There are very few topics that are discussed in today’s cultural climate that are novel. Whilst the context of these topics such as abortion, spirituality and sexual ethics may differ, the content of such discussions remains largely the same. These topics often raise questions that form new perspectives that may change how a person views the world. For Christians, these questions can strengthen or weaken their faith; especially if the answers to their questions are unanswered or unsatisfactory.
One topic has caused division and identity crises for thousands of years, particularly amongst black Christians. ‘Am I a Christian first or a black person first?’ For some, the Christian faith pits your religion against your race. For others, the Christian faith doesn’t speak to racial issues at all. This topic has led many to leave the faith because they believe that Christianity isn’t for black people. But is this true? Do the scriptures provide answers to the questions that black people have?
The Curse of Ham
Christianity has often been accused of being the “white man’s religion”. These critics point to the events in history that have caused the denigration and the enslavement of black people, particularly at the hands of white “Christians”. In addition to these events, critics point to passages in Scripture that appear to illustrate that black people are cursed. In Genesis 9, after God created a covenant with Noah, he began to work the ground and drank of the wine he produced (Genesis 9:20). He became drunk and fell asleep naked (Genesis 9:21). Ham saw his father’s nakedness and seemingly sought to include his brothers in dishonouring their father (Genesis 9:22). Shem and Japheth instead cover their father’s nakedness (Genesis 9:24). Upon waking from his slumber, Noah realises what Ham has done and curses Ham’s son, Canaan (Genesis 9:25). There are different interpretations as to why Canaan was cursed and not Ham but none support the subjugation of black people.
The curse of Ham states that when Ham sinned, God turned his descendant’s skin black and subjected them to slavery. A careful reading of Genesis 9 is enough to distinguish the lie that the Curse of Ham is a curse upon black people. Here are a few reasons:
1) Ham wasn’t cursed, Canaan was cursed. This is very important to note. A careful reading of Scripture would be able to refute the false claim that Ham was cursed.
2) Being Black is not a curse. Ham had 4 children: Cush, Egypt, Put and Canaan. Cush, Egypt and Put are in what is known today as Africa. Canaan was in the Southwest of Asia. Cush was in what is known as Sudan today and is widely considered as the region in which black people derive.
3) The curse has already been fulfilled. In Genesis 12, God promises Abram the land of Canaan. In the book of Joshua, nearly 500 years later, we see the promise fulfilled. Israel conquered Canaan and entered the land.
4) Don’t believe myths. The curse of Ham finds its origin between the 3rd and 5th centuries and became popularised during the Transatlantic Slave Trade. By holding the view that black people are cursed because of God is to be influenced by white supremacist thought. To interpret the reading of the text in this way is wrong and should be rejected.
Black People are Image Bearers
There is nothing more important than interpreting the Bible rightly. How we read the Bible will determine how we see God and others. Poor interpretation is what led scholars to develop lies that influenced the subjugation and enslavement of millions of black people. As humans we are limited in what we can know; however, we have a duty of getting as close as we can when interpreting what the Scriptures mean. In Paul’s letter to Timothy, Paul exhorts the young pastor to watch his doctrine and his life (1 Timothy 4:16). If we want to be faithful Christians, then whatever we think, feel, or do must be aligned to what the Scriptures teach. The Scriptures do not teach that black people are cursed or are mistakes or that they are subordinate to any other race. Instead, the Scriptures affirm that black people are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:28, 9:6), to show forth the glory of God (Psalm 8:5, 1 Peter 2:9) and rest in the presence of God (1 John 4:13).
Black people are no less valuable than any other ethnic group. To state such a thing is to call God a liar. God made black people purposefully and called them good, along with the rest of creation (Genesis 1). The issue that mankind faces is not the varying levels of melanin, but instead that we have sinned against God (Romans 3:23). But in Christ, we have a Redeemer who lived, died and rose again to save the whole world (John 3:16). Now anyone, no matter their ethnicity, who trusts in Christ as their life, will be saved and will be united to God forever (Titus 3:4-7). Then on that day, we will see the fulfilment of the promise that every nation, tongue, and tribe will be united in glory forever (Revelation 5:9-10).
Black Christians, there are some who want you to pit your Christianity against your ethnicity. You don’t have to, it’s a false choice. God didn’t accidentally make you black. In fact, God says your blackness declares His glory. So, the next time someone asks you “Are you a Christian first or Black first?”, let your response be yes. Your blackness is not in competition with Jesus. Instead, God plans to use your blackness along with all other ethnicities as the canvas to declare His Lordship over all.