One part of my life’s history that I don’t talk about a lot is my experience with racial issues growing up in a divided society. As a child, I lived for several years in Alabama, where my father had his first college teaching job at Talladega State Teacher’s College. He and the school president were the only whites on the staff, and I was the only white kid in my school. All of my friends were black, and the people we knew in our daily lives were black. We never had a problem with anyone in that community.
When we left the campus area, we had problems. I remember when I had my tonsils removed. My mother had to take me to Birmingham to have it done. She told me later that when they brought me out of the operating room on a gurney, covered with blood, the doctor shoved the gurney at my mother and said, “Here nigger lover, you clean him up.”
We moved to McComb, Illinois, where my father got a job at Western Illinois University. When people learned that my father had taught at an all-black college and that I had attended an all-black school, we had all kinds of problems. The fact that I had spent grades 2, 3, and 4 in an all-black school meant to a lot of folks that I was inferior, and it was okay to beat me up. I tell you this to point out that now as a Christian and having had that experience, I can relate to the current struggles with prejudice and abuse in America.
Jesus dealt with similar issues throughout His life. John 4 tells us of His exchange with a Samaritan woman. Verse 9 says that the Jews avoided and rejected the Samaritans because they were of mixed race and had different religious beliefs. She was a woman, married five times, and living with a guy she wasn’t married to. Jesus addressed her needs and taught her. In Luke 8:26-39, Jesus showed compassion to a man who was severely mentally ill. The crucifixion of Christ happened because people had the same willful blindness that permeates our society today. The people who welcomed Him to Jerusalem in Matthew 21:7-11, crucified Him in Matthew 27:22-25.
The early Church faced massive persecution. In Acts 6:8-14, a man named Stephen was doing great things in the community. In Acts 7:54-60, the community stopped their ears and stoned him to death when he stated religious facts they didn’t want to hear. Christians are still being persecuted today. Racial prejudice still survives today. Children are still growing up in a divided society. We must replace hatred and division with love and service. That’s the only way our world can survive. If Christians don’t lead in this vital matter, who will?
The Bible makes it clear that there is no justification for racism for those who follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. When men make up their own religions, there is always prejudice and division involved. The classic example has been Mormon racial prejudice in the original teachings of the Latter Day Saints Church.
The original leaders of the Mormon church denigrated black people. John Taylor who was the president of the church wrote in 1845 “The descendants of Ham, besides a black skin which has ever been a curse that has followed an apostate of the holy priesthood, as well as a black heart, have been servants to both Shem and Japeth…”
In 1852, Mormon leader Brigham Young wrote, “If there never was a prophet or apostle of Jesus Christ spoke it before, I tell you, this people that are commonly called negroes are the children of old Cain…I know that they cannot bear rule in the priesthood, for the curse on them was to remain upon them…”
In 1859, Brigham Young wrote, “Cain slew his brother… and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin … How long is that race (blacks) to endure the dreadful curse that is on them? That curse will remain on them …”
Modern day followers of these men have repudiated the Mormon racial prejudice statements, but it is evident that the founders of the Mormon Church were men who were driven by the prejudice of their day. The ignorance of these statements is typical of humans when they establish their own religioninstead of following what Jesus taught.
One of the oldest controversies among anthropologists is over whether a “splitter” view or a “lumper” view is the most accurate description of human history. As scientists study ancient fossils, they have to determine whether they should be split into different species of hominids or lumped into races of one human species. One of the famous splitters was Louis Leakey who attached a new name to every find he made. Because of his long and productive life in studying the fossils of Africa his names have stayed around for a long time.
Other anthropologists have suggested that many of the specimens with unique names were actually just racial variations. Races can look very different and yet still be one species. There is just one human species. Looking at the skeletal remains of a Pygmy and a Swede, one might conclude that they are two different species, but they are fertile with one another, and they are one species. Racial characteristics are usually related to climate. Skin color is related to how close to or how far from the equator ones’ ancestors have lived. Lighter skin color can absorb more vitamin D from limited sunlight, and dark skin gives greater protection from the harmful rays of the Sun.
All of this has been getting attention recently as scientists study the DNA of the remains of various humans. The London Natural History Museum has just released a study of the DNA of the so-called “Cheddar Man”–a human skeleton discovered in Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, England, in 1903. The study suggests that this person had dark skin, blue eyes, and curly hair. The theory is that the British landmass was connected to continental Europe and that humans migrated into the area with some of them coming all the way from Africa.