Diametrically Opposed Belief Systems

If it was puzzling to me how, in spite of the presence of God and the Bible there could be such racism, I was comforted to learn that I was not the only one. The history of this hypocrisy. Throughout history, the pro-slavery and anti-slavery proponents argued their case for their points of view. The pro-slavery proponents believed that God had created and sanctioned slavery, while the anti-slavery proponents believed quite the opposite. A good God, argued the anti-slavery advocates could not possibly approve of how  Africans were being treated, but pro-slavery champions went to passages in the Bible to “prove” that God did in fact approve of the institution. In Frederick Douglas, David Blight wrote that “Dougles loved the Declaration of Independence, but since its principles were natural rights, like the precious ores of the earth, he refused to argue for their existence or their righteousness against the claims of pro-slavery ideologues. “What point in the anti-slavery creed would you have me argue?” he asked in his famous Fourth of July speech. “Why must he prove that the slave is human?” Rather, Douglas claimed his authority from two great scriptures, “the Constitution and the Bible.”

Much later, Howard Thurman, the great spiritualist, described the inherent and indigenous tension in the United States. In spite of both the Bible and the Constitution, Thurman noted that “for a long time the Christian Church has profoundly compromised with the demands of the Gospel of Jesus Chirst, especially with respect to the meaning and practice of love. The Bible and the Constitution notwithstanding. Thurman wrote that “it was taken for granted that the very existence of law was for the protection and the security of white society. 

It seemed that Black and white society had two diametrically opposed belief systems when it came to how to treat not only Black people but also all people, since, as the Creation story taught us, everyone was made by God. Douglas, Thurmand, and so many others based their beliefs on how God intended for people to be treated on the Great Commandment, found in all three Synoptic Gospels, which said that humans were to love the Lord their God with all their hearts, minds, and souls, and their neighbors as themselves. Many white Christians, however, used as their guide the words found in the Great Commission, found in Matthew 28:19: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” They viewed it as their godly duty to civilize people whom they believed were inferior to them; God gave them the mandate, they believed to exercise dominion over all the creatures of the earth, including people of color. That way of interpreting the BIble was the foundation of the concept of Manifest Destiny, the nineteenth-century belief that the expansion of the United States, which included subjugating people and their cultures, was the will of God, based on the words of the Great Commission. In the present day, Christian nationalists believe that it is a “God-given responsibility to moralize the world through the use of force.” One group of people sees the primary command of Jesus as it being necessary to love one another and build community, while the other group believes the duty of Christians is to exercise dominion over others and to gain political power, something we will examine later. Both groups call themselves Christians. Both read the same Bible and both are made up of American citizens, but neither group sees or interprets the Bible or Constitution in the same way.

From “With Liberty and Justice for Some: The Bible, the Constitution, and Racism in America” by Susan K. Williams Smith

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