Front Page News and the Bible

One thing about working on Biblical Theology is it is always relevant to whatever is going on in the world, especially when the topic is something like racism – which has a (modern) history of being supported by the Bible.

no racism

Racism has been supported in modern times by an appeal to an illegitimate and perverted interpretation of the Bible. I say in ‘modern times’ because prior to the antebellum period in the southern United States (i.e. before the Civil War), there was no real attempt to justify slavery along racial lines.king march

In fact, one cannot find racism itself in the Bible using proper methods of interpretation. What one finds, instead, is the idea that since all are made in the image of God (the Imago Dei), all humans have an inherent and intrinsic value and dignity given them by God himself – the relative value of which does not depend on ethnicity. Racism, therefore, has no place in the Christian life or worldview. It goes without saying (but I’ll still say it) that any notion of one race being superior to another ought to be abhorrent to any follower of Jesus.

(And again, just for the record, the intrinsic worth and dignity of a human is not affected by gender, sexual orientation, or physical or mental challenges, economic status, and so on.)

To be sure, slavery can be found in the Bible – but never racial slavery. In the Bible there was slavery sometimes due to war and conquest, but most often it was an economic institution, and it actually functioned as a kind of social safety net. (When people became too poor they were enslaved for a period of time in order that they might have a roof over their head and food to eat.) Slavery based on race is not found in the Bible.

A few words about the Fulbe people in this regard. Traditionally the Fulbe are Muslim, and in their past history they have been great champions of the Islamic faith, converting many people at the point of the sword. Since in Islam one cannot enslave fellow Muslims, when the Fulbe wished to make a people their slaves they did not convert them, but

Iliyasu and Jeff

simply conquered them. This history accounts for much of the animosity of other people groups towards them up to the present time.

Possibly because they are traditionally nomadic, the Fulbe are also racist. For them Arabic and Caucasian peoples are near the top of the totem pole, while the Haabe (black peoples) are at the bottom. Partly this has to do with the religion of Islam, which they received from the Arabic people, but I think too that their nomadic background plays a part. If some white guy shows up they will automatically know the guy is not from just down the street. He must have travelled far to get there, and they have a lot of respect for that.

One further important caveat here – when the Fulbe come to Christ their racism vanishes. When Jesus becomes their Lord they understand that they are alike with all other people in their great value, in God’s love for them, in their sinfulness, and their need of redemption. This is just part of the message they wish to carry to their fellow Fulbe.


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