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That is a Great Question -Week 3: Is the Bible Pro-Slavery? Does Christianity Encourage Racism?
Richard Root
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That is a Great Question -Week 3: Is the Bible Pro-Slavery? Does Christianity Encourage Racism? Sep 27, 2020
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Richard Root Galatians 3:28 Sunday Online
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Sermon -Sunday Online -2020/09/27 11am -Richard Root
-"That is a Great Question -Week 3: Is the Bible Pro-Slavery? Does Christianity Encourage Racism?

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3. Is the Bible Pro-Slavery? Does Christianity Encourage Racism?

September 27, 2020

“Depravity” is a theological word. It was first written about by an African bishop, Augustine, in the fourth century. It means sin gets into the nooks and crannies of our souls. It has damaged every part of us. It gets into our words. It gets into our thoughts. It gets into our feelings. It gets into our sex lives and our financial lives and our relational lives. And, undoubtedly, it gets into our racial lives and our ethnic identities.
The subject of racial injustice is absolutely core to the gospel. And, it is a subject filled with pain.
•The pain is historic. We cannot address the topic of race in North America without addressing the bitter backdrop of slavery.
• The pain is present. We cannot address the issues of racial justice without acknowledging the experience of those who have been marginalized, persecuted, assaulted and killed because of the colour of their skin.
• The pain is in the church. Over and over, the white church of Jesus aided and abetted the enslavement of Africans, the internment of Asians, the forced removal of indigenous children into residential schools.
• The pain is in the world. Black lives matter. To our brothers and sisters who cry out in suffering: We hear you. We are with you. We can… we must create new rhythms that honour all human life—rhythms that carry with them justice for those we have lost.
“If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (1 Corinthians 12:26)

What does the Bible say about slavery?
One of the brutal ironies of the battles in the church and in parliaments on both sides of the Atlantic is that people who were pro-slavery and those who were anti-slavery both justified for their position with the Bible.
• Preachers on the pro-slavery side would cite texts like these:
“Slaves...submit yourselves to your masters...” (1 Peter 2:18)
“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear…” (Ephesians 6:5)
“Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.” (Colossians 3:22)
• However, the great moral force behind abolition was overwhelmingly Christian. William Wilberforce in England and John Wesley and Frederick Douglass would cite the Golden Rule—the command to love your neighbor as yourself—as a prophetic demand for justice.
• There’s a very helpful framework for looking at the Bible and social systems (broader issues of justice). It was offered by a New Testament scholar named William Webb in a book titled, Slaves, Women & Homosexuals. Webb points out that the Bible is not an abstract, heavenly blueprint for universal utopia.
The Bible was written by real people in a real cultural context who were facing real problems and often commanded the audience to make limited but workable changes that point in the direction of God’s ultimate love and justice for human flourishing.
• In the ancient world, systems like patriarchy, slavery, polygamy, and monarchy were pretty much universal. But, when you look closely at the Bible, the commands in the Old Testament consistently undermined the power of slave owners and the system of slavery. Here are a few examples:
1. In the ancient Near Eastern world there was no provision for slaves to be released, but in the Bible the Israelites were told to release their slaves after seven years of service. (Leviticus 25)
2. In the ancient Near East there were no provisions to be given to a slave if they did get liberated, but in the Bible in Deuteronomy 15, the Israelites were told to give generously to their slaves when they freed them.
3. In the ancient Near East, slave owners could punish any slave any time for any reason any way they wanted to, but Exodus put restrictions on how a slave could or could not be punished and held the masters accountable. (Exodus 21)
4. In the ancient world, slaves would be given little time off. But, in Deuteronomy 16 and Deuteronomy 31, slaves in Israel were given comparatively generous time off and they were to be given every Sabbath day off.
5. In the ancient world, runaway slaves or fugitive slaves carried a bounty. The Code of Hammurabi imposed the death sentence on anybody who helped a runaway slave in the ancient world. By contrast, Deuteronomy 23 said that Israel was to provide sanctuary for any runaway slave.
• Add to this a remarkable number of what might be called “seed-bed texts,” because they are contrary to the spirit of the system of slavery. They carry the seeds of liberation and freedom. For example,
1. The Bible taught that every single human being, slave or free, is made in the image of God and carries that kind of worth.
2. The Bible taught that every human being was called to exercise dominion and to create value and to stewardship of the earth.
3. It upholds the prophetic requirement for humanity is do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before your God.
4. It emphasizes that every human being is the object of God’s love, and that every human being is the object of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross.
5. Then, you get to the apostle Paul who writes to the church at Galatia:

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

What does the Bible say about racism and racial injustice?
In the ancient world, people were enslaved generally for a few reasons. Often it was because of debt. Sometimes they were enslaved when their side lost a war. Sometimes slavery was a form of punishment because they didn’t have a prison system back then. However, in the ancient world, people were not enslaved because of their race.
Rome had a lot of slaves. Many of them were from what eventually became Germany or France, a lot of slaves who were whiter than their masters were. [So, if people in the white American South had really wanted the kind of slavery referenced in the Bible that would have meant slavery where most of the slaves would turn out to be white.]
• The Bible teaches a radically different view of humanity where everybody shares the image of God and all people are made to be one through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
• Two verses from the New Testament address the issue of racism and racial injustice. Both are from the book of Acts:
“And [God] hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth...” (Acts 17:26)
• In the nineteenth century there was a doctrine called “one-bloodism." The idea is God only created one race and that is the human race, and we all share a common origin.
“God only created one race and that is the human race.”
• That would mean every human being has a common dignity, has a common worth, and has a common value.
“That would mean racism is not just wrong and is not just sinful; it is blasphemy. It is to demean the image of God in another human being.”
• Here’s another staggering verse.
“The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch.” (Acts 11:26)
• Up until now, every religion on earth had been a tribal religion. Even the Jesus movement initially was understood as a Jewish sect within Israel, but now the Jesus community in Antioch is becoming radically diverse. It’s unprecedented. They didn’t know what to call it… so they called them “Christians.” The church in Antioch was led by a Mediterranean, two Africans, a rich Middle Easterner, and a man from Asia Minor.
• What gave rise to the word Christian was a community that would include anybody based on their unprecedented acceptance. This was the first community in human history where prejudices and stereotyping and racial hostility and in-group privilege were demolished in the name and power and presence of Jesus Christ.

What does that mean for us and for our calling as a church?
It means we get to be Christians in the GTA like they got to in Antioch. It means we have an unprecedented opportunity to ask God to help us build a church as diverse as the kingdom of God. I pray we can be a church that models breaking racial barriers; that we can call people to move from racism to gracism.
“Gracism is the extension of favor to others based on the grace of God.”
— David Anderson, a black pastor working in Chicago

• When we cling to division, we align ourselves with the kingdom of darkness led by Satan, the ultimate divider. Unity, on the other hand, aligns us with the God and with Christ, the head of the church, who looks at every human being with dignity and compassion.
• Can you imagine the God “whom hath made from one blood people of every nation” looking at our church and saying,
“Well done! It has happened again. Antioch has happened again. There are a bunch of Christians here.”
May it be so! May God make it so!


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