Hermeneutics and Blue Parakeets: How Things Could Have Been Different, Part 1 (Race)

bible.jpgAs I’ve been pondering this approach to understanding the Bible, I’ve asked myself how the church’s history might have been different had this approach had greater prominence in our thinking. How might the Churches of Christ behaved differently in the 20th Century had they adopted this old (not new) hermeneutic?

I grew up in the 1960s, and the Civil Rights Movement was not only big news, it was a major reality. Schools were desegregated, but so were restaurants and stores and water fountains. The changes were dramatic, as was the the reaction of the churches. Well, it wasn’t all that dramatic, really. In fact, there was hardly any reaction at all. The churches began the 1960s racially segregated and they ended then 1960s racially segregated.

And while this was going on, many Christians were busy looking for prooftexts to defend the separation of the races. One of the most popular was Genesis 10, with the idea being that God has assigned locations to the various descendants of Noah. Therefore, the argument went, God meant for Africans to remain in Africa and so we should send African-Americans back to Africa — in fulfillment of God’s will.

Everytime I heard this argument, which was very often, I asked whether this meant that white South Africans should return to Europe? Or whether we white Americans should give America back to the Indians? (Yes, I was a smart aleck as a teen.)

Another argument made less commonly was that blacks had no souls and therefore had no place in the church. Yes, it was extraordinarily offensive and, yes, it was seriously argued by men in the church, including some elders. That’s how it was.

You see, we approached the scriptures from a prooftext mindset. We were searching for hidden laws. Whoever was most clever at finding a passage to support his argument won! And so it seemed perfectly legitimate to go looking for verses that preserved the privileges of the white race in America. (Racist attitudes and bad prooftexting were, of course, not unique to Churches of Christ.)

But what if we’d all been raised on the Story? What if conventional Church of Christ preaching was developed in the context of God’s Story?  

Well, the Story begins with God’s desire to create community between Adam and Eve. The Curse interfered with this community, and the covenant with Abraham and the Law of Moses were given to create a new covenant community. In Jesus, the Kingdom is to ultimately include the entire world  in covenant community — a community undoing the Curse by restoring Oneness and ending Otherness.

Now, had that been preached in the centuries leading up to the Civil Rights Movement, well, there’d have been no Civil Rights Movement, because none would have been needed. Rather, Christ’s church would have been at the forefront of ending slavery and reconciling the races — rather than inventing absurd theories to preserve a sinful situation.

It seems so obvious in retrospect, but at the time, our hermeneutics gave us the tools to hide from God’s uncomfortable truth. In fact, our hermeneutics were so good at helping us retain our racism that our churches remain largely segregated even today.

But understood in the context of the Story, Paul’s declaration of “neither Jew nor Greek” is not about a nice, social element of the early church, it’s one of the essential characteristics of Christianity. Indeed, God told Abraham that all nations would be blessed through him, and part of that blessing was to bring all nations into a common communion. You see, our racism challenges the essence of what Jesus died to accomplish.

The Story should have changed everything.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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9 Responses to Hermeneutics and Blue Parakeets: How Things Could Have Been Different, Part 1 (Race)

  1. rey says:

    Frankly I think you're a liar. We all know it was Calvinism that supported slavery and every anti-Calvinist church that opposed it, and the same wit Segregation. Nice try though.

    But understood in the context of the Story, Paul’s declaration of “neither Jew nor Greek” is not about a nice, social element of the early church, it’s one of the essential characteristics of Christianity.

    And non-Calvinists have always embraced that. What kind of devil run Calvinist operation were you in calling itself a "church of Christ"? Or are you just lying for dramatic effect? I think the latter.

  2. Jay Guin says:

    Rey,

    I was born in 1954. I know from personal experience what happened. And there's no justification for your view of history at all.

    I truly worry whether you are suffering from paranoid delusions about Calvinists, as you seem to attribute to them all manner of evil utterly without justification. And you assume that those you disagree with are Calvinists. It's not rational behavior.

    In all seriousness, I think you need to consult a mental health professional. I'm not saying this as any kind of attack or argument. I just really think you need to seek help — and I'm in prayer that you do so.

  3. Alan says:

    I don't think the segregation in churches today is the result of hermeneutics. I think it is the result of many individual preferences and choices of sinful people of each race. We didn't go to the Bible to determine whether or not to be segregated. We went to the church where we felt comfortable. In most cases people don't even think much about whether there is a biblical teaching on the subject.

  4. Todd says:

    Alan,
    But the leaders and "scholars" of the church utilized a way of looking at the text that reinforced what people wished to believe rather than being truthful to what God was trying to do. That is the hermanuetic of which this series speaks and of which almost all of us are guilty from time to time.

  5. Tom says:

    Jay,

    I am praying for Rey as well. He has some issues the the Calvinist. Perhaps he was dumped by a Calvinist at one time or another.

  6. David G says:

    "What if this poor result [that Christians too frequently aren't truly transformed] is not in spite of what we teach and how we teach, but precisely because of it?" ~ Dallas Willard

  7. Terry says:

    Whatever hermeneutic may be used, we can still be dishonest with the Scriptures. At the same time, despite differences and flaws, honest Christians have opposed sins like racism throughout history. I am with you in opposing racism, despite our frequent disagreements in other areas.

  8. mark says:

    One part of me says scripture is a combination of stories, epilogs, and inserts and minor corrections. It is this way because God is this way in our world. There is no magic in the Bible where perfection exist. But another part of me longs for that perfection the just give the 3 most important commands and let me get on with my life.

    But like what others have seen in the world of the churches of Christ and many other fundamentalist groups perfection in theology is getting out of reach. Its not just about the historical fallacies of racism. It is about our failure to never be able live up to or ever achieve what Jesus did. We are imperfect interpreters. We fail miserably at worship and live too much like the worldliness around us. However in my own view when the Spirit of God is in us we seem to transcend the ambiguity of scripture and rise to the occasion. Sometimes we call that a movement and other times we call that the spiritual hero’s in time where church gets lost.

  9. Joe Baggett says:

    Here is another way our approach to interpreting scripture affected the race issue in the 1960's. I was not alive during this time. But I have read a lot and listened to family members who were alive at time. My guess is that we (churches of Christ) were so consumed with our doctrinal debates about instrumental music, Lord Supper every Sunday only on Sunday, and so on that we really just didn’t consider the race thing to be that important. However the scripture where Paul says everyone is the same in Jesus Christ I believe is breaking down all divisions of humanity such as race, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic groups etc… I also believe that the great commission is better translated to all people rather than all nations because what he is really saying is the Gospel is for everyone regardless of human classes and divisions. If it were just for every nation, that would leave out the poor or even the uneducated or different ethnicities within a single nation. The call is for Christians to break down all human division. To me it is completely counterintuitive to the Gospel for someone to call themselves a Christian and continue in apathetic or belligerent indifference to any other person or group of people that may be different by race, age, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic group and so on. It is not just race. I can’t tell you how many churches I have been in that either have no poor people or a completely disproportionate representation from the surrounding community. Now I am going to suggest this. Have all the religious rituals and acts copied from the first century to the enth degree is and was more important to us as a group (churches of Christ) than things like this. Why you ask? Because that is what we spend the majority of our time money and teaching doing. Only in the last year or so the Christian Chronicle has begun to address this issue. Papers like the Gospel Advocate and Gospel Preceptor, Seek Ye the old Paths and so on have yet to even begin to address these types of issues. They are too busy slamming the so called emerging church movement and other churches of Christ they believe are in error. One last comment. When people who come from lost and unchurched backgrounds look at us and other fundamentalists groups who a still largely segregated (though there a few exceptions) by race, education, and socioeconomic group, they see a club rather than disciples. They also see a sin that is plain and obvious even to people who do not know God.

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