Racism {Part 5}

“And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:2–3 ESV.

The South African word ubuntu is used to describe the essence of what it means to be human. It describes someone who is generous, hospitable, compassionate and empathetic.  I imagine it to be the call of Christ to every believer “to unite all things in Him” (Ephesians 1:10). It’s in Jesus’ summary of the Ten Commandments: “...love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39); and it's in the call to those who follow Christ: “in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith...There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26, 28).

Carolyn Carney, of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, writes:
“Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in his memoirs No Future Without Forgiveness, describes people with 'ubuntu' as those who 'understand that they belong in a greater whole and are diminished when others are diminished or humiliated or tortured or oppressed, or treated as if they were less than who they are.' It seems at the very core of 'ubuntu' is a true understanding of brotherhood, of the New Testament Greek koinonia; indeed, a Christian worldview.  'Ubuntu' is what motivated Archbishop Desmund Tutu to forgive and love his oppressors during the decades of apartheid.”

I have not endured the kind of suffering my African brothers and sisters endured in South Africa, but I have experienced racism in education, housing, and healthcare, through sexual harassment and colorism, and in communities of faith.  It is there, in communities of faith, where I find the ability to possess “ubuntu” the most challenging.  In the time of my life when I found myself going through a separation, with a child to raise and bills to pay, I decided to study in the Spanish Assemblies of God Bible Institute.  A young Latino man, whose mother babysat my son while I taught during the day, stated the following, as we studied Noah: “all Black people are cursed through Canaan because Noah’s son, Ham (translated burnt, black, hot, servant, majesty or Egypt), Canaan’s father, had taken advantage of Noah while he lay naked on his bed” (Genesis 9:20-27).  It never occurred to me that Black people were believed to be cursed...especially not in the community of faith.

I am well aware that this democracy we live in, declared slaves to be ⅗ of a person in Section 2 of the 14th Amendment to our Constitution.  Systemic racism and oppression was developed based on the belief that people like me are inferior beings-- uncivilized, lazy with a bent towards criminality, lacking a soul and intelligence.  This belief is widely held throughout the world, it is our past and our present.  But, it is not so in Scripture.

Still the Word of God has been used to teach that I am an inferior creation and that when the Bible declares all men as brothers, that all nations will be blessed through Abraham and that Christ died for all, I am not included in the “all”.  The belief is based on  interpretations of the account that ends with Noah telling Ham that his son will serve his brothers.  The enslavement, mistreatment and lynching of “black” people was believed to be God’s will.  Most of America’s slave owners were self professed Christians.  Yet when we read the word “all” in the Bible, God does not qualify it by saying “all but the descendents of Canaan, son of Ham will be blessed” or “none have fallen short of the glory of God, except for Canaan, son of Ham and his descendants.”  

There are instances in the Bible where we see the heartbreak of sibling rivalry and sin and in almost every case one brother and his descendants are cursed.  We see it with Cain and Abel and with Jacob and Esau.  Cain killed his brother yet God promised to avenge his death seven times over (Genesis 4:1-16).   Jacob lied, colluded with his mother to trick his father and brother.  Isaac cursed Esau telling him he would serve his brother (Genesis 25:29-27:1-40).  In the end, God blessed them both, equally.

It simply does not follow that an entire people group would be cursed and fall under the authority of the presumed superiority of another, because of Ham’s sin.  Yet, racism is present in the hearts of many Christians.  Some turn a blind eye to the narrative of systemic injustice against people of color, discount it, or actively perpetuate it.  You see, if you tell me I sound "too black" or "too gospelly" when I sing Hillsong or Elevation Worship, you are continuing the narrative. If you won’t support black businesses but ask me to serve because “we need a POC (person of color) on the team for PC (political correctness),” you are continuing the narrative.  If you make or affirm comments that talk about POC in derogatory terms, or avoid a life group in a certain neighborhood or town or don’t have any authentic relationships with a POC, you are part of the narrative. If you won’t invite a POC because “I can’t invite everybody” or if you secretly pray your son will come to his senses and break up with that black girl or “marry up,” you are continuing the narrative that black people are inherently not good (enough).

I want to urge us all to disrupt the narrative, to embrace “ubuntu”and pray as the psalmist prayed in Psalm 139:23-24:

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
    Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting!

by Carla Harris
Carla and her husband Robert have attended Kingsway for about 12 years. They have two children, a daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren. They both teach at the same school in the Philadelphia public school system. They enjoy traveling, fishing, gardening, good food, good music, and good movies. Carla serves on the Worship Arts team and the Mission Task Force.