Roots of Racism

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time – August 27, 2017

By Father Thomas McCabe

How did we inherit such terrible sins as racism and slavery? The Bible gives insight. We read in the Old Testament how Goliath, a towering Philistine, and David, a ruddy servant of King Saul, but first and foremost a servant of the one true God, stood on opposite sides of the valley of war.

Goliath issued this challenge: “Why come out in battle formation? I am a Philistine, and you are Saul’s servants. Choose one of your men, and have him come down to
me. If he beats me in combat and kills me, we will be your vassals; but if I beat him, you shall be our vassals and serve us.” 1 Samuel 17: 8-9

From this passage we can glean the ethics of that time and culture, that the people who lost a war were then enslaved and seen as inferior to their conquerors. Yet, the Jews were called to release their slaves every seven years, and would treat aliens and runaway slaves in an equal manner.

The back story to all injustice and war begins with the Fall of mankind when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate from the forbidden fruit. Instead of seeking God in prayer to discover what is good and evil, the first couple, seduced by Satan, took things into their own hands. Their disobedience to God, Original Sin, brought spiritual death and disharmony into the world that leads to all conflict and eventual physical death.

Yet, God showed them mercy and promised that eventually a woman would give birth to a child who would crush the serpent’s head, just as the serpent was biting at the heel of the man. The Church Fathers and Saintly scribes saw this as the first mention of the Gospel: that a woman, Mary, the New Eve, would give birth to Jesus, the Messiah, who would crush the serpent’s head by dying on the cross, even while his heels were driven through by the death-dealing nail. Genesis 3:15.

To read Genesis outside of the developed teachings of the church, one could easily miss this and also misinterpret the single origin of mankind. For in Genesis 1: 27-28a, we read: “God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and God said to them: Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.”

But in Genesis 2:7,15 we read: “then the Lord God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being…and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it.”

Did God create two different branches of the human family, those from the heavens white as the clouds, and those who are dark like the dust, who labor in the fields? Unfortunately, some Fundamentalist Christians read it this way, instead of seeing these two stories as two different, but complimentary perspectives – the Catholic interpretation.

White Supremacists and others might misuse even the New Testament, namely, 1 Timothy 6:1-5: “Those who are under the yoke of slavery must regard their masters as worthy of full respect, so that the name of God and our teaching may not suffer abuse. Those whose masters are believers must not take advantage of them because they are brothers but must give better service because those who will profit from their work are believers and are beloved. Teach and urge these things. Whoever teaches something different and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the religious teaching is conceited, understanding nothing, and has a morbid disposition for arguments and verbal disputes.” They seem to easily forget this pastoral concern that “they are brothers” in the Lord, and the cultural context of Christians being in the minority of the political rulers. There was slow but significant progress by the Church under different political entities to liberate individuals and races, but the Church always had the seed of truth in human dignity as St. Paul wrote about the baptized and the call to holiness, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave or free, neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:27-28

Those who use the Bible to support racism and slavery fail to realize the cultural context and the fact that the Bible does not have the definitive last say, but rather God does, since Jesus gave the keys to our first Pope, St. Peter, (Matthew 16:18-19) in order to interpret the text accurately and definitively. There is clear evidence that Pope Eugene IV in 1435 condemned slavery, although many Catholics did not listen to the Pope back then. Does that sound familiar as many Catholics still are slaves to sin and vote for Catholic politicians who support abortion and other perversions? Let’s not tear them down, but let’s have a real conversation based on God’s truth, love and patient mercy.

Fr. McCabe


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