“The Jesus You Know” series (post #2)
I was born and raised in Mitchell County, N.C. and have lived here virtually my entire life. The county is small (total population around 15,000) and sits nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountain range that is part of the overall Appalachian Mountain range. The county was formed in 1861, the first year of the Civil War.
Even though us Mitchell county folk speak with a definite twang, we are not part of what is classically defined as “the deep South.” Then again, we aren’t really part of the North, either. We’re just kind of right there in the middle. Not surprisingly, Mitchell was a divided county during the Civil War.
According to one reliable source, the county was home to 771 Confederate soldiers and 84 Union soldiers. A tax list from 1862 lists 65 slaves in the county, which indicates that slavery was an issue. Knowing Mitchell county people the way I do, I have no doubts that the matter of states rights was as well, but the blunt truth is that the primary state right the Confederate states fought for was the right to keep slavery legal.
I’ve given you this brief history of my home county as a way of letting you know that I’m not some elitist from the North who doesn’t understand Southern culture or Southern religion. I should probably also mention that I’m currently serving as the pastor of Oak Grove Baptist Church, which is a part of the Southern Baptist Convention denomination. Believe me, I know something about church in the south.
I take no pleasure in reporting that professing Christians in the Confederacy used the Bible to justify slavery and convince themselves that Jesus was with their cause. A primary text they used to teach the racial superiority of the white man was the story of Ham’s incident with his father Noah in the days following the great flood (Genesis 9:18-27). As the erroneous interpretation of that story went, God spoke through Noah’s prophecy to curse Ham and decree that all of Ham’s descendants would be consigned to play the role of servants/slaves in the world. Some Confederate Christians even taught that God literally turned Ham into the world’s first black man.
However, a careful reading of the Genesis 9:18-27 story shows that even though it was Ham who committed the sin against Noah, no curse was pronounced upon Ham. Instead, the curse fell upon one of Ham’s son, Canaan. Why? That was God’s way of establishing the historical legitimacy of Israel’s future conquest of the land that came to be known by Canaan’s name and be occupied by his descendants, the Canaanites.
Over time the term “Canaanites” became an umbrella term used to describe the various races of people who descended from Canaan and settled in that land. According to Deuteronomy 7:1, those races were: the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, the Jebusites, and the Canaanites (the race that actually took Canaan’s name and occupied the territory that would become Phoenecia). But were any of those races black? No. Like Middle-Eastern people today, their skin color was something between “white” and “black.”
Furthermore, the Genesis story offers no textual evidence whatsoever to support the idea that Noah’s curse of prophecy extended to any of Ham’s other three sons. So, while it’s true that the black races of the world can trace their lineage back to Ham through Ham’s sons, it’s not true that those races were thus automatically cursed by God. For that matter, a Canaanite harlot, Rahab, even became a part of the genealogical line of Jesus (Matthew 1:5; Joshua 2:1-24).
For the record, Noah’s prophetic word about Canaan becoming a servant to Shem (Genesis 9:26) was fulfilled in Israel’s conquering of the land of Canaan. Shem’s descendants were the Israelites (Jews). As for Noah’s word about Canaan becoming a servant to Japheth, that was fulfilled by the eventual conquests of three world powers: the Medo-Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans. Each of those races can be traced back to Japheth. You see, it is obvious that Noah’s prophetic word of cursing was fulfilled to completion long before the United States of America even existed, and it had nothing to do with Ham or blacks.
But the professing Christians of the Confederacy had other passages they attempted to use to scripturally legitimize slavery. Some of those passages were:
- Genesis 14:14 and 21:9-10, which speak of Abraham having household servants.
- Exodus 20:10 and 17, where manservants and maidservants are mentioned twice as part of the passage containing The Ten Commandments.
- Exodus 21:20-21, which says that if a man beats his servant/slave with a rod, but doesn’t beat the servant/slave to the point of death, the man should not be punished because the servant/slave is his property.
- Ephesians 6:5-8, where the apostle Paul tells Christian servants/slaves to be obedient to their masters and Christian masters to treat their servants/slaves well.
- Colossians 3:22, where Paul tells servants/slaves to obey their masters in all things.
- The book of Philemon, where Paul sends a runaway slave (Onesimus) back to his master (Philemon).
Furthermore, those professing Christians pointed out that Jesus lived His life in the Roman empire, where slavery was widespread, but He didn’t specifically preach against slavery. In this way the Confederates could claim Jesus as their own. All they had to do was stick with quoting their cherry-picked passages and ignore all the other passages that didn’t fit so well with the institution of slavery. Some of those conveniently overlooked passages were:
- Deuteronomy 23:15-16, where the Old Testament law forbade the oppression of a runaway slave.
- Matthew 7:12, where Jesus says that you should do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
- Matthew 22:39, where Jesus says to love your neighbor as yourself.
- John 3:16, where Jesus extends the offer of salvation to whoever believes in Him.
- Acts 17:26, which says that God has made from one blood every nation of people who dwell upon the earth.
- 1 Corinthians 12:13, which says that all Christians (Jews or Greeks, slaves or free men) have all been baptized into the body of Christ and made to drink from the same Spirit.
- Galatians 3:28, which says that all Christians (Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female) are one in Jesus.
- Philemon 1:15-16, where Paul encourages Philemon to receive Onesimus back as a beloved Christian brother rather than a runaway slave.
- 1 John 2:2, which teaches that Jesus was the propitiation for the sins of the whole world.
In closing, let me say that I wish I could report that the zealous attempts the Confederate Christians made to bring Jesus over to their side of the Civil War completely died out with them. I can’t say that, though, because it would be a lie. The fact is, similar attempts can still be found today in the white supremacist movement.
While it’s true that not all white supremacists claim to be Christians, it’s also true that a sizable percentage of them do. They read the Bible. They pray. They go to church. And they sincerely believe that the order that Jesus has ordained for the world puts the white population at the front of the line. All it takes to sustain this belief is a mindset of white superiority, a twisted slant on scripture, and a Jesus who racially discriminates. And, unfortunately for everybody, far too many whites seem to have this whole package.