Race, Racism and Slavery

Key Notes: Blood groups and tissue typing. Anthropological subgroups. Cultural and religious conflicts. Ordained national boundaries and periods. Treatment of underclasses in Israel: children, servants, slaves, poor, and sojourners. New Testament view of slavery. Western slavery.

“…and He has made from one every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth….” (Acts17:26)

Although race is a subject some would like to abandon, the student of genetics would find it hard to deny that populations differ by blood groups and transplantation genes. One definition of race is "a population that differs from another by the frequency of one or more genes." Blood groups are  a convenient way to show significant differences in some ethnic sets.. The table below illustrates some of the distinct populations that can be identified by blood group antigens. American whites are most like the Germans (and northern Europeans). South American Indians are distinctly different, and all these groups different significantly from each other.

Type O A1 A2 B A1B A2B
S.Am.Indians 100 0 0 0 0 0
Vietnamese 45 21 0 29 4 0
Austr. Aborig. 44 55 0 0 0 0
Germans 43 32 9 11 3 1
Bengalis 22 22 2 38 15 1
Laplanders 18 36 18 5 6 5

All humans can donate blood to each other. We are one species, but tissue typing reveals much more complexity, and serious genetic barriers exist for transplantation. Thus it is important for all racial groups to become organ donors.

Genetic markers have not been found generally useful in demarcating populations. Morphologic markers have been traditionally used. The anthropological groups that we identify today are European, African, and Asian, with each group subdivided. For example Europeans are subdivided into Nordic, Mediterranean and Alpine; Africans are Bushmen, Negrito, Oceanic, etc; Asians are Mongols, Amerindians and Polynesians.

Distinctive physical characteristics of the races are found mainly at the extremities of the continents--at the southern tip of India, the North of Japan (Ainu), south of the Sahara, north of the Arctic Circle, in the Andes Mts. and on the Steppes of central Asia. In the population centers, the mixture of races blends the characteristics of the different groupings. This suggests that geographic isolation and inbreeding led to the racial features that we see today.

Racism is the doctrine that inequality--and superiority --is based on race. However, political and cultural, rather than morphologic or genetic markers are commonly used. Thus the "Aryans"(blond Germans) thought they were the Master-Race.

"China is the center of the earth."
 "If you're not Dutch, you're not much."
"White boys can't jump."
 "French are frogs."
"Germans are pigs."
"Jews have all the money."

What is a Jew? Is there such a thing as a Jewish nose? Judaism is a culture and a religion, not a race. German Jews speak a German dialect (Yiddish). Polish Jews have Polish names. English Jews have English names, and look English. But anti-semitism persists irrespective of physical appearance because of religion and culture.

There are other examples of conflict based on cultural and religious differences:

Religion: Sudanese Muslims vs. Christians;
Indian Hindus vs. Muslims;
Catholics vs. Protestants (N. Ireland).
Tribe: Tutsis vs. Hutus;
Slovaks vs. Serbs vs. Croats.
Language and culture: French vs. English Canadians.
Political power: China vs. Tibet;
Israelis vs. Palestinians.
Economics: Indonesians vs. Chinese.
Africans vs. East Indians
Gender: men vs. women

Political correctness is the etiquette of today. It says that everyone has the right to privacy and the right not to be offended. No jokes. Don't stare. Don't address a stranger. Don't stereotype. It puts a veneer over the problems of race, gender, religion, etc. but does not get at the roots.

Are the races and nations part of God’s plan?
a. Families, nations, languages and lands developed from the sons of Noah (Shem, Ham and Japheth) in Gen. 10 after the Flood. They separate roughly into Middle Eastern, Eurasian, and African groups.
b. God disrupted the attempt of humans to make a unified society when the Tower of Babel was built. Gen.11:8
c. "When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when He separated the sons of men, He fixed the bounds of the people.... (Deut.32:8)
"He has made from one every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their habitation." (Act.17:26)

We conclude that races, nations and languages are part of God’s plan for the world.  

All kinds of questions emerge. What about world government and the United Nations? The European Union? Should we compel people of USA to speak English as our national language? Is America to be a melting pot, or should we preserve the diversity of the cultures among us? How can Christians be racially prejudiced?

But did not God favor one people?

"You are a people holy to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his own possession, out of all the peoples that are on the face of the earth." (Deut.7:6)
"It was not because you were more in number than any other people..." (Deut.7:6)
"the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people." (Deut.9:4).
Plainly He did favor Israel, but on the basis of His grace, not their superiority.

But did He not permit them to make slaves of other nations?
There were at least five under-classes in Israel: children, servants, slaves, the poor and sojourners. Each class had rules or instruction protecting it and provided models of spiritual relationships.

Children were the principal source of labor in early times, herding livestock. They achieved status with maturity. Children were plentiful and hence the need for outside cheap labor was minimal and slavery does not appear to be economically driven. Israel was once an enslaved nation herself and God had freed her from the House of Bondage. Ex.13:13

Servants were indentured Israelites who served for up to seven years (Ex.21:2) in exchange for cash. They had to be given provisions to start life again when their period of servitude was over. (Deut.15:13). They could not be kept in bondage permanently. In later years the automatic seven-year release was not observed. Jer.34:8–17

The poor were given certain rights. The owners of agricultural lands were commanded to leave a portion of the harvest in the fields. (Ex.23:11; Lev.19:11). This was essentially a donation of 10% to those willing to collect it. Money must be lent freely (Deut.15:7,8), and without interest. (Ex.22:25). Property reverts to the owner if redeemed, or at the end of seven years (Deut.15:149, or in the year of Jubilee (Lev.25:5). Collateral, such as a coat, could not be kept overnight. Deut.24:12

Slaves were foreign captives, taken incidentally in wars. (Deut.21:10–14). These wars were intended to wipe out Canaanite civilization. (Deut.7:1–5). There was no mass enslavement until hundreds of years later when Solomon needed a large labor force (IK.9:20) to build his empire. He appears to have enslaved his own people. (I Kings 12:4)

Slaves were protected by the following rules:

Sabbath was a day of rest for them as well as the free.Ex.20:10
If an eye or a tooth was lost by punishment, the slave would go free. Ex.21:26
A runaway slave could not be sent back to his master. Deut.23:15
However, if the slave was mortally injured, but survived more than a day, no punishment was exacted of the owner. (Ex.21:21). Also slaves could be inherited like property. (Lev.25:46). Evidently it was better to be a slave than to be dead.
Sojourners (visitors, free aliens), and members of broken families were to be treated kindly.
"He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner therefore; for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt".(Deut.10:18–19)

In the New Testament, slavery is not vehemently opposed, but slave-traders (kidnappers) were included in a list of the wicked. (ITim.1:10). Paul speaks about slavery in this way:

"Everyone should remain in the state in which he was called. Were you a slave when called? Never mind. But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity. For he who is called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who is free when called is a slave of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men." (ICor.7:20–23)

"Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not with eye-service, as men-pleasers, but in singleness of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever your task, work heartily as serving the Lord and not men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you are serving the Lord Christ." (Col.3:22)

The implication of NT writing is that slavery was not usually a grievous experience in the Roman Empire, but rather was to be a means of grace.

The New Testament is not radical with respect to institutions except marriage. The apostles did not try to make political revolution. They worked within the existing framework. Their mission was to change hearts. That was radical.
Paul said:

"There is neither Jew nor Greek (race), there is neither slave nor free (class), there is neither male nor female (gender); for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal.3:28)

He talked to a slave-owner whose runaway slave had become a believer:

"I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. Perhaps this is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother, especially to me but how  much more to you....Receive him as you would receive me. (Philemon 12,15)

How, then, should we interpret slavery in the New World? It differed from the situation in Israel in several important respects.
a. It was economically driven. There were large agricultural holdings in the South that needed cheap labor. The cheapest place to find slave labor was in Africa. Even though the Founding Fathers cherished freedom, they were attached to slavery by sentiment and economic considerations. Hypocrisy was built into the political system.
b. Slaves were stolen from their homelands by African traders. This was not an incidental capture in war. It was wholesale commercial kidnapping, human theft.
c. OT law protecting slaves was not followed, even though OT was incorrectly used to justify slavery (the curse on Ham). For example, there was a great effort to recapture runaway slaves and punish, even mutilate them.
d. American slavery was also justified by the "natural inferiority" of black people in spite of Paul's teaching about the oneness of the human race. Black people were considered less than human than white people ("3/5ths human").
e. NT teaching was not understood or followed, especially the warning against kidnapping and slave-trading.

If Americans had studied Scripture, they could not have countenanced the slave-trade. The Civil War was our punishment for failing to obey the Lord. The reverberations are with us yet, more than a hundred years later.

"...and you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD." (Lev.19:18)