Many people are familiar with the portion of our Declaration of Independence that states:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
While this document appears to be as self-explanatory as can be, concerning the rights and equality that all Americans are entitled to, history has shown that many in the United States have ignored the “all men are created equal” part.
African-Americans have been the unwilling victim of racism in this country since inception, and sadly, many of those people who have embraced racism have used religion as a systematic tool to justifiably oppress them.
BLACK RELIGIOUS REFUGE
See, Black people have always had to deal with religion being a tool to justify slavery and ill treatment.
Following the slave revolts in the early 19th century, states like Virginia and others passed a law requiring black congregations to meet only in the presence of a white minister.
Many black slaves didn’t want to be constrained to having a white minister oversee them and justify slavery in the process. In plantation areas, slaves organized underground churches and hidden religious meetings called the “invisible church.” It is through the black church that black slaves were provided psychological refuge from the white world that treated them inhumanely and unjustly.
Many racist slave owners and American citizens would use select scriptures from the Bible to justify and legally sanction slavery.
For instance, Americans, Europeans and South Africans considered Africans the children of Canaan and have used Genesis 9:20-27 to justify the enslavement of Africans for centuries:
“When Noah exited the ark, he planted a vineyard. He sampled too much of his wine, got drunk, and lay naked inside his tent…….Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Ham had a son named Canaan. Ham saw his father’s nakedness, but his brothers walked backward into the tent to avoid the sight. When Noah awoke, he put a curse on Ham’s son, declaring that Canaan “shall be a slave to his brothers.”
Others use scriptures from the Song of Solomon 1:5-6 to justify their racist positions, which states:
“I am black but beautiful, O daughters of Jerusalem . . . Do not gaze at me because I am dark, because the sun has gazed on me. My mother’s sons were angry with me; they made me keeper of the vineyards.”
That verse of scripture has been used by religious racists as biblical justification that dark-skinned people or people of color are to cursed and beneath everyone else, therefore occupying a lower position on the racial ladder and are destined to be slaves and serve others.
RACISM AND RELIGION AS A TOOL
There is an undeniable relationship between religion and racism.
Statements are often used to define the religious foundation and core of America, such as “America was founded on Christian principles” and “America is a Christian nation.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “Eleven o’clock on Sunday morning . . . is the most segregated hour in Christian America.”
One would need to look at the core of the country’s foundation, along with the historical treatment of African-Americans in this country, in order to better understand how religion has been used to discriminate against them.
During most of the Civil Rights movement, many white Protestant and Catholic church leaders refused to get involved and speak out against the atrocities faced by African-Americans. They were noticeably absent during most of the marches, protests, bus boycotts and voter-registration drives.
Dr. King wrote his blistering “Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” in response to a public statement by eight prominent local church leaders. These eight influential leaders, some of them bishops of the Catholic, Episcopal, and Methodist church, labeled King an outsider and an extremist while publicly denouncing him.
In the letter, King expressed his tremendous disappointment with the leadership within the white church and accused them of being content “to stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities.”
As a result of his direct appeal and in-your-face letter, many segments of the white Protestant and Catholic churches got engaged; the most significant being the 1965 Selma March in which many priests and religious ministers participated.
RACISM IN THE MORMON CHURCH
Brigham Young, founder of Salt Lake City, was a prominent and well-respected leader as President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church) from 1847 until his death in 1877. Young is generally credited with having been responsible for revoking the priesthood and temple blessings from black members of the Mormon Church, who had been treated equally in this respect under Joseph Smith’s presidency.
In 1863, Young is reported to have said, “Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so.”
After settling in Utah in 1848, Young announced a priesthood ban which prohibited all men of black African descent from holding the priesthood. In connection, Mormons of African descent could not participate in Mormon temple rites such as the Endowment or sealing. These racial restrictions remained in place until 1978, when the policy was rescinded by President of the Church, Spencer W. Kimball.
KU KLUX KLAN AND RELIGION
It was nothing to see Ku Klux Klan members dressed in their robes and attending church.
“Christian Identity” is the name of a religious movement uniting many of the white supremacist groups in the United States. Identity’s teachers promote racism and sometimes violence. Their roots are deeply embedded in movements such as the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazis. They consider themselves true Israel and view the Jews as half-devils and arch enemies. They believe all but the white race are inferior creations. Identity’s religious views are bizarre and occultic, and their view of history is often informed by conspiracy theories. Identity’s use of the name “Christian” to promote racism and violence is blasphemous. The movement has become the uniting force among many white supremist groups. Included in most religious teaching produced by its leaders are racist statements that echo the statements of other white supremacists. The most moderate groups publish hate literature; the more radical groups turn to violence, including murder.
The burning cross is synonymous with the Klan and has been used as a symbol of intimidation by the Klan. The burning of the cross was used as a symbol of Christian fellowship, and its lighting during meetings was steeped in Christian prayer, the singing of hymns, and other overtly religious symbolism.
RACISM AND RELIGION TODAY
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
When looking at the treatment of the first African-American President and other elements of disrespect of the black culture by many people who claim to be Christians, it is evident that religious racism is alive and well today.
In 2009, two pastors came forth stating they were praying for Obama to die.
Rev. Wiley Drake, a former second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention, told Fox News Radio that he was praying for the president to die.
Drake, a well-known minister of a denomination that once supported slavery said, “If he does not turn to God and does not turn his life around, I am asking God to enforce imprecatory prayers that are throughout the Scripture that would cause him death.”
Pastor Steven Anderson of Phoenix stood by his sermon when he encouraged his congregation to join him in praying for the president’s death.
“I hope that God strikes Barack Obama with brain cancer so he can die like Ted Kennedy and I hope it happens today,” he said. “I’m gonna pray that he dies and goes to hell when I go to bed tonight. That’s what I’m gonna pray.”
There is a spiritual song with the following lyrics: “ …what a mighty God we serve. Angels bow before him, heaven and earth adore him.” So my question is what god do the religious zealots serve? The same ones who appear to be so strongly against people of color, and would even ask God to kill them.