My Absurd Encounter With Racism…At a Bible Study

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The worst I expected to encounter at the Bible study in a very normal, faithful, non-insane church was that the burnt coffee in its small Styrofoam cup, packed with a tablespoon of non-dairy creamer (which always is bad and yet somehow I’m always drawn to it), would taste exactly as I imagined. And yet I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The study was going splendidly at first. Sure, I was one of the youngest in the room of thirty or so seasoned Christians, but there is something great about hearing from those who’ve been through wars, depressions, loss of loved ones, and the trials of life and still come out with faith stronger than steel.

We were going over Hebrews 2:6-8, which says,

“What is mankind that you are mindful of them,

A son of man that you care for him?

You made them a little lower than the angels:

You crowned them with glory and honor

And put everything under their feet.”

 

Then the crazytown came out. The man beside me spoke up.

“Well,” he said, spreading his arm out, “as you can see by this group here, we are all studying the Bible. And as you see, we are all white. Doesn’t that mean something, that we should also be rulers, you know…over all the black people?”

My jaw couldn’t have dropped farther toward the ground. Inconceivable. Not only did his conclusion have nothing to do with the passage, he was actually stating that because there were a few people in this specific room who happened to be Caucasian, the whole world would be run by Caucasian people forever.

Then to my utter disbelief a woman at the front spoke up and said, “Yes. The curse for the black man came at the Tower of Babel. That was when they were cursed.”

What????

My eyes shot to the poor teacher who was fumbling for words against these monumental, utterly false statements that had nothing to do with the passages referenced. How do you begin to reason with someone whose logic is so far gone? Where would she begin? But the teacher managed to pull together some semblance of order and correct, at least to a small degree, both participants of their error.

BUT THEN ten minutes later a third woman said apologetically, “I’m sorry. I think my husband got confused a few minutes ago because I was reading Genesis and told him that God must’ve blessed the white people because they have all the territories on the earth.”

At this point, my body was confusedly trying to figure out whether to punch the elderly man and his wife next to me (not a healthy thing to do, I know), stand on the table and start preaching, or walk out in protest. I mean…not just one crazy person with completely ill-formed interpretations, not just two, but three? And daring to use the Bible as a reference for their preposterous opinions?

Thankfully the teacher spouted out a few good verses of truth. In the end I didn’t take to acts of violence or walk to my car in protest. I didn’t have to speak up (though I would’ve had she not done such a good job herself). The man, at least, made another comment suggesting he was starting to get that racism wasn’t biblical, and the study finished.

As I drove home, however, I couldn’t help thinking about all the things I wanted to say. As I turned on NPR and heard a white supremacist using eloquent speech to so wrongly state that Caucasian people are the real family of America and African Americans are simply outsiders, I thought of all the things I wanted to say. Today when I pushed my grocery cart past a sweet, 6-year-old African American boy and his Caucasian mother I thought of all the things I wanted to say.

And I suppose in a few words it comes down to this: The white people are not God’s privileged.

Jesus wasn’t white. The Israelites, God’s original chosen people, were not white. Contrary to what several of my former students erroneously quoted on a quiz, Jesus did not at all look like:

“He is a tall man, well shaped and of an amiable and reverend aspect; his hair is of a color that can hardly be matched, falling into graceful curls… his cheeks without spot or wrinkle, beautiful with a lovely red; his nose and mouth formed with exquisite symmetry; his beard, and of a color suitable to his hair, reaching below his chin and parted in the middle like a fork; his eyes bright blue, clear and serene…

(Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew, p86)

Copy of Not Jesus

No, Jesus didn’t look like a white American. He didn’t have those blue serene eyes. His hair wasn’t long and curling like a girl at prom. For a good article on what Jesus did look like, see: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-35120965

And you know what? We who happen to be Caucasian need to be thankful that God doesn’t show favoritism, that He graciously grafted in the Gentile, and as Peter stated:

“I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the person who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him. (Acts 10:34-35)

We should be glad that one day those from “every nation, tribe, people, and language [will] stand before the throne…” (Revelation 7:9).

We should rejoice because, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

 

Blessings,

Melissa Ferguson

The Topic Google Missed

google-485611_1920Why is it that I can google the anatomy of a seagull and find 1700 diagrams in .00002 seconds but cannot get a single quality article about some biblical passage I’d like to study deeper? I mean, when a few taps on the computer can pull up twelve videos on how to break into my neighbor’s house, why on earth is decent commentary of the Bible lacking?

The other day I came to a particularly mischievous verse in Revelation and tried to look up background information for more insight. To my amazement all that came up were fluffy, cotton candy articles about how God is good (which, while true, doesn’t justify skirting around the topic) or doomsday posts in red ink and dozens of exclamation points to emphasize how the world, if not by this evening, would most certainly be ending by the election.

Where are the theologians? Where are the scholars who know a thing or two about author, date of writing, background into the culture of the Ancient Near East, language, interpretations throughout church history? Why aren’t they so benevolently sharing these insights that enrich our study of Scripture via the world wide web?

Alas, I suppose until that time comes, I’ll just have to rely on the printed page: the commentary.

And, just in case you either haven’t found a good commentary or are wondering about the real value of one, here are a few suggestions.

First, you might want one of these little treasures if you ever find yourself reading the Bible—like 1 Timothy 2:15—and your thoughts fall down this similar trail:

“Um, it just said women are saved through childbearing… Are women just mules? Does God think that of women? Or maybe Paul was a little bit off here? A bit persuaded by the culture of the day? …  If he was though, does that mean the whole Bible is susceptible to error?  And there is no God? And this was all made up?! Okay, calm down, just turn the page and pretend you didn’t see it.”

The three commentaries below are neither written by scholars who believe Jesus was a myth, existing only in our minds to encourage naughty little humanity to behave, nor by those who want to spend thirty pages talking about the meaning of the word “the” in verse one. They are quality commentaries written by educated Christians dedicating their lives to sharing the profound.

*These are examples for Romans, though each commentary has other books of the Bible available*

 

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1. The New International Commentary on the New Testament

Is this book big? Yes. Could you use it to hold up the wheel of a car? Possibly. But it is one of my personal favorites, particularly given the insights of Dr. Moo. If you are looking for something more academic, more ambitious (after all, why is the word “the” there in verse one?), but also with heart, this is a great choice.

 

 

 

 

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2. The New Testament for Everyone

NT Wright people… former Bishop of Durham and one of the world’s leading Bible scholars. A man with a pastoral tongue and incredibly intelligent mind. This is a great series in everyday language. Note that this series does not include the Old Testament.

 

 

 

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3. The NIV Application Commentary

This commentary focuses less on technical language and more on application to our Christian life. It’s good for Bible studies and wading in to deeper studies without diving all the way and fearing you’ll get drowned in all the academic talk.

 

 

 

 

So, here’s to learning and living out the walk each day!

Melissa Ferguson