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The Hebrew Scriptures Address Racism

I am still encountering the intellectual, emotional and spiritual challenges of the JustFaith anti-racism modules.  Before I share with you more of what we are grappling with in these modules, I wanted to share with you the context in which we are struggling with racism in America:  the Bible.  Specifically, we are trying to ask ourselves repeatedly, “What does it mean to love another in the Biblical sense?”  In this blog, I am just going to share some pointed texts from the Hebrew Scriptures (what Christians call the Old Testament.)  Next week I will write about New Testament texts.

Exodus 21:16  “Whoever kidnaps another man must be put to death, whether he sells him or the man is found in his possession.”  God makes it very clear that God abhors the buying and selling of God’s beloved human beings. 

Exodus 22: 21  “You must not exploit or oppress a foreign resident, for you yourselves were foreigners in the land of Egypt.”  Just as the Israelites were foreigners in Egypt, so were the Africans taken to America.  God answered the Israelite’s pleas for freedom from Egypt’s oppression, so should we release African Americans from the oppression of American prejudice.

Leviticus 19:34  “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God.”  Would we oppress ourselves?  Keep wealth, respect, and dignity from ourselves?  Of course not!  God says to treat the stranger with the same love, respect, and dignity we give ourselves.

These are the questions that are bubbling up for me:

  1. How could Christian churches in the United States proclaim these texts to their assemblies throughout the 400 year history of American slavery and racist practices and not realize the disconnect?  God’s law contradicts these practices.  Did no one point that out?  And if not, why not?  I must admit, I am astounded on the one hand, and on the other hand, I do not remember either these texts or any direct preaching about them in my growing up.  So maybe these texts were overlooked or deliberately not proclaimed?
  2. Did the peoples of “The Book” then (and now) fail to see that African/African-American/Black people were not being cared for personally or politically in the way God demands in the Hebrew Scriptures?  Why?

One conclusion I am reaching as I struggle through JustFaith is this:  Since God’s care comes through our hands and feet, we have failed our Black, Brown and Asian brothers and sisters and continue to fail them today.   But here’s the other observation:  I have failed myself as well.  I am not who I proclaim I am.  God’s word is not my defining word.  God’s ways are not my ways.

If we are called to love one another, to treat the foreigner as we treat ourselves, we need to take our sacred scriptures seriously and instead of just willing the good of the other (Bishop Robert Barron’s definition of love), do something to relieve the burdens of those who we perceive as different.  That is God’s will for us…all of us.  

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