Juneteenth is coming next week as a holiday celebrating the American emancipation of slaves. Even though the 4th of July celebrates freedom, it was not freedom for all in 1776. So I think it’s a good thing to acknowledge the end of the evil institution of slavery 89 years later. And yes, I think it’s a good thing to get rid of anything honoring the Confederacy. Did, & do, individual states have the right to secede from the Union? Absolutely (some days I wouldn’t mind seceding!). But the Confederacy was involved in defending the practice of slavery, (though there weren’t actually many slaveholders to defend), so I’m not in favor of honoring it in any way.
But my concern about Juneteenth is that it will be used to foster further grievance, racism, hostility, & vengeance. Slavery has left lingering scars on our nation, no doubt. But is society made better by perpetuating this endless rehashing of the past? Slavery has been since ancient times a transnational, transracial, trans-generational evil. Historically, slavery did not grow out of racism. It wasn’t a race problem, but a human problem. Whites bought & sold whites; blacks bought & sold blacks; Arabs bought & sold Arabs — slaves could be of any race. Scholar Thomas Sowell explains in his book, “Black Rednecks & White Liberals,” that: “People were enslaved because they were vulnerable, not because of how they looked.” People enslaved those who lived close to them & looked like them, not those on the other side of the world who looked different. That was a more recent development of the slave trade.
Our church staff just finished reading a book from Renew.org (a great resource) written by scholar Carol Swain called “Countercultural Living.” In her chapter on racism & ethnicity she writes: “It can be frustrating to contemporary Christians that the Bible never comes right out & condemns slavery.” But she adds, “…The Bible does not necessarily condone what it describes. It is true that the Old Testament law brought more humane boundaries into an already existing system. For example, Israelite slaves were to be set free after six years (Exodus 21:2) & sent out with plenty of possessions (Deuteronomy 15:13-24).” She notes: “During biblical times, [slavery] took different forms, including situations involving debt, persons captured in war, & indentured servitude, where people were released after serving a fixed number of years.” But there are verses in both the Old Testament (Ex. 21:6) & New Testament (1 Tim. 1:9-11) that condemn kidnapping (slave trading).
Dr. Swain notes: “Clearly, the writers of the New Testament who deal with the issue were not revolutionaries seeking to upend the political order immediately. Yet it is also true that, as the New Testament teachings became disciples’ cultural convictions, they would eventually go on to undermine & upend the political order.” In Christ, there’s neither slave nor free — we’re family (Gal. 3:28, Col. 3:11, Philemon 1:15-16). Remember it was the Abolitionist movement led by Christians who truly understood the Gospel that led to the dismantling of slavery.
What’s the solution to the lingering resentment & division between the races? Is it to promote even more racism as many attempt through segregation & Critical Race Theory (CRT)? No, because these are still forms of racism — there’s no such thing as “reverse” racism…it’s just racism. Racism is a human problem, not a race problem. It’s a sin issue. Dr. Swain again says: “Whites are expected to confess their racism & become explicitly anti-racist by confronting forms of injustice or anything that could be interpreted as such.” CRT “is clearly incompatible with Christianity” because it judges people not for their beliefs or actions, but simply for their skin color.
In our current Sunday message series from Genesis 1-11, we saw that God created one human race in His image. We’re all descended & related through Adam & Eve. We’re also related through Noah & his 3 sons & their (diverse?) 3 wives from which all ethnicities come. Later humanity became divided into different nations after the destruction of the Tower of Babel. God purposely confused their languages & had them spread into different regions (Acts 17:26). God made all, loves all, & sent His Son for all. His kingdom encompasses people from every people group (Dan. 7:14, Rev. 5:9, 7:9). God looks on the heart, not the outward appearance (1 Sam. 16:7). Prejudice & favoritism are sin (Rom. 2:11, James 2:1).
Shouldn’t we treat people simply as individuals instead of members of a group with whom they may or may not feel an identity or affinity with? Nobody speaks for me because they have the same skin color as me. I reject that because It’s racist. Recently, The Center for Biblical Unity (directed by the black woman & the white woman in the picture) made a social media post: “God’s plan for (what we today call) ‘racial unity’ is the same as it has been for 2,000 years: preach the Gospel. This is where unity begins.” I agree! Instead of a divisive racial lens, we need to see one another through the Gospel which is color blind. I wrote: “What I care about is a person’s faith, values & character, not their color!”
A minister responded with a comment challenging, “Is the Gospel really color blind?” He felt that we should recognize race as part of each person’s uniqueness, & that the “unity the Gospel provides doesn’t ‘blind’ us to the diversity of the people who accept it…” [and] saying “color blind” devalues those differences that reflect the image of God.
I understand that our diverse skin colors are part of our identities, but my greater point is that we shouldn’t embrace those colors as our identities. I replied to him, “It’s about how you treat people. Seeing people in colors divides them into groups instead of recognizing them as individuals. It’s not about recognizing ‘groups’ of people based on color — we should treat all people the same without prejudice or preference. It wasn’t that long ago that this is exactly what we were striving for in society — to become color blind. This century has sadly reversed it & become obsessed with color. To see no color IS the goal. Racism is exactly about seeing color — it’s a superficial way to define people. Culture isn’t about color — it’s about the values you personally adopt. What if you’re bi-racial or multi-racial? What then? It’s moving backward to keep concentrating on race. I don’t care what color you are. You’re a human made in the image of God…what I ultimately care about is that you become a brother or sister in Christ. The red color of Christ’s blood is what unites us. I have more in common with a fellow Christian of another color than I do a non-believer of the same color.”
Isn’t that what Martin Luther King, Jr. was getting at with his speech about not being judged by the color of skin but by the content of character? I then quoted some of the lyrics of songs from the ‘90s to show how far we drifted from striving to be color blind.
“Why can’t we be color blind?” –Michael W. Smith / “I’m not going to spend my life being a color.” –Michael Jackson / “Free your mind & the rest will follow. Be color blind, don’t be so shallow.” –En Vogue / “We’re colored people, & they call us the human race….We’ve gotta come together. Aren’t we all human after all?” –DC Talk
Then I included some quotes:
“I’m colorblind. I don’t know the difference. I only know you’re a human being….” –Moms Mabley (comedian)
“I’m looking forward to the day when America will mature to the point that we are a color-blind society.” –JC Watts (athlete & Congressman)
“Ultimately, what [Billy] Graham put forth was what we might now call a colorblind gospel.” –S.P. Miller (professor, author)
Dr. Swain concludes: “Unfortunately, many churches that mean well have abandoned the solid meat of the gospel & now find themselves embracing strange doctrines based on secular philosophies such as critical race theory….” We must “equip ourselves so we are not easily swayed by clever manipulation that often plays on our heartstrings.” Finally, we have a secret weapon in the Church that empowers us to overcome all such divisions which the world can’t offer — the love of Christ!