The Myth of Race

All twelve of my grandkids with diverse cultural backgrounds including Japanese, Filipino, Honduran, and European.

All twelve of my grandkids with diverse cultural backgrounds including Japanese, Filipino, Honduran, and European.

A Poem by Mike Garner

Followed by the essay The Myth of Race

The Myth of Race

We will be One

 

We are one through an inner image

Our inner image, sacred

Our outer image, all-beautiful

Every face an incomparable work of art

Every smile cries out family

Every heart needs love

We are of one Spirit

God our creator

Anything else is shadows

 

      On one of my trips to the Philippines I was swimming with a group of very agile and adept swimmers. They were all young boys who spent the day at the beach to cool off. I also was there to cool off. Whenever I’m at the beach, if a group of young children are around, they eventually want me to toss them in the air. Of course I’m always happy to enjoy their exuberant energy and laughter.

      On one occasion I tossed a little fellow about ten years old into the air multiple times. He enjoyed staying under water and swimming around before coming up. I would duck under the water to see if he was okay and he would be swimming like a fish. When he came up I said to him, “Kayong lumangoy tulad ng isang isda”, meaning you swim like a fish. He responded in English, “I’m not fish, I’m people.” I laughed and responded, “Yes you are people!”

     In my life it is experiences like this that impact me with a phrase, link me to a moment, and echo in my ears, and I know it is God who has spoken to me through another. As a person with a family of beautifully mixed persons, my sensitivity to the hovering spirit of racism that engulfs humanity has become a finely tuned instrument of resistance. We are all the same we are people.

 

Racism is a parasite on the soul that infects it with intolerable violence.

 

     A Christian cannot be a follower of Jesus and a racist. Sadly, many persons, particularly in the U.S., are not aware of the framing of culturally diverse peoples into a system of thought that promotes whiteness. Meaning the view on people begins with whiteness as the point of departure, anything other is devolution from normal. I will provide an example. On numerous occasions when discussing the myth of race a well meaning person will ask, “How did the black race come about.” [1] The question assumes that light skinned persons were the first human beings.[2] It indicates a separation from other persons that implies superiority.

 

The man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all living.

 

       The view of theology on the human family is that we are all related; we are one species. Further, any mis-use of scripture to denigrate a group of people must also exalt the other as more ‘godlike’. However, theology teaches us that all humanity was created in the image and likeness of God.

 

When the LORD your God thrusts them out before you, do not say to yourself,

“It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to occupy this land”; it is rather because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is dispossessing them before you.

(Deut. 9:4)  

 

       In light of Israel’s history this piece from Deuteronomy is instructive for relationships with other people groups. Deuteronomy 9:4 teaches that the tendency of a people to view reality through a lens of superiority over others based upon successful domination of land results in severing relationship with God; it is a sin, a perennial threat to peace and a perennial power that infects humanity. It is the sin of America in the failed Christianity of manifest destiny.

     Israel’s exile affirms they were not different from their neighbors even though they had received the revelation of God through their history; they failed to be the people of God and became only a nation state. In the end they lost their land but became a people who were landless for the next two millennia because they had learned that there is one God.

Improper Words that Harm

 

       Some words have a history and a specific use that is rooted in hate and inconsistent with truth and goodness; miscegenation is such a word. Mixed race, or miscegenation laws flourished in the U.S. from the 17th century until 1967 when the Supreme Court ruled them to be unconstitutional. Although a number of states had repealed anti-miscegenation laws there were 16 states whose laws stood until they were over turned by a 1967 Supreme Court decision. The list of persons it was illegal for a white person to marry in these last 16 states included blacks, Asians, Filipinos, American Indians, Native Hawaiians, and the encompassing phrase ‘all non whites’. Some persons argue that our differences in appearance were set up by God as natural boundaries to prohibit ‘race mixing; this is not so.

      The scriptural perspective on the division of humanity into groups of people is built on two realities. First is the natural development of language that occurs when we live in groups. Language spoken in the daily lives of people will morph and produce other languages. It is an act of violence to restrain or control the human capacity to create language. It is the sin of empire.

      The Babel story makes clear that diversity of language divides people.  Second the Babel story through the confusion of multiple languages prohibits the centralization of power that would result in brick building slavery for some and towers for others. God’s resistance to empire is the creative act of language in the human family. Learning another language is a humane act that has possibilities for greater understanding and peace.

        Paul makes his case before the Greeks in Athens and asserts that the natural boundaries of the earth provide for dwelling places where human beings can search for God. The natural boundaries of language and geographic separation are God’s effort to provide freedom from empire.

 

 From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us.  For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said,

‘For we too are his offspring.’

(Acts 17:26-28)

      

         The endogamy of the patriarchs is an anti-social practice and inhibits the basic intention of marriage, which is to incorporate difference into family experience; difference brings growth both culturally and intellectually. Mixed marriages in Israel’s history is a constant.

         Joseph married an Egyptian woman and Moses married a Midianite. Both men are examples of marrying across linguistic and geographic boundaries; they were both multi-lingual and multi-cultural.  Historically Joseph is Israel’s first wise man and Moses their first prophet.  Abraham is referenced as a prophet but his status as a prophet is revealed through the life of faith that is his story. The latter prohibitions of Nehemiah and Ezra were cruel acts of nationalist power forced upon the people in a setting that itself was a failure.      

      Jeremiah 16 affirms that God’s intent for the outcome of Israel’s exile and diaspora was to produce a people who knew that there is but one God. The exile and diaspora resulted in the loss of Hebrew as a living language; it was known only by academics (Scribes, Rabbis, Pharisees and Sadducees). The result was the translation of the Hebrew language into Greek, the language of empire.

    In exile the Hebrew’s learned that language is not sacred. Hebrew communities existed in parts of the ancient near east and did not return to the land; they learned that neither they nor their God was limited to a land. It was the exiles on a celebratory visit during Pentecost who heard the preaching of the apostles and became the first missionaries. In this sense the exiles of the diaspora fulfilled the will of God rather than those who returned to the land.

     Although promises of land fill hope pieces, the land eventually grows into an ideal spiritual reality. Zion in the prophets will reach a height beyond any mountain in the world.[3] The mountain of God will be in Israel and the spiritual reality of God’s revelation will fill the earth. 

 

In days to come

the mountain of the LORD’S house

shall be established as the highest of the mountains,

and shall be raised above the hills;

all the nations shall stream to it.

(Is. 2:2)

 

      As a literary motif, the land is established by the presence of people who live in a relationship of life and peace with God and one another; a life marked by the teaching of Torah. For the Christian the motif of exile becomes a metaphor for our spiritual lives because the present state of the world is to be transformed into a paradise where the voice of God walks with us and Jesus’ reign is lived out in each person.  Jesus doesn’t need a throne to be Lord, nor a mountain.

     It is theologically correct to say that God desires a people who seek to transform the world without the constructs of a nation state but as multi-cultural and multi-lingual people who teach ethical monotheism. The story of Israel as God’s hope is fulfilled through the life giving Spirit of Christ Jesus who is an exemplar for following. It is theologically correct to say the Jesus embodied the call of Israel and in effect became the manifest hope of God for humanity. That is it is God’s hope and God’s work that seeks to conform every human being to the way of Jesus. It is theologically correct to say that God desires a people who marry across the natural boundaries of language of mountains and seas to incorporate the nations into the family of God.

Little Empires 

      Every nation state is a little empire where the centralization of power limits the life and freedom of its inhabitants. The movement of a nation state away from war and toward the flourishing of its entire people is a positive sign. The abolishing of extreme wealth disparity accomplished through the forgiveness of debt displays a society that respects one another. The act of resisting war, eradicating crippling debt and caring for the least is consistent with the reign of Christ. This is so even if such a nation does not profess Jesus. In this sense humanism comes closer to Christian faith than some alleged practitioners of Christianity. However, humanist practices alone do not constitute the reign of God. The reign of God requires the teaching of the one God and the good news of God’s joining creation as one of us.

       The bride of Christ lives in exile, she is multi-lingual, she is a mixture of people across the earth. Paul’s sole restriction on marriage is that a follower of Jesus marries another follower of Jesus. Such advice accompanied with the boundary crossing ministry of Jesus’ followers to all humanity is a stamp of goodness on so called multi-racial marriage. To learn the language of another people in order to share with them Christ is an act of love. To marry one of their people is to identify with them as Christ has identified with us in his becoming flesh.

       As exiles our allegiance is always to God and not the state. Our marriages reflect the oneness of humanity. Like Abraham we live, die and bury our dead in a land of promise, a promise that is now but not yet. For the Christian there is but one race, the human race, any other construction of humanity is evil.

     The exclusionary practice of identifying a person by their appearance and labeling him/her into a racial group is contrary to the will of God. It is language and cultural moorings that aid in our likeness for personal relationships, not appearance. A multi-cultural person in a healthy marriage that bridges language and culture produces people who are open to understanding difference. These people help us see what we miss in the beauty of difference; difference that God created for securing places of peace free from those persons who seek to govern the entire earth.

    To classify the children of cross-cultural marriages along ideas of race, which is solely based upon appearance, is unconscionable. These persons are treasures of a love that recognizes we are one-humanity; we are people. They wear the beauty of difference united in their souls. I love them all; they are my children.


[1] I do not want to entertain the ignorant readings of scripture that have fueled hate and racism so I will limit to a footnote this egregious abuse of scripture. The original and abhorrent Dayke’s bible records the myths of an era that is passing away; Cain’s mark, the curse of Ham (actually Canaan).  Cain’s mark was an act of God’s love and mercy to prevent another ‘Cain’ from rising by claiming he had killed Cain. This however is clearly seen in Lamech the first polygamist who turns the mercy of God into protection for murderers. Canaan in the Noah story represents Israel’s prejudice towards the Canaanites as promiscuous people and ignores Israel’s complicity in the same behavior as the cause for their expulsion from the land.

 

[2] History and anthropology both affirm that humanity’s earliest civilizations were all persons whose skin was not white.  The theory of evolution remains a theory and inapplicable to the movements of people that spread across the earth from Mesopotamia.

[3] Mt. Zion is only 2, 510’. Literalist readings miss the spiritual reality of God’s desire for a people that is inclusive of every human being to spring from the revelation of God flowing from Abraham, to Moses, to Paul. A revelation completed in Jesus Christ the Lord.