further decrease in fall 2018. In the past few years, there has been a rise in anti-Semitism and we have seen the growth of race-based organizations such as the New Black Panther Party, Black Lives Matter, and white nationalist. There is indeed a divided within our county today. There are racial divides, cultural divides, ethnic divides, gender divides, and political divides just to name a few. For this article, I want to focus on race, ethnicity, and culture. How should those of us who are Christian address these issues, what does the Bible have to say about these issues? The first thing we need to do is define the terms race, ethnicity and culture.
• Race: Classification of people into groups based on innate physical characteristics primarily skin color
• Ethnicity: individuals who have a common ancestry, and shared social experience comprised of customs and traditions passed through generations, such as, dress, food, and language
• Culture: groups of people who share common values, beliefs, and rules of conduct, that are passed on to members of that group
First let’s look at what the Bible has to say about these issues. When it comes to race the Bible is silent on this issue. The reason that the Bible is silent on this issue is because race as defined in modern times was not something that was considered during biblical times. Racism as we know it did not exist in biblical times. Now I know that some will point to the fact that there is slavery in the Bible an immediately associate biblical slavery with racism. That would be a mistake. Slavery in the old testament is different from slavery in the new testament and slavery in the old and new testament are different from legal chattel slavery in the United States. In the old testament slavery is more of a contract between to parties. One party would sell themselves into the service of another, this was for a specified period. At the end of the contracted time the person could go free. Lifetime service was possible, but it had to be at the consent of the slave
2 “If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you. Exodus 21:1-6 shows some of the rules for slaves in Israel:u for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything. 3 If he comes alone, he is to go free alone; but if he has a wife when he comes, she is to go with him. 4 If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and only the man shall go free. 5 “But if the servant declares, ‘I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,’ 6 then his master must take him before the judges. He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life. (Exodus 21:1-6 NRSV)
Slavery in the new testament was different. The slavery that we see in the new testament is the Greek / Roman institution of slavery. It does have an ethnic component to it, but a large part of new testament slavery had to do with conquest, and conquered people being pressed into slavery. Although all forms of slavery have aspects of brutality to them, few forms of slavery were more brutal than the European slave trade in the Americas. The brutality of slavery in America is seared into our national conscious, this view of slavery overshadows any other form of slavery to the point that when we hear the word slavery the brutal and painful national disgrace of legal chattel slavery in the United States is all we can see, therefore; it is difficult for us to imagine a slavery that was not based on race. Biblical slavery was not racial, because the modern concept of race is not in the Bible, but we still see our fair share of bigotry and prejudice in the Bible.
Perhaps one of the best examples of bigotry and prejudice can be seen in the Jews relationship with the Samaritans. There is a number of scriptures that address the Jews dislike for the Samaritans.
The Jews so disliked the Samaritans that they would go out of their way to avoid contact with them. If a Jew had to get from Jerusalem to Nazareth, the most direct route would be to go through Samaria, however; most Jews would cross the Jordan river go around Samaria and cross the Jordan again when that could enter Galilee, but why did Jews dislike Samaritans? Around 722 B.C. the city fell to the Assyrians. Many of the inhabitants of the city and the surrounding area were taken into captivity, some farmers, the poor, and others were left behind. They intermarried with new settlers from Mesopotamia and Syria. The Jews looked at the Samaritans and impure half breeds. The interesting thing is that some of the Jew who were taken into captivity and would later return also intermarried, and some of the Samaritans did not. This means that the Samaritans probably had as much pure Jewish blood as the Jews who later returned from the Babylonian exile. But the Jews saw themselves as pure.
When we examine the Jews reason for disliking the Samaritans it seems foolish, because it is foolish. Most of the reasons people dislike or hate others are foolish and we Christians have got to stand against the foolishness. Christian lead the way in the move to abolish the horrid institution of slavery in the United States. Christian lead the way in the Civil Rights movement in the 50s and 60s, It is Christians who are leading the way today as we stand against the modern form of slavery, human trafficking.
We are to lead by the example set by Jesus and Jesus calls all to him regardless of race, ethnicity, or culture.
28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:28-29 NRSV)
Jesus said to come all not come some. All who will come to Jesus are welcome. All who accept Jesus will be saved. As Christ ambassador, it is our job to make sure that all feel welcome. When we consider all that Jesus has done for us, we should come to the realization that we do not have the right to discriminate against any of Gods children. Jesus is not asking us to ignore differences. We are different, and we are different for a reason and if we look deep enough we can sometimes find beauty in our differences, and even when the differences are negative, God is greater than the differences. So, let us as the people of God set the example for the rest of the world. Let’s stand against Racism, bigotry, and prejudice. Let’s especially make sure that we stand against those who would support Racism, bigotry, and prejudice in the name of God. Let’s be good ambassadors who welcome all who will come.