Today, September 17, is Constitution Day. There’s probably no clearer definition of what it means to be an American than the fact that we all share the same Constitution. There should be no clearer definition of what it means to be a Christian than the fact that we believe in the same Gospel, that we follow the same Jesus. But there was a time in our country’s history when there were two Constitutions. It’s a good thing there is only one Gospel.
This post was initially motivated by a comment I saw in the paper (a tweet?) that someone made about the incoming Afghan refugees. He was warning us against letting too many of them into our country because they would undermine our Judeo-Christian values. A comment that I hope boggles the mind of anyone who believes in those Judeo-Christian values.
From God’s admonition to Moses to welcome the stranger (because they themselves had been strangers in Egypt) , to Jesus’ warning about those who ignore the plight of the stranger (the parable of the sheep and the goats), it is clear that if we are going to invoke those Judeo-Christian values the reaction has to be ‘welcome’.
That someone would invoke Christian values to urge a behavior that is the opposite of Jesus’ teachings is not shocking. It’s rhetoric. Rhetoric does not need to be self-consistent, or for that matter true; rhetoric’s sole purpose is to convince people to agree with you. What is shocking, or at least disheartening, is the number of people that will actually say Amen to that twisted sentiment.
This is not the first time this has happened in our country. And it makes me wonder, how is it possible? How can avowed Bible-believing Christians go along with such things. Is it that the Bible is not clear?
But it has been my experience that everyone can understand the message of the Word of God. We would expect this just from reading the Gospel. If you look at the way Jesus spoke to the people of His time, you find that His method, His style, did not change whether He was talking to an ordinary fisherman or to a learned Pharisee.
Therefore, if you and I read the Gospel, and take it at face value, I bet we will come out of that exercise understanding the same story. You don’t have to know the nuances of the original Greek to understand how the story began, how it developed, and how it ended. You don’t need years of theological training to understand the claims the Gospel makes about Jesus.
The difference between different readers comes in how they respond to it: whether they choose to believe it or not. And you, absolutely, are free to choose whether you believe or not. What no one can do, honestly, is try to change the meaning of the words… precisely because the meaning is so plainly stated.
I said meaning, on purpose because we know that there are people who will try to use the letter of the Law for their own selfish ends even though the spirit of the Law is plain to understand. Jesus dealt with this in His Sermon on the Mount. (The whole section that starts: “you have heard it said — but I say —”). In the Sermon, Jesus made it perfectly clear that all He taught was based on the Law of Moses (Matthew 5:17), precisely the same Law that the Pharisees and Sadducees claimed to be following… to their own condemnation.
The point is: The spirit of the Word of God is clear to anyone willing to honestly listen. But don’t be surprised when people invoke that same Word to justify actions that violate that spirit. That’s the way it was in Jesus’ day; it is so today.
When the Word of God is twisted
Given that the Bible tells us, from the very beginning, that there is an adversary that hates God and His creation, it should not be a surprise that one of his tactics in waging warfare is to attempt to turn Truth into Lie. As Jesus said to the Pharisees,
John 8:44 (NIV) You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
What does it take to tell the difference between Truth and Lie? Do you need to be a Bible scholar to know when someone is distorting the Word of God? I don’t think so. All you need is to have read the Bible, honestly. That’s it. If you read it and understood the story, and remember it, it should be very hard to fool you.
I said at the beginning that there was a time in the history of our country that we had two Constitutions. I am referring to the Civil War. Now, I am not launching myself into the history of racism in America (or the world for that matter) because others can do, and have done, a better job. But I do want to examine this issue of how Bible-believing Christians can abide and even support rhetoric that violates the principles they claim to believe in.
One side of the Civil War argument I had heard before, in defense of the South, was the statement that their response was driven by Economics, that the reaction by the seceding States was a justified response to the overreach of the Federal government: States’ rights vs. Federal Government rights. Notice that in stating their position that way there is no denial it had to do with slavery. But it subordinates that moral issue to the survival imperative: they were fighting to save their way of life. The question is, is this true? Was that the motivation?
The best people to answer that question are the people of that day, using their own words. So, if you are going to read the “Cornerstone Speech” by Alexander Stephens, the Vice-President of the Confederate States, don’t read a summary and don’t read someone’s copy of the text. The best way to read it is to put yourself there, as if you were contemporaneous with those people. And this is best accomplished by reading it as reported in a newspaper of the day, because it includes the reporter’s observations of the reaction of the crowd. Here it is. I excerpt from it in what follows.
As Stephens points out the differences between the new Confederate States’ Constitution and the original Constitution of the United States, he says the following:
Stephens clearly states, and his audience agrees, that the original Constitution rested upon the assumption of the “equality of races”. But, as he begins to say here and will presently expound, this was not only fundamentally wrong, it was so wrong that Jesus’ admonition, in the Sermon on the Mount, about the house built on the rock versus the house built on the sand applies in this case: The Union was wrong and is reaping the punishment of being blown down.
So begins the twisted appeal to Scripture. And it continues:
I had to pause there so you get the effect: APPLAUSE.
The above is standard rhetoric: Call your opponents the ignorant ones, the ones that are self-deluded. And now note how they will turn the argument against slavery, upside down:
And here we are: It was the Creator which made the “black race” inferior to the “white race”! If you have read the Bible, did you ever reach that conclusion? Where did they get this from?
Ok, I have to skip some of the baloney but let’s keep going so that it is perfectly clear what Stephens and his audience believed:
There you have it: Providence – namely God – ordained slavery in the same way that he ordained there to be on Earth materials for construction. The slavery that God forbid was that of our own race. Which is a partly correct statement insofar as Israelites were forbidden from enslaving Israelites. But, apparently, Canaan’s curse singled out the black race for slavery.
Now, if you have read the Bible – AND, if you know how to think – is there anything wrong with this reasoning? Of course, it can be refuted! But Stephens himself knows he is on slippery ground because he added there that “nature” also dictated this. To which we would have to say: What, pray tell, does that mean? Does he mean by “nature” the fact that slavery happened? That slaves are enslaved? That native Africans did not understand the worldview of their enslavers? That would be circular reasoning. (How would you fair if you were one of those people in that audience and someone snatched you away and dropped you penniless and friendless into the middle of the Chinese countryside during the Mongol invasion, and you ended up as a slave? What would that say about your race?) Any appeal to nature on Stephens’ part is based on fallacies; albeit fallacies accepted by their society.
We will come back to that in a moment. Let me do one last bit:
Here again, is the appeal to Scripture: First, taking the apostle Paul’s words about how our bodies after the resurrection will differ from our present bodies completely out of context, to claim it appeals to the differences between races.
And if all this had not been monstruous enough, one of the prophecies that we know was spoken about the Messiah – that He, the stone that the builders rejected, would become the cornerstone – is now applied to the principle of enslaving the African race.
I would like to believe that some of the people in that audience, who truly knew what the Bible says, would have cringed at that blasphemy. I mean, this is, as we say today, over the top; the devil just overstepped his bounds; he always does. How could any Christian stand there and accept such a statement? But as you read: APPLAUSE.
How did that happen?
We are aware of his devices
As Paul was chastising and correcting the Corinthian Church, he told them to be sure to forgive the ones that had been chastised so that they would not fall away and the Church not fall apart. Why? Because that is one of the weapons of the devil: to sow discord. Paul ends with this statement:
2 Corinthians 2:11 so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes.
Paul is telling us that we need to remember we have an enemy, an enemy that lies and divides, but also an enemy that is predictable. We just cannot ignore him.
Yet, so many times we fall into one of his traps. How does that happen? We allow the enemy to win small victories in our lives little by little. At first, the victories won’t be in anything that is blatantly anti-God or anti-Bible; but I can assure you it will be pro-self and pro my own desires, my own gratification, and my own convenience. That’s how it starts.
How do I know? Well, first, I have been there plenty of times. But, second, it is obvious: If the first commandment is to love God above all things and the second is to love my neighbor as myself, it follows that the attack will aim to weaken my commitment to those two: Simply by encouraging me to love myself first.
And you might say, “Wait, don’t you have to love yourself first to be able to love the neighbor as yourself?” And the answer is: Absolutely not! What we all need to do first is love God above all things (way above ourselves). After that, He will guide us into loving ourselves – and the neighbor – with True Love.
As SK said: “To Love God first, is to love oneself rightly. To help another to love God, is to love another. To be helped to love God, is to be loved.”
We are not ignorant of the schemes of the devil. Why were all those people in that crowded hall (and standing room only outside) applauding Stephens? Didn’t they know their Bible?
Sure, they did. Why else would Alexander Stephens use quotes from the Bible to bolster his argument, if they were not familiar with them? Then what happened? How could they swallow all this? The only answer is that they had seared their consciences a long time ago by living the very institution they were defending… After all, the enslavement of your neighbor is exactly the opposite of loving him.
The words of Paul in his first letter to Timothy fit well:
1 Timothy 4:1-2 (NASB) But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron…
The first device of the enemy is to corrupt our ability to love. The second device of which we are also fully aware is that the devil will use Scripture to try to fool us. He tried that with Jesus in the wilderness. And so, Paul warned us:
2 Corinthians 11:14-15 (NASB) No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.
Therefore it should not be a surprise that the devil or people doing his work will quote Scripture to us to try to get us to agree with them. But they should utterly fail, if you know what the Bible says.
Does the Bible say that Canaan’s curse has anything to do with the African race or their destiny to slavery?
First of all, the people’s descended from Canaan, as the name implies, are the Canaanites. The Bible tells us his descendants included the Sidonians, the Jebusites, the Amorites, etc. Nothing to do with Africa.
Second, the passage in Genesis about the curse on Canaan’s descendants does say they shall be servants “unto his brethren”. But if we are to take the Hebrew root of that word, servant, to mean they must be enslaved then we would have to interpret it the same way when it is prophesied of Jacob and Esau that the older (Esau) will serve the younger (Jacob). Yet, Jacob never interpreted God’s will to mean that he had to enslave his brother.
The second fallacy appealed to by Alexander Stephens is that nature teaches us that the African race is inferior. We know Science certainly doesn’t support that. But even in their day, the best they could do was to appeal to circular reasoning – as I pointed out.
Does the Bible have anything to say about this? Moses certainly didn’t think there was anything inferior with the African races when he married Zipporah, a Cushite woman. The ones that objected to her were Miriam and Aaron (out of jealousy of Moses, and then bringing her race up as an excuse, probably not because of her skin color but because she was not from their Israelite family).
Numbers 12:1-2 (NASB) Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married (for he had married a Cushite woman); and they said, “Is it a fact that the Lord has spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?”
Read the rest of that story and see what happened to Aaron and Miriam.
And what about The Queen of Sheba, queen of the Ethiopians, a leader in the ancient world at the time of Solomon? Her kingdom was as prosperous or more than other kingdoms around Israel, warranting a treaty of good relations between the two kingdoms. And do we need to mention Solomon’s beloved and beautiful Shulamite (in the Song of Songs), with skin ever the blacker for having worked out in the sun when she was young? What about Ebed-melech, the Ethiopian courtier who defied the King’s advisors and, with his men, pulled the prophet Jeremiah out of the pit they had thrown him in? And what about Simon the Cyrenian – an African – who carried the cross for Jesus the rest of the way to Calvary, when He could no longer bear it? His sons Rufus and Alexander were members of the early Church, mentioned in the New Testament.
Nothing in the Bible, and certainly nothing in nature, renders any hint that the black race is inferior to the white.
Seared consciences are good for very little
So, if the Bible and logic do not support Alexander Stephens’ claims, how did all these people applaud him? Did they check their brains at the door?
Let me propose a hypothesis: The more you violate God’s will for your life, the more your life is degraded. The more you deny the requirements of love, the harder the callus grows around your heart. The more you reject the Wisdom of God, the less and less sense true wisdom makes.
Think about it: The one who invented the Universe, the Laws of Physics and Mathematics and Logic, He invented reasoning. If you reject Him, you reject His creation. But that means you reject your own powers of reasoning. In other words, when Paul warns us about the devil blinding us, that blindness is not only spiritual, it extends to all our faculties:
2 Corinthians 4: 1-4 Therefore, having this ministry, as we have had mercy shewn us, we faint not. But we have rejected the hidden things of shame, not walking in deceit, nor falsifying the word of God, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every conscience of men before God.
But if also our gospel is veiled, it is veiled in those that are lost; in whom the god of this world has blinded the thoughts of the unbelieving, so that the radiancy of the glad tidings of the glory of the Christ, who is [the] image of God, should not shine forth [for them].
How do we protect ourselves against these kinds of attacks by the devil?
1_Never, ever, ever, forget Love. John the Apostle, in his first letter to the Church, tells us clearly that God is Love, and that to be His children we have to live in that Love. And that Love was defined by Jesus as the first and second commandments: Love God first, then love your neighbor. And, to be completely clear, remember: your neighbor is anyone and everyone that is within your reach and your ability to love; namely, all people.
If Alexander Stephens and the people in that audience believed in these two commandments, they could not have fallen prey to the schemes of the devil. But instead, the devil convinced them there was a way out: ‘Hey, dude, we all know Africans are not really people.’ Having thus declared the second commandment inapplicable, they felt free to invoke all sorts of other Scripture to justify their choices.
But, as I pointed out, their reasoning was not just anti-scriptural, it was illogical.
2_Therefore, never, ever, ever, stop loving Wisdom. Don’t let other people tell you what to think. You were given by God the ability to reason. And if you have not seared your mind by rejecting the Love of God then you can still think clearly. Listen to what they say, listen to what you say, and ask, is this true?
Psalm 111:10 The fear of Jehovah is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all they that do [his precepts]: his praise abideth for ever.
Proverbs 1:20-23 Wisdom crieth without; she raiseth her voice in the broadways; she calleth in the chief [place] of concourse, in the entry of the gates; in the city she uttereth her words: How long, simple ones, will ye love simpleness, and scorners take pleasure in their scorning, and the foolish hate knowledge? Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour forth my spirit unto you, I will make known to you my words.