I’ve been reflecting on recent headlines about the emergence or re-emergence of white supremacy. I’ve been especially disturbed by how quiet my tribe is and by how defensive conversations around race are among my faith group. I can’t speak for everyone but I can share about some of the myths that were commonly discussed when I was growing up.
I grew up in a rural/suburban mostly white culture around good hardworking people who went to church, loved their neighbors and were largely good citizens. Most would never march or support a white supremacist cause or overtly try to hurt anyone. In fact the unspoken rule was “don’t hurt anyone and be nice to everyone.” Nevertheless, racism was a part of the folk Christianity that I grew up with. And I use the word folk Christianity because I believe these myths are aberrations and not a part of true Christianity. I hope to refute these myths as simply as I can.
The first myth I encountered was the “Curse of Ham.” The curse of Ham was drawn from the story of Noah found in Genesis 9:18-27. Noah had planted a vineyard and made some wine and after an evening of drinking he became drunk and naked. One of his son’s noticed that he was naked and told the others who walked in backwards and covered him with a robe. Ham the one who found his father drunk and naked was cursed. Ham founded the Canaanites. As folk religion does, this text was applied to African-Americans who had come from Africa in slave ships to the US serving many years in forced slavery. The curse implied that Ham’s descendents would serve his brothers Shem and Japheth. Then I was shown a map of where each son of Noah settled and naturally the map showed that Ham settled in Africa. It was inferred then that such people were cursed by God and destined for service to the people who settled in Europe and the Americas.
25 He said, “Cursed be Canaan: the lowest servant he will be for his brothers.” 26 He also said, “Bless the Lord, the God of Shem. Canaan will be his servant. 27 May God give space to Japheth; he will live in Shem’s tents, and Canaan will be his servant.”
And while my pastors and teachers did not preach this from the pulpit, I was taught this through personal relationships in my local community. It was passed on like a folk tale that seemed Biblical though it was a very inaccurate hijacking of the Bible to support racism. I even read an article about it in a Christian magazine in the late 90’s and I was surprised that this myth continued to circle around among Christians.
The second myth I encountered growing up was the idea that the Bible prescribed slavery. In the Old Testament the Bible certainly regulates existing slavery but it does not prescribe it nor endorse it. In the New Testament, we note too that slavery is spoken of and addressed but not prescribed or endorsed. The passage in Ephesians 5 was used often during our nation’s time of slavery by Christians who used a wooden interpretation to justify the keeping of slaves. It was hijacked to keep slaves obedient using God’s name to shore up their dominance. In the north, abolitionists refuted this belief by appealing to the finished work of Christ and the new community of believers within which there was no slave or free. But slaveholders appealed to the wooden literal interpretation of the proof texts that seemed to support slavery.
Again, I believe that scripture was hijacked to support the enslavement and subordination of African-American people. Nowhere is slavery or the subordination of a whole people based on race found in the Bible. In fact, anyone could become a follower of the one true God and be grafted into God’s holy family. The New Testament speaks of our new identity found in Jesus Christ. We are made joint heirs with Christ, made one with Christ, equal inheritors with Christ, brothers and sisters in Christ. Even when a slave runs away, Paul exhorts his master to receive him back not as a slave but as a brother.
The third myth I encountered was the idea that we should not marry outside of our ethnicity and that the Old Testament prescribed that like kind should marry like kind. There were two things that I was told… 1. that dogs don’t marry cats implying people of color were another species? and 2. that God forbids the marriage of Israelites with the people around the nation of Israel. Like kind was to marry like kind was the message. Sigh… I even remember someone telling me that Asians were more like the whites so it might possibly be Ok to marry an Asian or a Hispanic.
Again, this was folk religion with external ideas imposed upon the scripture hijacking it’s meaning. In reality the nation of Israel was told not to marry foreign women (or men) because they might introduce them to the worship of other gods. Nothing is said about ethnicity or race, God’s admonition dealt with idolatry and allegiance to the one true God of Israel.
Next, this is a bit more rare but I will bring it up because it’s out there. The white European people came from the lost tribe of Dan and are therefore God’s chosen people. Seriously, this is not really found in the Bible but people makes cases based on the suggestion that Dan is kind of like Denmark or Danish. This notion suggested that while God chose the Jews as his chosen people, he really chose the white people. This covered a racism toward Jews as well who were considered to be the ones with all of the money and wealth.
Again, this notion, hijacks some of the Biblical story to suggest that God chose white people for rulership and all others to be somehow subordinate and less than. None of this is really Biblical.
The fifth way scripture is hijacked is by the story of how God’s people were led out of bondage to the Egyptians. Some thing that Egypt represents Africans and that God was simply doing to Africans what they had done to Israel. Again, the story is hijacked to create a narrative that implies that African-Americans in some way had it coming to them. First of all, God dealt with Egypt and Phoaroh, they were already judged and disciplined. We cannot use this story to justify the oppression of slaves. We simply need to admit that our forefathers were wrong to hold slaves and that we need to respond to any continued oppression with acts of justice toward them.
Finally, I was taught that there was going to be a one world government that would be governed by THE anti-Christ. And that by working with other people groups, we might become complicit in building that one world government. Essentially we were to avoid all multiculturalism and be wary of inclusivity of any kind. Especially we were to be wary of how schools might try to teach kids to get along and be respectful of diversity or of people who were different. Frankly speaking, respecting others is not the same as embracing other worldviews nor is it the same as adopting other religions as our own. There is so much fear that our children might be exposed to learning about the muslim faith or learning about the Jewish faith so that we might become better at understanding one another. None of this is about bringing about a one world religion or a one world government. But this is about learning to understand one another and where each is coming from. I lose nothing of my own faith or own culture when I respect another’s.
Again, I believe that the Bible is hijacked toward intolerance. Scripture teaches us that there are many who will be “anti-Christ” it is not a single individual who will rise up as a single person destined to rule the world. To be anti-Christ is a spirit that works against Christ and the ways of Jesus Christ. We can see anti-Christ in so many of the ways of this world and the ways of the Empire. This anti-Christ Spirit uses power over and violence to bring about peace. The ways of Jesus are the ways of a new community of believers who choose to live like Christ toward others in ways that bring the good news of God to bear on the world at large. WE as God’s people are healers and life givers and we do not take the world by force or by might. It is by the Spirit of Christ, that we move about in this world.
In Ephesians chapter one, we learn that in Christ God chose us all. Christ is the chosen one and through faith in Christ we too are chosen. God did not pick one race of people to rule over the others. He chose one group, the Jews, to be his hands and feet and mouth revealing God and God’s way to others–serving the world. He gave the same mission to the church. We are chosen IN CHRIST to be the hands and feet and mouth of God to bring the message of hope to the rest of the world. We are to be healers, servants and messengers of the good news that God loves all people and longs for them to be in relationship with him. He did everything possible, not sparing his own son so that we might become the children of God. God is not out to place one race over another, God is out to gather his family, his children to himself.
And when we disregard the image of God in another person, we make ourselves in some sense an idol. It is the height of idolatry to lift up one’s own people above others. How sad that we want to save individual souls but then segregate ourselves by race and color from those who are often IN CHRIST too. It’s like cutting off the limbs of Christ’s body and saying that our particular limb is more worthy or better than the other parts of the body. The great span of God’s story is one of inclusion not one of exclusion. There is no room for racism or the lifting up of my tribe over that of the other tribes. These are ideas that come from the flesh… white flesh or black flesh or brown flesh or yellow flesh or red flesh… we don’t divide based on flesh. We are one in the Spirit, one in Christ Jesus.
One day, every tribe and tongue will be gathered around the throne of God, worshipping at the feet of Jesus. We might as well get used to the great diversity of God’s house because we will spend eternity together.
This is by no means the end of how the Bible can be hijacked to serve racism and idolatry–the devil is really good at it. If I could ask for one thing from pastors and faith leaders it would be that they would preach to address the folk Christianity that exists among us. It circles around passed from parent to child, Sunday school teacher to student, neighbor to neighbor in conversations and discussions. I wonder sometimes if pastors are aware of how this folk religion functions spreading like a cancer beneath the surface of our faith communities. We must address these ideas from the pulpit and not fear the backlash that might come because these ideas are not Biblical. On the contrary the Bible has been hijacked by the Spirit of Anti-Christ. We must do away with these unjust narratives by remembering the whole counsel of scripture and tell a better story.
Faith Totushek has served two churches as a solo pastor in Minnesota and Connecticut. She Currently pastors WayFinders Home church and serves as Director of Worship at St Francis United Methodist Church in St Francis, Minnesota. Faith graduated seminary in 2007 with an MDIV in New Testament and Pastoral Ministry.