Two items dominate the calendar this week in the U.S.
First, the celebration of the civil rights prophet, Dr. Martin Luther King, with a national holiday that bears his name. And second, the partisan impeachment of Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States.
I will deal with impeachment next week when the circus dies down a little. Today I’d like to share some thoughts on race in America.
Dr. Martin Luther King would be pleased–and give God the glory.
“Great things He has done.”
The History of the Races
Let’s begin with a brief history of the races.
Races, tribes, and people groups all emerged after the global Flood about 4400 B.C. The Bible recounts the building of the Tower of Babel where early the descendants of Noah rebelled against God and were scattered all over the earth (Genesis 11:1-9).
Babel (“confusion”) is the sociological beginning of race differences and animosity. Of course, the real source remains human sin which goes all the way back to the Fall.
Genesis 10 lists seventy original founders of the nations or racial groups–all coming from Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Although the subject of the classification of the nations and the origin of languages is controversial, ethnologists agree that all of mankind can be divided into three basic groups.
Yes, the Bible is true.
Thus, any discussion of race must include sin and the Fall, Babel’s scattering and language explosion, seventy biblical nations emerging over thousands of years, eventually producing 16,000 people groups, speaking 6600 languages, now residing in 193 geopolitical countries and numbering 7.7 billion people.
That’s the make-up of the earth today–and the origin of the races.
Human history is filled with wars, racial prejudice and superiority, and broken relationships due to selfishness in the human heart (sin) which, like a cancer, makes its way into families and nations.
Conquering and being conquered, oftentimes without mercy, was the norm for human beings for thousands of years. One day your village or city would exist, and the next day it might be wiped out by a stronger invading army (race).
For most of human history, slavery was also normal–being one of the spoils of war and the greed of economic advance. Even during the Pax Romana (Roman Peace) when many races lived in confederated harmony, nearly half served as slaves until an explosion of Christian faith among the masses (an estimated 50% converting to Christ) led to slavery’s demise.
According to Rodney Stark, the growth of Muslim slave-trading during the Middle Ages revived the practice of slavery and enticed Europeans to compete economically–leading to the first African slaves coming to our shores in the early 1600’s.
Racial Tensions in America
European settlements in America brought skirmishes with the native populations and slavery continued to be practiced–as it was all over the world. But a growing acceptance of biblical ideals, championed by men like William Wilberforce in England, led to the abolition of slavery in 1833 and the freeing of 800,000 slaves in Europe and elsewhere.
It would take another generation and a great Civil War to bring emancipation to the nearly four million slaves in the United States on January 1, 1863 led by prophetic voices such as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman and civic leaders like Abraham Lincoln.
But another century was needed–especially in the southern states–to strike a final death blow to pride and prejudice against African-Americans. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was the prophet God called to lead that charge.
Jarrett Stepman shares the greatness of MLK:
“Much like Frederick Douglass, King didn’t shy away from criticizing America for failing to uphold the ‘self-evident’ truths cited in its founding documents.'”
“King was not so small-minded as to reject the ideas of the Declaration because its writer, a slave owner, failed to live up to them. Instead, he embraced those ideas as fundamentally correct and recognized how they were the key to bringing about a ‘new birth of freedom’ in his own time.”
“In his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, King called the Declaration of Independence ‘the most eloquent and unequivocal expression of the dignity of man ever set forth in a sociopolitical document.’”
“Even in the most tumultuous moments of racial tension in the late 1960’s, according to historian Peter C. Myers, King ‘was deeply grateful for America itself, for its original and enduring promise, and its native propensity for reform.’”
“King’s legacy is that he helped expand the founding promise of liberty and equal rights to all Americans. More than any other figure, he helped cash in that ‘promissory note’ of liberty and justice for all, which the Founding Fathers had left.”
“As is the case with many great men, King was not without his flaws. He flirted with and even embraced failed socialist economic ideas, and fell short in his treatment of women, if recently unearthed FBI documents alleging gross misbehavior are true.”
“Even still, as the late historian and political philosopher Harry Jaffa wrote of King: ‘He dreamed of a day when the principles of the Declaration of Independence would be fully realized, not only in the institutions of American government, but in the spirit of American society.’”
Dr. King’s dream is now becoming true.
When we talk honestly about racism in America, we must be clear about regional differences.
I grew up in the Pacific Northwest in the 1950’s and 1960’s where racial prejudice was relatively non-existent (in most western states). The African-American population was small but equal. I remember being color-blind, even when defeated for student body president by a popular black friend named Joe Washington. He went on to be a very successful news broadcaster in Atlanta, Georgia.
Most of the Midwest and Northeast also contained little racial tension. It was the North that fought to end slavery in the South and championed the plight of the enslaved.
The southern states were different with their history of slavery–then discrimination. God used Dr. Martin Luther King to destroy the remaining strongholds. When our family lived in 80% black-Washington, D.C. in the 1980’s, some of my best friends were African-Americans.
Many of them and their ancestors had suffered severely. But not at the end of the twentieth century and beginning of the 21st. Yes, there are always a few bigots in society, events like the Charlottesville clash in 2017 and, sadly, Anti-Semitism.
No nations are racially perfect–just like individuals and families.
But I’ve been to 49 states (not Rhode Island) and 200 towns and cities in the USA the past thirty years and can say with sincerity and joy that racism is essentially dead in America today.
Don’t believe the fake news and race baiting for political gain.
“The Lord has done great things for us. We are glad” (Psalm 126:3).
Let me conclude with a personal story.
This summer I was privileged to write the autobiography of one of my good friends–Dr. Corinthia Ridgely Boone. Corinthia is a racial reconciliation leader in our nation’s capital, chairperson of the Capital City National Day of Prayer and a proud African-American.
I am an equally proud Caucasian-American of Swedish and German descent (both were slaves to the Vikings during the Middle Ages).
I am as opposite of “Dr. Boone” as could be.
But we collaborated all summer on her memoirs. I worked hard to take her life and teachings and express them in her “voice.” We were like salt and pepper spicing up a good meal.
On February 22, her book will be unveiled at her 85th Birthday Celebration at the Museum of the Bible in D.C.
How’s that for racial cooperation and triumph?
“Great things He has done.”