Willful Blindness and Race

Willful Blindness and Race

I have been thinking about willful blindness. Many years ago, in a lectureship in Canada, I met a Christian lady who was born and raised in Germany before and during World War II. After the war, she became a Christian, but during the war, she was part of Hitler’s youth workers and active in the Nazi movement. As she talked about her leadership role in the Nazi movement, she spoke of being enthusiastic about the successes of Nazism and how it gave young Nazi workers pride and enthusiasm for the economic and social achievements it generated.

As she spoke, she became subdued and said that when she and other young Germans heard that Jews were being put in concentration camps and killed just because they were Jews, they didn’t believe it. “We are too smart, too religious, too kind to ever allow such things to happen. That can not be true!” She then looked up at me with tears in her eyes and said, “But we were so terribly, horribly, awfully wrong.”

I have often heard people say that they can’t understand how the German people allowed the persecution of the Jews under Hitler. The reason is willful blindness! As we are seeing and hearing the cry of our black friends and neighbors now in 2020, we need to have the courage to ask if we, too, are willfully blind.

Willful blindness is common to humans. In Matthew 21:7-11, we see people welcoming Jesus to Jerusalem with a huge parade and with cries of love and support. In Matthew 27:22-25, we see these same people crying, “Crucify him!!” In Acts 7:54-60, we see people killing Stephen and even covering their ears to avoid hearing the truth about what they were doing.

I am an old man, and I have lived and worked among people of color all my life. Yet until the last few weeks, I never heard about the horrible destruction and murder of over three hundred innocent blacks living in Greenwood, Oklahoma, on May 31-June 1 of 1921. A prosperous town known as “Black Wall-street” was made up of black homes and businesses. It was attacked, and 1265 houses were burned, 150 businesses destroyed and looted, and 9,000 left homeless.

How did I never hear of this tragedy? I never thought about the impact of how we all got here. My ancestors came to America to escape persecution and to look for freedom. My black friends are here because their ancestors were ripped away from family and home, taken on a trip they didn’t want to take, and denied basic rights and freedom. How have I ignored that fact? The answer is “willful blindness.”

In this time of having our vision restored, perhaps we need to be reminded of the words of a powerful song from the musical South Pacific and reflect on how they apply to us:

“You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear. You’ve got to be taught from year to year. It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear. You’ve got to be carefully taught. You’ve got to be taught to be afraid of people whose eyes are oddly made, and people whose skin is a different shade. You’ve got to be carefully taught. You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late. Before you are six or seven or eight, to hate all of the people your relatives hate. You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

Let us all work at getting rid of our own willful blindness and ask God to help us have the total spiritual sight that Paul talked about in Galatians 3:26-28.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Special Olympics and the Race of Life

Special Olympics and the Race of Life

As the parent of a special needs child, I have been a part of the Special Olympics for many years. Even though my child is too disabled to participate anymore, I sometimes attend just to watch the events. I especially like the races, and two of them stick out in my memory. They remind me of the race of life.

The first was a hurdles competition. Five runners had 100 yards of hurdles to navigate. The gun went off, and the racers all cleared the first four hurdles. They were pretty close together when one of them caught his foot on a hurdle and went down. He hit pretty hard, and immediately the other four racers stopped and ran back to him. They helped him up, hugged him, and then they all continued the race.

My other memory was a long-distance run with six runners who had quite varied abilities. One of the boys was much slower than the others, and they all lapped him. When they got to the finish line, they all “high-fived” one another. While they were doing that, the slow runner went by for his last lap. The other five runners moved toward the finish line, and as the slow boy came around the final curve, they began cheering. The crowd went nuts as he crossed the finish line.

The message in these two stories is so “Christian” in nature. Paul talked about “the race”` many times. In Hebrews 12:1, he said, “..let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, he uses the race as a picture of life. In 2 Timothy 4:7, he says, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished the race…”

Paul doesn’t say he won the race. He says he finished it. When I fall going over a hurdle of life, I need my brothers and sisters in the faith to help me get back on my feet so we can all finish the race. I do need to finish the race, and while I am not the strongest or the fastest, God has given me the ability to finish the race of life. In 2 Timothy 4:8, Paul wrote, “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge shall give me at that day: and not to me only but to all those who love his appearing.”

My special needs child and his friends in the Special Olympics have a better understanding of this than many of our theologians.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

You can learn more about Special Olympics HERE.

Race and Skin Color

Race and Skin ColorWhy do humans have different races and skin colors? If we all came from “Mother Eve,” should we not all be the same color? In the past, some people suggested that people of other races were not really human, and they used that argument to justify everything from slavery to infanticide. What is the truth about race and skin color?

It is interesting scientifically that only humans have mostly naked skin and along with that, different colors of skin. Other animals have hair and mostly light-colored skin. As science has told us more about skin color and confirmed that we all came from common ancestors, we find clues about race and skin color and how we should treat one another.

The most fundamental reason for skin color differences is the fact that humans live at different latitudes. It is quite evident that human populations that have lived near the equator for many generations tend to have darker skin. As one moves from equatorial Africa toward the north, there is a constant change in skin color. By the time you get to northern Scandinavia, you have very light-skinned people with blond hair and blue eyes. People living near the equator have black skin, black eyes, and black hair.

It’s easy to understand why. Take two tin cans and paint one black and the other white. Fill them with boiling water and measure their temperature five minutes later. Dark colors radiate heat faster than light ones, so the darker can will be cooler than the white one. In equatorial Africa, the problems of heat release are very significant, because our brain cannot be allowed to overheat.

Another factor is ultraviolet radiation from the Sun, which can cause many changes in living tissue, including cancer. Human skin produces a substance known as melanin for protection. Melanin, God’s sunscreen, is a large organic molecule which both physically and chemically reduces the effects of UV radiation. Melanin absorbs UV rays causing them to lose energy. It also neutralizes harmful chemicals called free radicals that form in the skin after damage from UV radiation.

Dark skin absorbs a high percentage of UV light. It is essential, however, not to lose all the UV. Another thing that UV light does is to allow the body to produce vitamin D. Farther from the equator, the amount of UV is less, so dark-skinned people may not get enough UV light to make vitamin D. Lack of vitamin D causes rickets, so lighter skin is better at latitudes away from the equator.

As humans have migrated all over the globe, their ability to produce nutrients like vitamin D has been reduced in some groups. The Inuit people in Alaska don’t get enough vitamin D from the Sun, but they eat fish, which is very high in vitamin D. Their diet compensates for the low UV exposure. The presence of melanin in the skin, the complex biochemical system that produces vitamin D, and the ability of the body to protect itself against overheating and nutritional problems all speak well of the wisdom and design of our bodies.

Psalms 139:14 says, “I will praise you, Lord, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Instead of allowing race and skin color to divide and cause hostility between us, we should celebrate God’s wisdom and design. They show that we have a universal Creator who designed and equipped us marvelously to live on a planet that has varied conditions and environments.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Human History in DNA

Human History in DNA
In the last decade, geneticists have learned how to decode DNA in ancient human remains. We can now begin to see human history in DNA. The media has saturated us with the theory that humans originated in Africa and migrated from there to the rest of the world. National Geographic was a major promoter of that theory, and it was based on the field work of a group of anthropologists like Louis Leakey who actively defended that view. Discussions about race have also been a part of this debate among scientists, and sometimes the exchanges have been less than cordial.

The most recent debate along these lines has come with the release of a book titled Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past by David Reich. Reich runs a lab at Harvard Medical School which has released a great deal of data in the past decade. In 2010 Reich’s lab informed us that all non-Africans have Neanderthal DNA in their genome. Reich maintains that race is a social construct and that differences in genetic makeup are geographically related.

A group of 67 scholars released an open letter on BuzzFeed.com objecting to Reich’s racial concepts. Other anthropologists have contended that the reality of our origins “is more complex and interesting than scientists ever imagined.”

The biblical description of human history is so brief that one should not look for conflicts with the biblical account. The Bible tells us that we are all related, and the fact that all races are fertile with one another supports that. The Bible does not tell us when Adam and Eve lived or how much time elapsed as humans migrated throughout the world.

A careful study of the Bible indicates that we are all equal and have a common ancestry. God’s design of our genome has allowed us to survive as a species for a very long time in spite of disease. Reich’s book supports that notion but gives us some idea of how the design has worked by examining human history in DNA.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Christianity and Racism

Christianity and Racism
The April 2018 issue of National Geographic is a special issue on race. The history of Christianity and racism has been very bad, and that is unfortunate for many reasons. The most fundamental reason is that it contradicts everything the Bible teaches. The history of science has been just as bad as the Christian denominations in promoting racism and slavery.

Some have called Dr. Samuel George Morton “the father of racism” because he released studies of the skulls of various racial groups and related intelligence to brain size. Morton claimed that there were five races and that they varied in intelligence with Caucasians being the most intelligent, followed by Mongolians, southeast Asians, native Americans, and Ethiopians in that order. When Morton died in 1851, the Charleston Medical Journal praised him for “giving to the negro his true position as an inferior race.”

Such labeling and poor scientific reasoning contradict all the Bible says about humans. If we all came from Adam and Eve, then obviously we are all created in the image of God and are of equal value. The flood of Noah would have wiped out whatever major variations there might have been in human genes. The reason races exist is because God designed humans to live all over the Earth. Major racial criteria such as skin color, physical structure, and hair are features built into our DNA to allow for adaptation to climatic conditions.

The divisions of humans in the Old Testament were not due to physical differences. Joseph was an Israelite, but became a ruler in Egypt, as did Moses. The things that caused national divisions and conflict were over lifestyles, moral choices, and worship. The separation between the Jews and Samaritans is spelled out in John chapter 4. The Samaritan woman was amazed that Jesus would talk to her (see verse 9) and his disciples also were also amazed (see verse 27). The thing that separated the Jews and the Samaritans were the religious histories of the two cultures.

Christianity and racism should never be connected. The Christian perspective is that all humans are created in the image of God and have equal value. Acts 17:26 tells us that we are all “of one blood for to dwell in the face of the earth.” Galatians 3:28 tells us, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” It is sad that people who claimed to be Christians rejected the clear biblical mandate that we are all equal in God’s sight.

Atheists and skeptics will use the National Geographic article to denigrate Christianity, but the fact is that Christianity contradicts racism. A Christian trying to follow God’s word cannot endorse everything that people claiming to be Christians have done in the past. Christ opposed human-created divisions and prayed that His followers would be united (John 17: 20-21). True Christianity and racism are not compatible.
–John N. Clayton © 2018