Saturday, February 27, 2010

Interracial Relationships, the Bible, and the Baha'i Faith

The intersection of religion and race is something I've had an interest in for some time. Someone forwarded me a really interesting piece of writing about whether the Bible supports or does not support interracial relationships. Here's a portion of the piece:

"Adam was not white. In modern terms, he was a black man. By studying the original language, we can learn that the name Adam means “reddish brown.” A derivative of this same word is used later in Genesis to describe the lentil soup that Esau wanted his son to make for him. If you’ve ever seen lentils, there are many types, but none are white. The most commonly used lentils in this time would have been red/brown and yellow.

Establishing that Adam, and in fact many peoples written about in the Old Testament were not white, as we know it, is just one building block in dismantling the argument that interracial relationships aren’t biblical. Secondly, we have to look at the scriptures that people may misconstrue to say something they really don’t.

We see plenty of times in the Bible where God forbids his people — the Israelites in the Old Testament; the Jews in the New Testament — to intermarry with other people. Yet in every instance where God commands it, his reason was religious, not racial. He doesn’t want His people to be woven together with those who worshiped pagan idols. The best example of this is found in Deuteronomy 7:

When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you… Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the Lord’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you.” (Deuteronomy 7:1-4, NIV)

Note that in verse four, God’s purpose for forbidding marriage between His chosen people, the Israelites, and the pagan nations was because they would take them “to serve other Gods.” God was concerned, not about their physical appearance, but their spiritual appearance and whether their spouse would distract them from their focus of serving God. In fact, God was so opposed to these nations that, in verse 5, He told the Israelites to “Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols in the fire.” But be clear — this is not a racially based hatred, but rather one based in their idol worship and sacrifice." (Read the whole thing)

This whole question of whether the Bible supports or does not support interracial relationships is fascinating on many levels. One thought that occurred to me is that it represents the continued influence that religion has in peoples lives. Even in what many would argue is an increasingly secular age, many people still turn to their faith to resolve questions of contemporary life such as who they should select as a mate. Another issue is that,while the author makes convincing arguments that the Bible does not discourage or forbid interracial relationships, there is a difference between acceptance of an act and endorsement of an act. This is one area where there is a clear distinction between the Baha'i Faith and Christianity and most other religions for that matter. What is implicit in other faiths (interracial relationships are acceptable) is explicit in Baha'i teaching. In fact the Baha'i Faith goes beyond passive acceptance of interracial relationships and actively encourages them.

"Colors are phenomenal, but the realities of men are essence. When there exists unity of the essence what power has the phenomenal? When the light of reality is shining what power has the darkness of the unreal? If it be possible, gather together these two races, black and white, into one Assembly, and put such love into their hearts that they shall not only unite but even intermarry. Be sure that the result of this will abolish differences and disputes between black and white. Moreover, by the Will of God, may it be so. This is a great service to humanity." (Compilations, Baha'i World Faith, p. 359)

The active encouragement of interracial relationships, I believe, represents as an aspect of this new stage in the evolution of the human soul and human civilization:

"That which was applicable to human needs during the early history of the race could neither meet nor satisfy the demands of this day and period of newness and consummation. Humanity has emerged from its former degrees of limitation and preliminary training. Man must now become imbued with new virtues and powers, new moralities, new capacities. New bounties, bestowals and perfections are awaiting and already descending upon him. The gifts and graces of the period of youth although timely and sufficient during the adolescence of the world of mankind, are now incapable of meeting the requirements of its maturity."
(Abdu'l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 9)

Passive acceptance of interracial relationships is no longer sufficient for a maturing human race becoming conscious of its oneness. The Baha'i Faith recognizes this and elevates such relationships from a expression of love between two people to an expression of their love for God. It gives these relationships spiritual significance, making them an act of faith. Given the role that religion plays in human motivation, the implications are profound.

"Religion, as we are all aware, reaches to the roots of motivation. When it has been faithful to the spirit and example of the transcendent Figures who gave the world its great belief systems, it has awakened in whole populations capacities to love, to forgive, to create, to dare greatly, to overcome prejudice, to sacrifice for the common good and to discipline the impulses of animal instinct." (The Universal House of Justice, 2002 April, To the World's Religious Leaders, p. 2)

What do you think reader?