At General Conference 2019, I will lead a focus group exploring biblical and cultural implications
of race and ethnicity. We will have honest and open dialogue and will hear from the majority as well as minority people groups. Our takeaways will be a better understanding of the dynamics that shape the human condition, so we as Christians can worship, witness and walk before God more effectively.
The Bible informs us that the original humans began as equals in class and of the same essence (Genesis 1:27–28, 2:18, 21–23; 5:2; Malachi 2:15; Matthew 19:4; Mark 10:6). If the method used in the creation — of agrobiology and zoology where species reproduced after their own specific kind — are any indication of God’s methodology, then humans likewise would only be capable of producing offspring after their own
particular kind (Genesis 1:11).
Does the Bible tell us that the post-fall human condition changed substantially from our pre-fall state? We find no proof that the physical makeup of Adam changed in any significant way (Genesis 5:1–3) despite spiritual and relational changes and the loss of access to the Tree of Life. In fact, the reiteration of humans’ creation — coupled with their procreation story — seems to indicate that God’s initial purpose, although skewed, was still in force. Adam passed the image of God down to his progeny.
In the story of Noah, we find a pericope (a short portion of Scripture) that many Europeans have used to justify the enslavement of darker-skinned people. The story begins when God gets fed up with the constant evil of humanity. It culminates in the only biblical reference that might actually hint to a change in human physiology, brought on by illegal means. The sons of God have intercourse with the daughters of men (Genesis 6:4). It ends after the flood receded, and Noah’s family is given a new charge of dominion over the created order (Genesis 9:1–3).
The Bible then tells us that Noah got drunk and was discovered by his son Ham, who looked upon his nakedness and angered his father. So Noah wished a curse upon Ham’s son, Canaan. I say wished because our understanding of biblical precedent disallows any other reading (unless we believe that our interactions with God control the deity).
The construct of the Hebrew text indicates this was a precative statement (a wish) rather than a declarative statement, which would give humans godlike power. Furthermore, the Canaanites — the object of this drunken rant — were not from the geographic region where the African slaves were exported. They were associated with the descendants of Cush rather than Canaan.
Jesus was a descendant of Rahab the Canaanite harlot, indicating with God it’s about obedience and not bloodlines (Matthew 1:5-6). Even though Jesus was born of Mary without male genetic matter, his genetic makeup was no different than ours, or his efficacy as humanity’s substitution sacrifice for sin would be null and void (Hebrews 2:14).
Scripture is clear. Judging one another by our status, gender or ethnicity is unbiblical (Galatians 3:26–29). We need to grow up and love people despite our differences (Matthew 5:43–48).
Curtis B. Flemming is the senior pastor of Bay Community Fellowship and Woodland Community Church; the overseer of the Bay Community Fellowship Mandarin church plant; a member of the Oakland, California, Safety and Services Oversight Commission; and the leader of the General Conference 2019 (gc19.org) focus group discussing the biblical perspective on race and ethnicity.2