I am writing you about my concern that the Bible and its significance is being diminished by those who believe they are honoring it. The current debate among Christians about the Bible and what it says about marriage and same sex couples has revealed again how literal interpretations of Scripture have been used to negatively judge, critique, enslave, separate and segregate some persons. Bible-based anti-Semitism, sexism, and racism expressed under the umbrella of "Biblical Authority", has now been deemed by most Christians as being antithetical to the totality of the message of Scripture. But now, heterosexism, as expressed in condemnations of same sex marriage reveal that many have not learned the lessons that should have been learned from the error of Bible-supported isms in the past.
Bible-based heterosexism has caused many of us to remember again Bible-based racism. The current revelations of abuse by some policemen against black persons reveal that there still is, in the cultural DNA of some people, an unacknowledged less-than-positive response to black persons when they are perceived as being a threat to authority and law and order. I suggest that this anti-black knee jerk response has some rootage in a passage from the book of Genesis, called "Noah's Curse". I have mentioned this to some of my younger colleagues who represent a rainbow of races, and they have no idea what I am talking about. The Scripture:
"When Noah sobered up and learned what his youngest son had done to him (When Ham, the father of Canaan, saw that his father was naked, he went out and told his two brothers, vs 22) he said, 'A curse on Canaan! He will be a slave to his brothers. Give praise to the Lord, the God of Shem! May God cause Japheth to increase! May his descendants live with the people of Shem! Canaan will be the slave of Japheth.'" (Genesis 9: 24-28 - GOOD NEWS BIBLE - Todays English Version)
Some interpreters of this passage, as they have been confused about who Noah was cursing, have suggested that the revelation of Noah's naked drunkenness was "the blackest of sins", and thus it was a curse against black people because of their darker skin. Colonialism, slavery, the tragedy of the "Middle Passage" (The journey from Africa to the America's with its dehumanization and death), the acts of separation of families, prohibitions against the use of the variety of African languages, demeaning of the religion and culture of the enslaved blacks, racial segregation, lynchings, etc., and today's conscious and unconscious, subtle and not-so-subtle anti-black attitudes and actions all have a linkage to "Noah's Curse".
The debates in Methodism over slavery and the owning of slaves, the racism that caused some blacks to leave Methodism and form the AME and AMEZion denominations, the 1939 "Methodist Unification Conference" that created the racially-segregated Central Jurisdiction (Slavery was no longer biblically sanctioned, but the segregation of blacks in the Church was?), and the Bible based resistance to the merger of the Central Jurisdiction and the racial integration of Methodist local churches were Methodist responses to "Noah's Curse". But there is a reluctance to "remember" Noah's Curse, because to do so is to admit biblical interpretation error, and to do that, some fear, is to admit biblical error. I with others claim that it is not Bible error that is our challenge, but the biblical interpretation error of some that is.
Interestingly it is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints/The Mormons who openly and honestly admit their obedience to "Noah's Curse", as they prohibited black males from being admitted to leadership positions in their church. It was in 1978 that a "new" Revelation re; Noah's Curse caused them to rescind the prohibition. I think we as Methodists have not yet been able to remember our anti-black history as a "teaching tool" that enables us to use that history as a guide to our ministry in the 21st century.
Dale, I have shared the above, regardless of the coming decision of "The Supremes" about marriage equality for same sex couples, because if the UMC in the 21st century seeks to "make disciples for the transformation of the world", we must share with the world a "living" rather than a "literal" Bible. I do not understand how some of our colleagues claim "Biblical Authority" for one man and one woman in marriage when there are the numerous Biblical accounts of one man and more than one woman in marriages.
Harry Emerson Fosdick, the first Senior Pastor of Riverside Church in New York City, preached a sermon in 1922 titled; "Shall The Fundamentalist's Win?" It was his response to those whom he felt harmed the Bible with their narrow literal interpretations of it. Fosdick, in his little book, "Dear Mr. Brown", a book of letters to "a fictional character...who is far from being fictional", writes this in the book published in 1961; "One of the most lamentable aspects of the Christian Church's history is the way religious leaders have insisted on clinging to the outmoded world view of the Bible...If only they could have foreseen how ridiculous they would look in retrospect".
Dale, you startled your Mother and me, as well as your younger brother, when you "discovered" and claimed as your biblical guide, mantra, and lesson for life, the "Fruit of the Spirit" in Galatians 5: 22, 23; "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness goodness, faithfulness, humility and self control." (GOOD NEWS BIBLE). And you further startled us as you published a book and wrote hymns to familiar tunes of each of the words of the Fruit of the Spirit. Few, if any, graduates of Princeton and the Wharton School of Business (Your mother and I thank God that your jobs, scholarships, and our savings made that possible) who now, like you, are CEO/Head of School, part-time Management Consultant, and founder/leader of the coming Central Park New York Tennis Open, are doing what you are doing while being active in your United Methodist Church as a Certified Lay Minister. (The coming of Father's Day is my excuse for "talking about Dale" : - ) It is because of your reminding me of the words of the "Fruit of the Spirit" that I now remember them as I write, speak, and lead discussions, as well as when I listen and read others – particularly when they seem to view the Bible as a "tool" to screen people out rather than screen people into the challenge and mission and ministry in this century.
It is crude to say it, but I will: "ALL of us have a dog in the fight about the interpretation of the Bible as it relates to marriage equality for same sex couples". Women and blacks today find ourselves resisting assumptions, attitudes, and actions that in many ways have been linked to negative Bible-based depictions and descriptions of us. And we and our allies have had to challenge, transform and transcend barriers and blocks erected to hold us back. If an assertion of "Biblical Authority" continues to be the impetus for Religious Freedom, that at times looks like Religious Bigotry against same sex couples, then how soon will we return to an affirmation of the "Biblical Authority" that justified "keeping blacks and women in their place"?
I, in my 80's, am rediscovering the spiritual genius of those who were called slaves, when in fact they were sons and daughters of a liberating God. They responded to "Noah's Curse" in the songs and in their resistance to slavery. They experienced the truth of Psalm 40: 3a, "God hath put a new song in my mouth". And thus were able to sing:
I got a song, you got a song, All God's chillum got a song; When I get to heaven, gonna sing a new song, Going to sing all over God's heaven.
It is time that the United Methodist Church proclaim a faith and give witness to a God who loves all of us; who expressed that love magnificently in the life of Jesus. Howard Thurman wrote the book, Jesus and the Disinherited. It seems that all of us, at times, believe that it is Bible-based appropriate for us to disinherit others because they are to the right of us or left of us in their religion and/or their politics, as well as claim their inheritance is unlike ours because they differ with us in race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, attitudes and actions, etc. But I believe that God has bequeathed to ALL of us an inheritance that no one can take away from any of us.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said, "I will not follow a homophobic God". Neither will I. Nor should we follow a God who is racist, sexist, classist, or militarist. It is time for us who claim Biblical faith, to challenge within ourselves and within others, any semblance of using the Bible to nurture our/their bias. The same song that God put in the hearts and on the tongues of those spirit-filled persons called slaves has been put in our hearts and on our tongues. Let us sing it, with and for, ALL of God's children.
Dad, a.k.a. Gil Caldwell