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Why the Biblical Defense of Traditional Marriage is NOT like the “Biblical” Defense of Slavery

“Evangelicals will more or less come to embrace homosexuality in the next 20 to 30 years,” Jeremy Thomas, professor of Sociology at Idaho State University, predicts. “I would put all my money on that statement.”
 
They will "grow out of" their disapproval of homosexuality and gay marriage.  Just like they like they "grew out of" their approval of slavery based on race. So goes the conventional wisdom.
 
But there is a vast gulf between the Biblical argument to defend slavery and the Biblical argument to defend homosexuality and gay marriage. In order to defend the enslavement of blacks based on race, white Southern antebellum preachers had to resort to a tortured theological construct. How tortured?
 
When we stand before God I would not want to be Josiah Priest (1788-1861). His Bible Defense of Slavery (1843) twisted Scripture and the minds of thousands and helped launch the civil war. For those who equate the Biblical defense of slavery to the Biblical defense of traditional marriage: read just how tortured…and think again…

 
Here is Priest’s painfully twisted argument. Quotes in italics are from Bible Defense of Slavery [Warning: It's the most racist thing I've ever read. It grieves me that this argument presumed to use God's Word and speak for him and Noah]: 
 
Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth. According to Priest, Ham was Black. How do we know? 
 
The word Ham, in the language of Noah, which was the pure and most ancient Hebrew, signified anything that had become black; it was the word for black…
 
Well, possibly…According to Easton’s Bible Dictionary: “Ham” derives from “warm, hot, and hence the south; also an Egyptian word meaning "black.”
 
And from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Ham is “The name given, in Ps 105:23,17; 106:22,  to Egypt as a descendant of Ham, son of Noah. As Shem means "dusky," or the like, and Japheth "fair," it has been supposed that Ham meant, as is not improbable, "black." This is supported by the evidence of Hebrew and Arabic, in which the word Heb: chamam means "to be hot" and "to be black." 
 
So the word itself may signify hot or black. Was it because Ham had black hair? Darker skin? We don’t know. But Priest makes an extraordinary leap of logic: Because climate doesn’t change human color, and because blacks are so strong it couldn’t mean “diseased,” the only possibility for Ham’s name possibly meaning “black” is the following:  
 
God made all things, superintended the formation of the two sons of Noah, in the womb of their mother, in an extraordinary and supernatural manner, giving to these two children such forms of bodies, constitutions of nature, and complexions of skin, as suited his will. Those two sons were Japheth and Ham. Japheth he caused to be born white…while he caused Ham to be born black…wholly contrary to nature, in the particular of animal generation, as relates to the human race.
 
Now we get Preistly’s "color commentary" on the relationship between "Ham" and “black.”
 
Other meanings of Ham: heat and violence of temper, exceedingly prone to acts of ferocity and cruelty, involving murder, war, forgeries, and even cannibalism, including beastly last, and lasciviousness in its worst feature, going beyond the force of these passions as possessed in common by the other races of man. Second, the word signifies deceit, dishonesty, treachery, low mindedness, and malice. 
 
What a group of horrors are here, couched in the word Ham, all agreeing, in a most surprising manner, with the color of Ham’s skin, as well as with his real character as a man, during his own life, as well as with that of his race, even now.
 
From Priest: Because Ham looked on Noah’s nakedness Noah cursed Ham, condemning him to be a slave to his brothers forever.
 
From Genesis 9: 22-27 (After the flood Noah planted a vineyard and became drunk and slept uncovered in the privacy of his tent.) Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father's nakedness and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father's nakedness. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father's nakedness. When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him,  he said, "Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers."  He also said, "Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem. May God extend the territory of Japheth; may Japheth live in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be his slave."
 
Notice that Noah cursed Canaan, one of Ham’s sons, Not Ham. But Priest does not let the facts of Scripture stand in his way.
 
Cursed be Canaan (Ham)… Less the reader should become perplexed, respecting the application of this anathema, on account of the text above referred to be, in the English, "cursed Canaan" instead of "cursed Ham," as it should have been translated; we state that the Arabic, which is a language of equal authority with the Hebrew, and originally the very same, reads "cursed Ham," the father of Canaan, a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.
 
In this sense it is ever been understood by all commentators, in every age, on the sacred writings. Bishop Newton thus understood the passage, who also refers the reader to the Arabic Bible for the true reading, as does Adam Clarke.
 
Newton maintains, page 19, at considerable length, that the curse of Noah upon Ham, had a general and an interminable application to the whole Hamitic race, in placing them under a peculiar liability of being enslaved by the races of the other two brothers.
 
Again we have Priest’s commentary on how Noah must have felt as he uttered the curse inspired by God’s Spirit:
 
Might we be allowed to imagine the state of Noah's feelings on that occasion, and also to give words to those feelings, they would be as follows: "Oh Ham, my son, it is not for this one deed alone which you have just committed that I have, by God's command, thus condemned you and your race; but the Lord has shown me that all your descendents will, more or less be like you, their father, on which account it is determined by the Creator that you and your people are to occupy the lowest condition of all the families among mankind, and even be enslaved as brute beasts, going down in the scale of human society…for you will and must be, both in times of peace and war, a despised, a degraded and an oppressed race.
 
Really? In a sermon series by Bob Deffinbaugh here on Bible.org we read a much more scholarly explanation of Noah’s curse: 
 
"While it is true that the sins of the fathers are visited on the sons, this is only “to the third and fourth generations” (Exodus 20:5). If this principle were to be applied, all the sons of Ham should have been cursed. 
 
"By prophetic revelation, Noah foresaw that the moral flaws evidenced by Ham would be most fully manifested in Canaan and in his offspring. Knowing this, the curse of God falls upon the Canaanites because of the sinfulness Noah foresaw.The emphasis thus falls upon the fact that the Canaanites would be cursed because of their sin, not due to Ham’s. I think this explains why Canaan is cursed and not Ham, or the rest of his sons.
 
"The words of Noah, then, contain a prophecy. Canaan will most reflect the moral flaws of his father, Ham. And the Canaanites will manifest these same tendencies in their society. Because of the sinfulness of the Canaanites foreseen by Noah, the curse of God is expressed. The character of these three individuals and their destiny will be corporately reflected in the nations which emerge from them.
 
God hated the extraordinary sexual immorality of the Canaanites and how they burned their babies in the fire as an act of worship. Israel carried out his judgment when they conquered them and put them to the sword.
 
This is why Biblical scholarship matters. Popular pamphlets and sermons and books like Priest’s contributed greatly to the four years of American civil war and over 620,000 deaths, as well as the enduring plague of racism.
 
*******
In summary, Priest's book is rife with logical fallacies and complete fabrications:  
He commits the logical fallacy that would go like this:
Ham's name definitely means black.
Everyone whose name relates to a skin color must have that skin color. 
Therefore, since Ham's name relates to the color black he had to have black skin color.
 
In the rules of logic, if you cannot prove either the first or second premise, which he has NOT, then your conclusion is invalid.
 
Priest further fabricates a story of Ham being born black, even though his parents were Semitic, and credits the supernatural work of God. 
 
Priest then claims that Noah, being a prophet, could foresee the infirredemable darkness of Ham's soul and that he would pass his depraved character on to all his descendants. So in the power of the Spirit Noah curses Ham and all his descendants.
 
Faced with the reality that Noah cursed Canaan and not Ham, Priest conveniently switches to the Arabic Bible and keeps on weaving his tangled web.
 
The curse meant that all descendants of Ham will serve all descendants of Shem and Japheth. Forever. Priest also made a case that since blacks were so inferior they needed to be enslaved. 
 
It is not sinful to enslave the Negro race, providing it is done in a tender, fatherly and thoughtful manner, having the fear of God before our eyes… It is the abuses of the institution of Negro slavery which have recently, by divine providence, arouse the sympathies of man, but not the principle itself, as God cannot resist his own determinations.
 
Motivated by economic reality, our forefathers here in the South grasped at illegitimate interpretations of Scripture to defend slavery of blacks. The results were disastrous then and still haunt us now.
 
These bogus arguments and prideful patronizations are a millstone around our necks. As we read them we should be disgusted that our southern churches taught these lies and perversions. That our families used them to justify their way of life. Where we have opportunity and as God's Spirit moves us we should offer our profound apologies and acknowledge that we were so wrong about slavery. Maybe we will want to pray with Nehemiah (1:6), confessing the sins of our people which "we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned." 
 
I believe God has judged his church for this sin and we still experience the consequences of that judgment as we seek to hold up the wisdom of Scripture to make the case for one man/one woman traditional marriage. We have made it easy for our voice to be dismissed because we were so wrong about a Biblical defense of slavery.
 
But that shouldn’t weaken our belief in traditional marriage. The Biblical message about traditional marriage is so different. 
 
Contrast the southern church's tortured defense of slavery based on race with the straightforward reading of just a few Scriptures. There are more:
 
Leviticus 20:13   13 "'If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.
 
Romans 1:25-27   They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator– who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.
 
1 Corinthians 6:9-10   9 Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
 
Matthew 19:4-6  (Jesus speaks) "Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."
 
These are really painful verses for those who experience same-sex attraction. Who want to be a part of a church community. Who want to marry their lesbian or gay partners. And we should be very tender to them.
 
But is the answer to reach for a tortured Biblical defense of homosexuality and gay marriage? Historically speaking, that approach is not worthy of true followers of Christ. The "Biblical defenses" for homosexuality and gay marriage are not made by orthodox Christian scholars who take a high view of Scripture. For a scholarly answer to gay/lesbian attempts to explain away these Scriptures see this article and booklet by Al Mohler.
 
Progressives expect that we will grow out of our objections to homosexuality and gay marriage as surely as our forefathers grew out of their defense of slavery. 
 
Hopefully they are wrong. Hopefully Prof. Thomas is wrong and in "20 or 30 years" we can collect "all his money."
 
Hopefully time will show that our stand for God's design for sex and marriage will gain increasing respect as the rush to legitimize gay marriage hits the wall of reality and the toll on civil liberties, relationships and children adds up. Just as the toll of abortion on demand has become increasingly apparent. 
 
Hopefully we will continue to speak truth and live in steadfast love of God and others. Even when we are being compared to the defenders of slavery and racism. 
 
Lael Arrington
Faith and Culture: Living wisely l Loving well
 
PS. My apologies to the first 38 people who read my last blog. It posted before I finished writing. Now you can read it and actually get the point.
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Lael writes and speaks about faith and culture and how God renews our vision and desire for Him and his Kingdom. She earned a master's degree (MAT) in the history of ideas from the University of Texas at Dallas, and has taught Western culture and apologetics at secular and Christian schools and colleges. Her long-term experience with rheumatoid arthritis and being a pastor’s wife has deepened her desire to minister to the whole person—mind, heart, soul and spirit. Lael has co-hosted a talk radio program, The Things That Matter Most, on secular stations in Houston and Dallas about what we believe and why we believe it with guests as diverse as Dr. Deepak Chopra, atheist Sam Harris and VeggieTales creator Phil Vischer. (Programs are archived on the website.) Lael has authored four books, including a March 2011 soft paper edition of A Faith and Culture Devotional (now titled Faith and Culture: A Guide to a Culture Shaped by Faith), Godsight, and Worldproofing Your Kids. Lael’s writing has also been featured in Focus on the Family and World magazines, and she has appeared on many national radio and television programs. Lael and her husband, Jack, now make their home in South Carolina.

One Comment

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    SonShine

    Kudos ! Bravo!

    It is courage that sent you to your typewriter to dispell these arrogant and false arguments and you repelled them al with the swoop of your pen. Excellent blog, tender yet strong. Thoughtful to share your ideas and thoughts in a time when we are facing the world's condemnation of what God calls good and pure and holy. VP Biden needs to read this as do many others in our nation. It reminds me of that verse that says we will see a day when men call evil good and good evil. I believe we are there now. 

    May the Lord bless you and put his hedge of protection aboout you. 

    Blessings

    Gaye