Friday, November 12, 2010

Is the Bible Consistent in its Teachings on Racial Equality?

In response to my essay on Christian Missions, an atheist commented:

• “How do you reconcile that claim [of Biblical racial equality – Gen. 1:26] with the explicit approval of slavery by Yahweh? Are some humans "more equal" than others (the Israelites being the most equal in the OT, of course)?”

Biblical slavery was never conceived or practiced in a racial way, as had been practiced in the USA and other nations. Kidnapping of foreign peoples in order to enslave was strictly forbidden:

• "Anyone who kidnaps another and either sells him or still has him when he is caught must be put to death.”
(Exodus 21:16)

Instead, slavery had been instituted to address the problem of unpaid debts and criminality, and it did this in a very humane manner – much more humane than imprisonment or dismemberment. In many instances the Israelites could be redeemed by their family members. Even if the family wouldn’t or couldn’t redeem them, they were to be released after six years of labor (Deut. 15:12).

The institution of slavery also provided protections for the slave:

• "If a man hits a manservant or maidservant in the eye and destroys it, he must let the servant go free to compensate for the eye. And if he knocks out the tooth of a manservant or maidservant, he must let the servant go free to compensate for the tooth.”
(Exodus 21:26-27)

Slavery also addressed the problem of what to do with a defeated enemy. While the ancient practice entailed the extermination of the males and the sexual abuse of the females, the Bible prohibited this:

“When you go to war against your enemies and the LORD your God delivers them into your hands and you take captives, if you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife…If you are not pleased with her, let her go wherever she wishes. You must not sell her or treat her as a slave, since you have dishonored her.” (Deut. 21:10-11, 14)

Admittedly, there was a great difference in status between Israelite slaves and non-Israelite slaves who could be passed on as an inheritance. However, there was nothing to prevent the gentile from receiving circumcision and becoming an Israelite, thereby assuming all of the Israelite privileges. In fact, not becoming an Israelite was the choice of obstinancy in light of the miraculous evidences of the presence of God in Israel’s midst. Rejection of Israelite citizenship was nothing short of a rejection of Israel’s God. If he wished to remain a slave in his mind, then why not also in body!

Biblical slavery is as opposed to other forms of slavery as the punishment of the righteous is opposed to the punishment of the guilty. Therefore, we find that it had been Christians who had led the battle against modern slavery, as Dinesh D’Souza relates,

“Christians were the first group in history to start an anti-slavery movement. The movement started in late eighteenth century in Britain…In England, William Wilberforce spear-headed a campaign that began with almost no support and was driven entirely by his Christian convictions…Pressed by religious groups at home, England took the lead in repressing the slave trade abroad.” (What’s So Great About Christianity, 73)

• “The Second Great Awakening, which started in the early 19th century and coursed through New England and New York and then through the interior of the country, left in its wake the temperance movement, the movement of women’s suffrage, and most important, the abolitionist movement.”

But wasn’t God’s selection of Israel a racist act, as you suggest? Certainly not! Moses repeatedly warns Israel against such an idea:

“After the LORD your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, ‘The LORD has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.’ No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is going to drive them out before you. It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the LORD your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.” (Deut. 9:4-9)

If anything, Israel was less deserving than other peoples! But didn’t God elevate Israel to the “chosen people” status? Yes! God had made them a sign-people. If they were obedient, they would be blessed more than other nations. If they were not, they would be punished more. In either case, their condition would testify to the presence of God in their midst.

Even today, many marvel at Israel and their trust in the faithfulness of Yahweh is renewed. He promised that He would thrive the Jewish people by virtue of His covenant faithfulness:

“You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today.” (Deut. 8:17-18)

For those of us who have eyes to see, the success of the Jewish people – a severely persecuted people – in whatever land into which they had been dispersed, is incredible! What is equally incredible is their unfaithfulness to their Yahweh and the horrible price they continue to pay for it, amidst their successes – tokens of the faithfulness of their God. (He has not abandoned them – Zech. 12:10; Romans 11:29!!!)

God had established a beachhead in the midst of Israel, and from this beachhead, He made His appeal to the other nations – for all belong to Him:

• “In that day the Root of Jesse [Jesus] will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious.”
(Isaiah 11:10)

He performed His miracles in Egypt, in the desert and in the Promised Land so that all nations would know that He is God. They all saw or heard, but just a handful would come to Him by joining the Israelites. Rahab was one who did:

• “We have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed.”
(Joshua 2:10)

They all heard but, as it still is, few are concerned about truth. We find the truth too uncomfortable (John 3:19-20). I find it strange that you should even raise such a challenge about the morality of racism. As an atheist, you don’t even believe in moral truth, other than what you arbitrarily create for yourself. And yet you assume the moral high ground and judge the Bible, because it doesn’t measure up to your subjective and arbitrary moral standard. Having surrendered any claim to moral absolutes, you are in no position to judge, but judge you must. You live in God’s world and must reluctantly submit to His standards. You might as well also submit to His Lordship!

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