A Biblical Justification of Racism and Slavery Exists – let us tear it down.

Christians, now more than ever before, have a duty to really examine the Scriptures and find the truth for themselves. Sometimes that’s easier said than done. I’d like to show you a list of what people said they believed that people said the Bible said:

Teaching: “Mark of Cain”
Story: Cain killed Abel, God cursed Cain and marked him so that he could live a long, cursed life and people would know to steer clear.
Application: When the Northern and Southern Baptists split over the issue of slavery, the Southern Baptists claimed that slavery was justified as the dark skin color of the slaves was the “mark” that they were meant to live as slaves. The idea that dark skin color was the mark comes from Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism.

Teaching: “Curse of Ham”
Story: The flood has ended, the family has left the ark and Noah ended up getting drunk on wine. Ham walks into the tent and realizes his father is naked. He goes and tells his two brothers, who drape a blanket across their shoulders and walk backwards into the tent – they did not see him naked. When Noah recovers, he curses Ham – saying he should live in servitude to his brothers.
Application: This teaching was popularly used to justify slavery when America was involved in the slave trade. They said that Ham’s descendants married Cain’s descendants – so they had dark skin and were therefore meant to be slaves.

Teaching: “The Tenth Commandment”
Story: Moses is revealing to the Israelites the ten commandments by which they will honor God.
Application: Since the commandment goes: ” “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant (that is “slave”), his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”” Christians are instructed not to covet another man’s slave, Christians are not forbidden from owning slaves.

Teaching: “You May Take Slaves”
Story: Moses is giving the Israelites further instructions.
Application: God permitted the Israelites to take slaves of their neighboring nations, but forbid the practice of making fellow Israelites slaves.

Teaching: “Mixed Marriages are Wrong”
Story: Ezra has just helped to rebuild the temple – now it’s time to rebuild the respect for the Law of God.
Application: The Israelites have gathered and admitted that they’re guilty of marrying foreign wives. In order to please God, they decide to send away (abandon) their wives and children.
Story: Nehemiah has just helped to rebuild the wall – now it’s time to rebuild the respect for the law of God. The book of the law is read aloud and everyone commits to obey it.
Application: The Israelites pledge, ““We promise not to give our daughters in marriage to the peoples around us or take their daughters for our sons.”
In both stories, part of the reason for the destruction of Jerusalem’s Walls and Temple is blamed on having had foreign wives – marrying the wrong race.

Teaching: “Paul Returns Onesimus”
Story: Onesimus is a slave who fled from Philemon’s household. Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon.
Application: Paul couldn’t have thought slavery was wrong if he would return a runaway slave to his master.

Teaching: “Biblical Households have Masters and Servants”
Story: Paul writes to new Testament believers to tell them how to live as Christians, Children are to obey their parents, parents aren’t to exasperate their children, wives are to submit to and obey their husbands, husband are to to love their wives, slaves are to submit to and obey their masters, masters are supposed to love their slaves like a brother/sister.
Application: Since Paul establishes a believer’s household to have masters and slaves, then slavery must not be wrong.

These are probably some of the more famous historical justifications for slavery and racism in Christian teaching. You’ll find that deeply racist ideology is also deeply religious ideology as well. Christians who want to turn the tide against racism must first confront the Biblical justifications for it – even the ones that persist today. Churches must do better than being silent against this misinterpretation of Scripture; because God’s word is being used in this way to justify evil. Let’s get it right this time – or prepare ourselves to repeat history.

An Untrustworthy Compass

Most of us live by a moral compass that tells whether what were doing falls into the “right” or “wrong” category. We know the difference between a guilty conscience and a clear one. We like to punish guilt and praise innocence. That’s just how our society works.

Jesus’ society was that of an an honor/shame dynamic. For them, that which was honorable was right, that which was shameful was wrong. It often also took an outside party to confirm honor or shame as being of good esteem and well-known, or having a bad reputation and being infamous, depending on your perceived character.

Being in an honor/shame society is a tricky proposition for those who are outsiders. After all, whatever restores honor is right, whatever tarnishes honor is wrong. So some actions our society would declare wrong could be viewed as right in that culture. Somehow, our society’s morality was informed by the ideals found in Scripture and it diverged from honor/shame into guilt/innocence. Our moral compass changed.

And it’s still changing. I was reading a conversation where a Christian drew up a scenario where a home was being invaded and it’s owner had two options: kill or be killed. It was obvious the answer the Christian was looking for was that the home owner should kill the invaders. But I began to wonder: Is that the only option? What reasons motivate the invasion in the first place? Can the invaders be reasoned with? Would being disabled or wounded be a better option? I wondered why the thought of hypothetically assisting God render his verdict of eternal condemnation and torture in Hell by speeding criminals to the afterlife didn’t register even the slightest moral concern on their radar. This value happened to be the opposite of the early Christians who were so sure of their eternal salvation, they wouldn’t kill others, giving them as long of a chance as possible to repent and join them in heaven, where they could forgive them for murdering them as they ate together around the Lord’s table. Think about it – Saul persecuted Christians, was on the wrong side of Stephen’s martyrdom, believed and became Paul, and will spend eternity in Heaven with Stephen. Quite a turnaround!

Likewise, I’ve seen Christians get so riled over their side of their favorite cause, they loose sight of the individuals who would be affected by their ideas and the circumstances involved. Sometimes there aren’t easy one-size-fits-all solutions or answers to the toughest questions of all and it’s marginalizing to decide for other people what they get to choose from without any direct interaction with those who are most affected by the decisions being made. Unique individuals become part of some faceless crowd, “the victims” or “the sinners” or whatever label they want to use to describe them this week – and their whole story gets erased alongside with their identity, as well as any desire to be respectful because of the distance involved from the matter because it’s all being argued on some higher hypothetical plain that we forget affects everyday people who sometimes live a lot closer to us than we think.

We have this big cosmic battle of changing morality playing out in this very day and age. Things that were utterly immoral not that long ago have found a measure of acceptance as we question the original assumptions about what’s right and wrong. And we’ll continue to question and change our minds about morality as the years go on. It seems that we’re finally asking the right questions. One of my favorite moral teachers is Martin Luther King, Jr. who had quite a bit to say on the subject said it best during his sermon explaining his opposition to the Vietnam War:

“A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies. This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing, unconditional love for all men. This oft misunderstood and misinterpreted concept, so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force, has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of mankind. And when I speak of love I’m not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Muslim-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of John: “Let us love one another, for God is love. And every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us and his love is perfected in us.” “

I so wish Christians would learn to erase the divisions and shift their loyalties and learn to see the world as an “all of us, together” kind of people. Sadly, I’ve read so many End Times stories where any attempt to unite the world, declare peace, put an end to famine and poverty and feed the hungry is viewed with the utmost suspicion that the Anti-Christ is somewhere active in the world and is just about to take it over. I’ve seen regular Christians talk about the Mark of the Beast as if it’s just a day away from being something real and tangible.

And I wonder what’s become of Christian morality, that broken compass that swings wildly as if it’s confused and lost it’s way. Each believer seems to read it differently and point to a different direction to head in as the true way to salvation; but I’m not so sure that any of us have it right.

Soul Repair

Growing up, I had been taught that Christians can lose pieces of their heart through broken soul ties. It was a fancy way of saying that anyone who has premarital sex has seriously sinned. I still have the little booklet with the picture of a heart on one page that has missing pieces, ripped out and cut out alike. I eventually discovered that pretty much every Christian kid of my generation had the same speech in some way, shape, or form. Some were taught that they became like “damaged goods”, a doughnut that’s been passed around, a package of candy somebody else opened, a wad of gum left over that somebody else chewed. Ultimately, as people we would be worthless and soulless. The next page of that booklet featured some strange math that basically meant the more you give away your love, the less love you have to give.

“It doesn’t matter how many new haircuts you get, or gyms you join, or how many glasses of chardonnay you drink with your girlfriends… you still go to bed every night going over every detail and wonder what you did wrong or how you could have misunderstood. And how in the hell for that brief moment you could think that you were that happy. And sometimes you can even convince yourself that he’ll see the light and show up at your door. And after all that, however long all that may be, you’ll go somewhere new. And you’ll meet people who make you feel worthwhile again. And little pieces of your soul will finally come back. And all that fuzzy stuff, those years of your life that you wasted, that will eventually begin to fade.” – Iris, “The Holiday”

When I heard this monologue, I realized that it had a hopeful thought: “pieces of your soul come back.” That’s not something that churches taught. We were taught that in Christ, we had forgiveness, but we could never have wholeness. Only recently have I learned that the origin of the “pieces of heart” teaching is from Bill Gothard’s ministry. If this teaching is evidence of whether or not the tree is good – then it is proof positive that the tree is a very bad one. There’s no shortage of stories on the internet about members of my generation who believed that they were worthless, who lived in fear, who filled themselves up with pride for being fully obedient while others gave into the temptation to sin. To this day, many struggle with love because everything they were taught about it was wrong.

Ultimately, this teaching damages one’s own self-esteem. It tells you that your ability to love is limited; you only have so much to give and then there’ll be no love left to live on. It tells you that worth or value is dependent on your behavior; that if you act the wrong way that God will love you less than if you acted the right way. Anybody could see that as a horrible misinterpretation of Scripture in any other context:

“Your ability to tell the truth is limited. You only have so much truth to give, then you only have lies left to live on. Your worth is dependent on you telling the truth. The more lies you tell, the less God loves you.”

Anyone would say: “No, God loves everyone regardless of their sin.” “Your worth isn’t dependent on how you behave, to God you’re worth dying for just because he loves you.” “Love never fails.” But when it comes in the context of dating and relationships, this bad teaching goes unchallenged and unchecked.

And now that an entire generation has grown up under it’s flawed guidance, we can see the result – extremely high rates of singleness, most young people putting off marriage, some even deciding against getting married at all, and even the mostly “godly” marriages fraught with as many problems as regular marriages. Sadly, there are many out there who still teach these things, perpetuating the destruction of self-esteem and pouring onto those open wounds with guilt and shame.

This bad tree has planted the seeds of a horrible forest, please stop trying to be guides through it – rather, let it go and find another way – a better way – a less destructive way. Help us to put our souls back together and to not to live in fear of losing them in the first place.

Is it Loving?

Continuing from my earlier thoughts, it strikes me as vitally important to get some idea of what “loving” is. I remember being told some variation of this concept awhile ago:

When people had wood-burning stoves, parents would tell their young children, “Don’t touch the stove, you’ll get burned.” The parent knew the danger the stove represented and wanted to spare the beloved child from the pain of being burned.  The child, having no concept of “burned”, thinks that everything the parent says “no” to must be fun – so he or she reaches up and touches the stove – instantly, he or she fully comprehends what a burn feels like having painfully received one.  Not only that, he or she realizes that the commandment to not do something was based in love and a desire for his or her well-being.  It would not be loving for that parent to not warn their child of the danger of the fact that they would get burned or shocked from sticking things into an outlet. That’s why Christians are commanded to warn sinners of the dangers that Hell represents, it would not be loving to let them remain in sin and get burned.

One thing I had always hated about that logic is that in that parallel, Christians see themselves as the loving parent and all sinners of all ages as the toddler or disobedient young child. It doesn’t matter that the “sinner” in question is actually older than the Christian; it doesn’t matter that they’re total strangers. It’s the same thinking that allows a Christian to go to that “sinner”, push him or her over, and shout something like: “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, I cast you out demon! Leave! Begone!” This is, the Christian thinks, an expression of God’s love. This is, the “sinner” thinks, a crazy person who for no apparent reason has knocked him or her over and began shouting something bizarre (that’s not an exaggeration, by the way – but something that has actually happened in the name of Christian love). The Christian gives him or herself the power to decide that as the mature one, as the one who defines what is loving, then he or she must act, or else do the “unloving” thing by not warning the “sinner” of his or her fate. This, of course, a judgement call, as they don’t know that this “sinner” came to faith as a child and is just as much a Christian as they are in God’s eyes. The Christian can only see an instance of sin being committed and decides that anyone who sins must be a sinner as Christians don’t sin and it’s impossible for sinners to be Christians.

Christians do have 1 Corinthians 13 as a guideline – a basic Christian definition of love. But not everyone lives by the book and wouldn’t consider being bossed about or pushed over by total strangers as loving by any definition they know. Perhaps one of the best secular concepts of love is to “do no harm.” The same flaw extend even here, though – so it would seem the problem isn’t in the message, but in the transmission. It gets caught up, jumbled, and received in a way different than what was intended. The Christian after all, has been taught that being warned of the consequences of sin – and going to just about any lengths to do so is loving, and that’s why some of them do just that. It’s not the same message that other Christians get though, and those who aren’t Christians don’t see it that way either. In this, humility seems to be a vital ingredient, one that takes the Christian out of the position of power. He or she will need to consider that others might not have the same definition of “loving” – after all, it’s probably the most difficult concept to define in a way that everyone agrees with exactly. It’s difficult to define what loving is, but being unloving is something that’s easier to define – it’s what loving is not. It’s being judgmental, it’s pushing people over, it’s shouting bizarre statements, it’s all these things and more that make that other person feel as if they’re despised or shameful.

Verbal Incision

I didn’t hear every word the older man said, just the last half of his tirade as it was exceedingly loud: ” … I can’t believe you’d say such a thing about him even if he is dead. You just don’t do that ever. I’m gonna go outside and tell your mom right now.”
The young woman was on the brink of tears – doing her best to hold them back. She looked miserable.
Considering the fourth of July almost here, I wish I would have said: “My great uncle fought and died for your right to say whatever you want. Don’t let some old guy use that freedom against you.” Or “You have a right to say what you feel about things and people, living or dead. Where would we be as a society if we couldn’t speak ill of Hitler and others like him?”
Perhaps the older man was a friend of the family who knew the dead man well and perhaps the young woman was aware of facts that the older man didn’t know – I wondered if there was some flaw in the dead man’s character that the older man just didn’t want to believe so he went off on the young woman. To him the dead man was a saint and the implication that he was a sinner just like everyone else was too much for him to take.
The man probably didn’t even know that his comments were verbally abusive to the young woman. He cared more for the dead man’s honor than the condition of the living young woman. He chose to defend the former by berating the latter. The thing is that dead men tell no tales. And that young woman might never again have the confidence to say what she feels. She’ll remember that time when that guy told her mom about what she said, when everybody got mad over it, and decide to just keep it in. She might never reach out for someone to talk to because the last time that happened it didn’t work out so well for her. If anyone needed to be defended, she did. If anyone needed consolation, she did. If anyone needed to know that someone had taken her side, she did.

New Versions of the Same Old Story

After watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I was disappointed to see the reviews that called it a remake of A New Hope. Sure, there were a lot of similarities. The movies are set in the same universe. It would be unbelievable if it were to be completely different – as unbelievable as the sequel to ‘Water World’ being set thirty years after the original on the same world, only this time in a world-wide desert. As unacceptable as the sequel to Star Trek being set in the Star Gate Universe.

To be honest, human history is the same old story, the same song and dance. We see it in Judges, First Kings and Second Kings; either the people of Israel would go their own way and end up in trouble that only the judge whom God raised up for them could get them out of, or each generation of ruler was progressively worse than the one before in imaginative ways of doing evil. The point isn’t so much that it is the same story told over again, it’s whether or not the next generation is doomed to follow in the footprints of the one before it.

In the Star Wars universe, it’s been established that Luke is the last Jedi, members of his family are strong in the force – and since Jedi excel at turning from the light side to dark and back again, it shouldn’t be surprise that Luke’s relatives are force sensitive and on both sides. So it should not be a surprise that the new story proceeds from the old story. It should be understood that the same basic rules still apply because the concept of the Force is very well explained in previous stories and it would stretch belief if it were to break it’s own rules. For every vacuum of power, somebody rises to fill it – and a few decades is barely enough time to restore peaceful order to a galaxy ruled by the dark-side, so it should be no surprise that the First Order took advantage of the situation to gain what foothold they did.

So when I noticed some familiar elements, I wondered: “Will this character be able to resist the temptation of the dark side? Will that character be redeemed and restored to the light side? If so, will people find it easy to trust him? What does it look like when a former dark-side devotee becomes a reformed light-side Jedi? Will this other character fall under the power of the dark side? If so, what motivates them to do so?

With Luke, there was never really a doubt that he would remain on the light-side. With Anakin, we saw him fall to the dark-side, but we never saw the struggle of a him returning to the light-side, wrestling with the destruction he caused and deaths he was responsible for while avoiding the lure of being called back into the dark-side. With Leia, she barely began to understand that she had some force sensitivity, but she never seemed to want to explore it. With Han, the question was whether or not he would revert to being a shady smuggler or would continue to change for the better.

To some degree, these have to be the same story just to explore every variation there is in the theme – there has to be something good that fights against the something evil, the judge that is raised up to rescue everybody for the umpteenth time, the king that is more evil than the king before him – just to see if there will be a time when peace reigns for decades or a good ruler will come to the throne – having learned from the mistakes of the past and set all the wrongs right.

This is, after all, the human story – about betrayal and redemption, right and wrong, good and evil, cruelty and compassion – whether it’s in one of our oldest books or newest films, we are not to hate the repetitive patterns that exist but look out for the hope that as bad as things gets, there’s always a choice and there’s always hope even for the worst of us and forgiveness for the best of us, and when we lose our way, there will always be someone to help us find it again.

Refocus

Refocus is not a word that has a positive connotation for me. At some point in Middle School, it was decided that the best way to improve an errant child’s behavior was to ‘issue a refocus’. It was a red folder with a simple form:
What I did wrong:
What I ought to have done:
Why I didn’t do the right thing:
What I will do the next time:
Students who completed one was supposed to sign it and it would end up in their permanent folders. Once three refocuses had been issued, the parents would be brought in and shown the file to talk about appropriate courses of action to correct chronic misbehavior.

I still remembered the lesson I learned the first and only time I was issued one … It was lunchtime for the students in my grade, one of the few times that students could interact with other classes which was usually a good thing for friends who could sit by each other. Not so much for me. I had just gotten my tray and sat down in my usual spot at my usual table with my back turned to the two trouble-makers so I had no way of seeing the grapes that they were throwing at me coming but I felt them hit me and I turned around to see the two guilty-looking trouble-makers who didn’t have any grapes left on their trays because they had thrown them all at me. Being a devout Christian who had just learned about the Golden Rule at church, I reciprocated – throwing the grapes right back at them. The two trouble-makers had the good fortune of initiating the grape-throwing when the lunch monitor’s back was turned; I, on the other hand, wasn’t so lucky and was immediately caught.
“You mustn’t be hungry if you’re throwing food around like that. I’m taking away your tray and issuing you a Refocus.” The lunch monitor said, handing me a red folder. I opened it and took out a form, in the other pocket was a red pencil.

“What I did wrong.” The first line read. I was a little puzzled. The Golden Rule was pretty clear – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. They threw grapes at me, which was not nice, so they must have wanted me to throw grapes back at them and not be nice about it. There really wasn’t a lot of room on the form to explain the whole story, so I wrote ‘threw grapes’.

“What I ought to have done.” Now I was confused. What ought one to do when somebody throws something at them? Usually if somebody sees it coming they can duck or get out of the way of the thing that is being thrown at them. But what ought somebody to do if they were hit by something they didn’t see coming? Just let people throw things at me all day long? I could just imagine walking down the hallway and these two trouble-makers stopping to say, ‘hey isn’t that the kid that doesn’t mind if you throw stuff? Let’s throw a book – ten points if you hit the stomach and fifty points for the head.’ A stand-by option was to tell the teacher or lunch monitor, but this was B.C. – before Columbine – so the only thing that results from that is a ‘tattle-tale’ reputation which I really didn’t need at the time, so I wrote ‘not throw grapes’.

“Why I didn’t do the right thing.” That was an easy one; I wrote ‘I don’t know’. I just hoped that the lunch monitor didn’t ask for clarification.
“What I will do the next time.” I didn’t relish that though, that this would happen again. If it did, all I could say is that I would not throw grapes again – so that’s what I wrote. I made no promises about not throwing food or anything else in general; it’s best not to volunteer information or make a promise that can’t be kept.

Now that I was done with the Refocus Form, had thought about what I did wrong and what the right thing to do was, why I didn’t do the right thing and what I would do next time, there wasn’t anything left to do but to wait for my fifteen minutes of detention to be up so that I could go to recess. Once my time was up the lunch monitor collected the Red Folder and said, “I hope you’ve learned your lesson. You may go now.” On my way to the playground I stopped by my locker and took a snack out of my bag to tide me over until I got home.

The lesson I had learned was not to not throw grapes, it was not to count on adults to tell the difference between two bullies and a kid who was tired of being bullied. It was that it was pointless to stand up for myself because I’d get in trouble for it. It was that the safest course of action was avoidance. Which is probably why I was a mite sensitive about objects being thrown at me. The next time it happened it was also in a cafeteria and it was a carrot. I froze – not knowing what course of action to take other than to not throw it back. I was older, so I was able to bottle up my emotions for the next few hours until I got home where it was safe to be upset that it had happened again. This time it was A.C. – after Columbine – but schools really hadn’t figured out how deal with the micro-aggressions of everyday bullying but they had finally begun to take it seriously. Better late than never, I guess.