This paper by Marika Rose (h/t The Magnificast) is really helpful in thinking through the issues of racism and queer-phobia in Christianity and Quakerism I discussed yesterday. In it, Rose shows how contradictions within Christianity itself gave rise to racism as we know it. Progressive Christians like to cite Galatians 3:28 (“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus”) as a statement of inclusivity, but that statement leaves the question of what to do with those who are not in Christ Jesus unanswered. Or rather, as the history of Christians over the centuries shows, it was answered—by oppressing non-Christians, a category that over time took on racial connotations.
One other thing Rose’s paper shows, though she doesn’t discuss it, is the limits of relying on scripture as a guide for navigating the world we live in today. By this I mean not simply the usual anti-fundamentalist bromide that the Bible isn’t meant to be used as an instruction manual for life, but rather that the biblical narrative itself is incomplete without accounting for the 2,000 or so years that have passed since the last of the scriptures were written. Imagine a Bible that ends with the handing down of the Law in Deuteronomy, or that ends with the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of Judah to Babylon in 2 Kings; in both cases, they would offer very different pictures about who God was and what his purposes were than in the Hebrew Bible and New Testament as we have them today. Similarly, to talk about the Christian faith as something derived from the Bible without talking about how it has been lived out in actual history, warts and all, leaves a dangerously distorted picture of what the faith is or should be. It’s almost as if the Bible is merely a declaration of the fountain, and not the fountain itself.