Affirmative Action?

14 June 2024
We live in a country in which racial discrimination is considered one of the greatest crimes that can be committed.

By: John Van Der Brink

Any individual, business, corporation, or institution that speaks or who follows policies that unfairly prefer one person to another based on their skin color is sure to be condemned by those who notice, and often end up in jail or paying a heavy fine. This reaction to punish the perpetrators has often gone to such an extreme that today we often see what is called reverse discrimination – the unfair advantage of those with a certain skin color over those by whom they experienced discrimination in the past. Today’s affirmative action is a prime example of a good thing gone bad. Other cultural uprisings such as Black Lives Matter is another example of gross overreaction.

But what is the root of this discrimination and this overreaction? The answer is that quite frankly our country and some other countries have a sad history of slavery. Thousands of black people were captured from their homes in Africa and forcibly transported to other countries where they were sold as so much property and then forced to work for their masters, often under horrible conditions for the rest of their lives. This sad state of society lasted for many generations in America until the hearts and minds of many leaders began to question and oppose these unjust practices. Even Christian men and women were at odds with each other on the issue of slavery. Some justified it based on Scripture and long-standing custom; others vigorously opposed it because of its cruelty and by citing the same Holy Word.  Resistance to abandon what for many was a lucrative business eventually led to a Civil War in our country before it was finally abolished by the Emancipation Proclamation of president Abraham Lincoln .

Or was it really abolished? Is racial segregation gone? Is discrimination a thing of the past? Do all Christians condemn judging others because of skin color?

Slavery in our country is gone. But there are still some people who harbor feelings of superiority over black people and they base their feelings on the Bible! They believe that there is a curse placed by God through Noah after his son Ham mocked his wicked conduct. “Cursed be Canaan, a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren”. This verse has stifled the conscience of many slaveowners and been used to try to justify the slave trade. And it is still used as an excuse, even in Christian circles, to speak disparagingly of those with a dark skin color.

Cursed be Canaan – what does this actually mean and how did it become so misconstrued? Noah had three sons – Shem, Ham, and Japheth. His youngest son was Ham who had four sons – Cush, Mizraim, Put, and Canaan. Since Ham was the son who mocked his father’s nakedness, why did Noah curse Canaan his son? The Bible does not explicitly say why, but it is quite possible that Canaan participated in this event, and Noah condemned the seed of Ham that would descend from Canaan because of his wickedness. Later it was seen that Canaan was cursed, they did become servants and slaves to their brethren, and it was because of the curse pronounced upon them.

But the other three sons of Ham were not cursed. Some claim that the descendants of Ham settled in Africa, became black in skin color, and therefore black people are cursed, and slavery and mistreatment are justified. But only some of his sons settled there; others including the Canaanites did not settle there, and their skin probably retained a medium skin tone common to most Middle Easterners even today.

So, the Canaanites, who were cursed by Noah, did not have black skin color. To treat black people as if they were the ones who were cursed is based on a flagrant error.

Regardless of what happened centuries ago, it is completely unchristian for anyone today to regard those of any ethnic group or of any skin color to be inferior to their own race. How haughty are they who think their ancestors, or their skin color somehow makes them better than others! There is no curse on a certain skin color, and there is absolutely no biblical basis today for any such thoughts. Before God, we are all the same – sinful creatures in need of washing and cleansing by the blood of Christ.

On the opposite side, and equally appalling are those who use skin color to claim special rights, reparations, affirmative action, or special privileges. This is reverse discrimination, and it also is an insidious evil undermining peace and stability in society.

One more thought. We all are products of our culture. Our way of thinking is often shaped, at least partially, by the way people around us think. That is why some of our forefathers, like John Newton, George Whitefield and others, as well as statesmen like George Washington and others were once slave owners. But when the light of God’s Word focused on the ungodly nature of these practices, some of these same men became the most ardent leaders against slavery. But change did not happen overnight. In some cases, it took generations, a lot of soul-searching, and a shameful admission of guilt before it disappeared. Perhaps there are still traces of it, even in our own communities, but it should be identified and forsaken.

Our children are growing up in a very confused divided world. They can readily see slavery is wrong. But they also see that an overreaction is wrong. College campuses and work environments are powder kegs of racial sensitivities – one wrong word or action and a social explosion occurs.

 We are all descendants of Adam, equally fallen, equally in need of spiritual renewal and restoration. In God’s sight, we are all of one race – a fallen human race. May the Lord bind these things upon our hearts. Then no one will place himself above anybody else.

John Van Der Brink, director of the Netherlands Reformed Christian School in Pompton Plains, New Jersey, and a member of the Board of Directors of Christian Council International (CCI)