There’s no question that racial issues are one of the biggest problems facing American society today. Instead of making progress, we seem to be moving backwards. Some contend that racial barriers are bigger today than ever before. I question that assessment, but judging from the volume of strident voices around us, I think that the degree of tension and discontent arising from racial matters is perhaps greater than at any time in American history. There are many attempts to explain why this may be so, but one thing is clear, namely that we have a racial problem, and the solution appears more elusive as time goes one. So, what’s the problem, and what’s the solution?
Common Human Origin
Christians know that in the beginning, God created one man and one woman. No one knows what Adam and Eve looked like. Most story books picture them as white Caucasians, but that usually reflects the appearance of the artist. The truth is, we have no way to know if they were black or white or something else. What we do know is that God made only one original human pair, and every human descended from the same set of parents. God did not make a white Adam, a black Adam, and a yellow Adam. He made Adam. Every member of the human race came from Adam, and therefore everyone is related by blood. We are all cousins. I read some years ago that everyone on earth is no farther removed from anyone else than thirty-sixth cousin. It is both a biblical as well as a biological fact that all men are indeed brothers in the physical sense. The racial factors that divide us are far more incidental than the biology that unites us. Understanding our common human origin would go a long way towards defusing racial animosity. There is really only one race, the human race. We need to learn to adjust our attitudes and actions to correspond to this truth.
Noah’s Three Sons
Most people trace the three most prominent “races” to Noah’s sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Arthur Custance wrote a masterful book published in 1975, entitled “Noah’s Three Sons,” in which he traces three major families of humanity back to Noah’s descendants. I read this book many years ago, and found it fascinating, informative and factual. Custance’s main focus is not race, however, but rather how these three men and their descendants influenced human history. Still, most people assume there are three races originating from Noah. But racial categories are not so neatly divided. Why do we think in terms of three races? What race are American Indians, Hispanics, or Australian Aborigines? The attempt to neatly categorize everyone into one of three races quickly falls apart. It is just as accurate to say there are dozens of races as to say there are three. And since Noah’s three sons are all one generation removed from Noah, we are right back where we started. We all not only descended from the original man, Adam, but we all descended from Noah as well. Not only is Adam the father of us all, but so is Noah. So how many races are there? From a biblical perspective, the answer is one.
The Supposed “Curse of Ham”
The curse God placed upon Canaan, one of the sons of Ham, has been employed as biblical support for the notion that individuals of African heritage are a cursed race. While it is true that the people of Cush (basically today’s Ethiopia) descended from Ham, it is not true that they descended from Canaan. Canaan is the father of the Canaanites who inhabited the land of Canaan. The Canaanites were cursed by God because of their sins, and God used His people, the Israelites, to subjugate and eventually eradicate them. You would be hard pressed to identify a Canaanite today.
But what does that have to do with Africans? Nothing. The curse of Canaan used to justify racial discrimination is a shameful distortion of Scripture to encourage the enslavement and mistreatment of African Americans. No Bible believing Christian should encourage such grievous error. It is an outrageous fiction employed to rationalize sinful conduct. God does not look lightly upon the misuse of His holy word to justify actions that are contrary to truth.
The Law of Moses
But didn’t God command His people, Israel, not to mix with, and certainly not to intermarry with non-Jewish people? Isn’t that biblical warrant for segregating the races? No. This is another notion based upon a misunderstanding of Scripture. God’s Old Testament marriage prohibitions were about religion, not race. God forbade His people marrying idol worshippers, but when those same idol worshippers became worshippers of Jehovah, the Jews were free to marry them with Divine approval.
Consider how many foreigners righteously married into the Jewish nation. Significantly, there are four examples in the genealogy of Christ. First is Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute from the city of Jericho. She turned from paganism to Jehovah, and married into the line of Christ. Then there is Ruth from Moab, who left her pagan gods to embrace Jehovah and married godly Boaz, becoming the great grandmother of King David. There are others, but that should suffice. Intermarriage with non-Jews was sinful only when the marriage partner did not embrace the God of Abraham. It is the Old Testament equivalent of a Christian marrying an unbeliever. It has nothing to do with race, and everything to do with religion. Today, God’s people are to marry only those who are followers of Christ. Furthermore, they are free to marry any qualified partner without regard to race, provided he or she is a genuine follower of Christ.
Too many Christians have justified and perpetuated racism down through the years. This is a sad blight upon the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christians should take the lead in racial equality and churches ought to be models of racial harmony. Our churches should not only be places where men and women of every race are welcome, but we should pray that God will, in gracious power, bring Christians of diverse racial backgrounds into our congregations. We should model biblical truth about the races before a confused and watching world. The racial harmony we long to see in society should be alive and well in churches. Why should churches be segregated? Is there any biblical reason for this? If not, then let churches lead the way in demonstrating biblical truth, not cultural tradition and prejudices.
We, of all people, should demonstrate the truth that there is only one biological human race, and that all who are in Christ constitute a new spiritual race. We not only share the same human origin, but have been born again by the Spirit of God into the one family of God. All born again Christians have the same Father and we are all His children, brothers and sisters in the same family.
The problem of race is sin, not skin. Racial divisions will never disappear until Christ changes hearts, causing people to think and act like Christians. Social experiments cannot engineer racial harmony. Governments cannot force people to think and behave correctly. Only Christ can create the inward change from which racial harmony flows. Because there will always be unbelievers, there will always be racial tension until Jesus Christ returns and makes all things new. Until that glad day, may Christians show our love for Christ and others, regardless of the color of their skin, because of His undeserved love for us.
G. N. Barkman received his BA and MA from BJU and later founded Beacon Baptist Church in Burlington, NC where has pastored since 1973. In addition, Pastor Barkman airs the Beacon Broadcast on twenty radio stations. He and his wife, Marti, have been blessed with four daughters and nine grandchildren.