In 1970 I sat in a school assembly at a private Christian high school in Hialeah, Florida, to hear a biblical defense of its policy of excluding black students—a policy that had begun to be an issue for many of the white students.
The first explanation was general—that God intended the peoples of the world to be separate and pure—first evident in Noah’s famous curse against his son Ham, traditionally believed to be the father of the African races: “Cursed be Canaan [Ham’s son]; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren” (Gen. 9.25). This chestnut had also been used in the antebellum Baptist churches of the South to defend the enslavement of black Africans. Now it was used to defend segregation.
Further, the speaker pointed out that, throughout the Old Testament, God commands the Israelites to keep themselves separate from the inhabitants of the land He has given to them. God Himself promotes racial division—even genocide—to ensure that Israel will remain morally and ethnically “pure.”
The speaker also pointed out that blacks had their own churches and thus were capable of forming their own Christian schools, if they liked, separate but equal. The speaker even boasted that our school contributed generously to a number of black congregations around Dade County.
Last, the speaker invoked the apostle Paul in the Epistle to the Romans: “I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died” (Rom. 14.14-15).
The speaker affirmed that, for himself, nothing was actually “wrong” with intermingling with people of other races, but there were brethren of tender consciences who could not abide the presence of black people in their white church, and it was out of consideration for these weaker Christians, so easily offended and grieved, that the racial divide ought to be maintained.
The irony here is explosive. The quoted passage, in its whole context, is in fact a direct rebuttal against the Old Testament teachings of separation. Paul is calling for Jews and Gentiles to come peaceably and lovingly together. And he further urges the Roman churchgoers to welcome minorities into their midst and accommodate their somewhat overwrought dietary scruples. But here our speaker used these words to defend racial discrimination as a sop to the bigots, for whom integration was indeed “unclean”—though, of course, the speaker himself was no bigot, he assured us.
On this same occasion, a classmate of mine rose to her feet to support the speaker’s reasoning. Her voice quavering, she too quoted scripture, “‘What communion hath light with darkness?’” What could be clearer? God wants whites and blacks to be separate.
So, this week, I’m reminded of the compassionate conservatives and God-fearing Christians who, without an ounce of hate for gay men and lesbians, so they say, chose to deny basic rights and legal privileges to homosexuals, i.e. marriage and adoption—on the grounds of certain parts of the Old Testament that condemn sexual impurity (almost as much as the scriptures condemn racial impurity and promote genocide)—and vote in policies not only for their own inbred, paranoid congregations and schools, but for the whole state of California (or Florida, or Arizona, or Arkansas).
And further they defend this singularly un-Christlike action by claiming to defend the children, as well as the tender-conscienced bigots, failing to consider that perhaps one in twelve of those children will grow up to love his or her own sex—and that easily one in three of those bigots have sex hang-ups that would make the average hooker blush.
The more “liberal” among them, including our new president elect, his competition, and the current President, offer the consolation of civil union—separate but equal-ish. Some, like Governor Palin of Alaska, pat themselves on the back for disagreeing (however un-emphatically) with extremists who would grind the gays down into the mud.
How do these righteous souls justify their anti-gay rhetoric?
They are God’s people, easily grieved and offended, protective of their children and their weaker brethren.
They are the majority and can do what they damn well please to minorities (even if, in other respects, they too are minorities).
They have the right not only to disapprove of and condemn other peoples’ lives, they can, within whatever legal boundaries still exist, persecute and destroy those who live such lives …
And—this itself must be some kind of miracle of divinely regenerating love—while their boot heel rests on the brow of the despised homo, they can proclaim themselves to be God’s martyrs for righteousness, abused, persecuted, and unjustly reviled … by the makers of South Park.