EPHESIANS 2:14c (cont.)
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 2:14c (part 2) “. . .and hath broken down the middle wall of
partition between us;. . .;”
Atop the rubble of a broken down “middle wall of partition,” people of all cultures can embrace at the foot of an old rugged cross. Here is the only hope for a cruelly divided world which continues to yearn for peace.
“There is just enough room in the world for all the people in it, but there is no room for the fences which separate them” (Father Tyler of Boston). How can Christians help remove fences and middle walls of partition?
First, we must dispel myths and dispense truth. Error must be exposed. Some demean certain peoples by saying their lineages are cursed of God. As “proof,” the detractors point to the mark God put on Cain (GN 4:15) or to the curse placed on Ham’s fourth son, Canaan (GN 9:25).
Biblical evidence refutes such foolish notions. The mark placed on Cain was for his benefit and protection, not for his harm. His curse was to be “a fugitive and a vagabond” (GN 4:12). God marked Cain to protect him, to keep anyone from laying a hand on him to harm him (GN 4:15).
The curse on Canaan was fulfilled by Joshua’s invasion of Canaan’s land. The few Canaanites strong enough to resist this invasion were later dealt with by Solomon (2 CH 8:7-8). Canaanites ceased to exist as a distinct entity in ancient times. Therefore, the curse upon them is now moot.
Nobody ever suggested blacks were cursed from Ham and Canaan until the 1800s. “The idea was created out of whole cloth by those who wished for help in their unbiblical support of slavery” (Barnhouse).
Second, we must accept the Biblical and scientific fact that all human beings belong to a single species. The Bible teaches we are one blood (AC 17:26), one family (GN 3:20). All 5.3 billion persons on earth are descended from Adam and Eve, on whose DNA all human traits were gently sprinkled. God did not make all trees alike, nor all flowers the same color. Variety, without which the cosmos would be dull, is the trademark of His creation, and a hallmark of His crowning creation, man. Our traits rise from genes and chromosomes present in Adam and Eve, and later in Noah’s family.
Even evolutionists believe all mankind sprang from the same ancestral stock. Intrinsic biological differences do not exist. All efforts to divide people into races by skin color have proven futile. At least 32 hues of skin color have been identified. Scientists long ago dropped the biological concept of “race.” Anthropologists stopped talking about race over fifty years ago.
The concept of “race” was invented by people who wished to justify the practice of subjugating certain other peoples. Genetics, with its insights into the chemistry of humanity, unlocked the riddle of race: there is one race, the human race. Dr. Jerome Rose, chairman of the anthropology department at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, says his school has taught this at least 18 years. Julianna Flynn, cultural anthropology teacher at the University of Arkansas, Little Rock, says it is also taught there.
If this truth is revealed in Scripture, confirmed by genetics, known by scientists and anthropologists, and taught by professors in universities, why is it avoided in our pulpits and in our Senior High, Junior High, and Grade School Social Studies classes? I think we know the answer to the question. For fear of riling up bigots, we are guilty of a conspiracy of silence.
Third, we have to acknowledge differences do exist between peoples, but must not let these variations become hatred-barriers. The differences which cause troubles between us are caused by cultural factors, not biological ones, but exist nonetheless. It is foolish to minimize differences. Even when we have unity, distinctions exist, and we should be able to discuss them in love. Chinese smile a lot, Russians tend to be more somber. The Welsh take pride in their warm hospitality, Englishmen are a bit more reserved. Koreans are slow to touch others, Italians are demonstrative.
Differences exist. The tragedy comes when people “exaggerate differences and turn them into barriers, into obstacles, curtains, middle walls of partition” (Lloyd-Jones). Variety was intended to provide beauty, but when sin entered our world, human nature began to say, “My uniqueness is better than yours.” Prejudice, a curse on humanity, roots itself deeply in self centered pride and builds middle walls of partition. Ego exaggerates what “we” have, and detracts from what “they” have. Prejudice makes “our” side look good, “their” side look bad, and, unwilling to see things as they truly are, refuses to hear facts for fear of losing a favored standing.
Early on, sinful human nature spawned hatred and suspicions which elevated differences to the level of hatred-barriers. Rather than appreciating differences and trying to accept one another, we began to separate, to cluster in small look-alike, act-alike, groups. Even the evolutionist concedes people began to separate soon after they were formed. The main divider was skin color, for it is the most obvious physical difference between groups.
As time passed, differences which separated became more pronounced due to continued isolated breeding. Geographical and social barriers inhibited free gene flow between populations. Thus, various traits became dominant in certain cultures, and formed the basis of efforts to classify people.
Despite our differences, we hold much more in common than in distinction. For instance, if you have type A blood and need a transfusion, a person of your skin color with type B blood cannot be of help. However, a person of a different skin color with type A blood can save your life.
Fourth, we must admit all cultural groups have a “history.” A reason our differences cause trouble is they come with a lot of extra baggage. Our social connections are complicated by the fact all peoples have a past. Where the histories of two peoples have clashed, the present is made more difficult. We Americans are experiencing two classic examples of this truth.
Our land has been in a never ending upheaval, trying to establish a society based on equality for all peoples. Whitefield was amazed at America. In most countries where he preached, nobility came to the front while common people went to the rear, but in America, all stood on equal footing side by side. What has made America unique is its effort to draw varying cultures together, hoping to produce unity in the midst of diversity.
In some cases, we did well. Europeans who came by the millions were assimilated into the mainstream of our culture. In my day, Asians who came in droves were fairly well received. Most peoples found America to be hospitable, but there have been two sad exceptions to America’s “melting pot” experience. We have not done well with the two groups with which we share bad “history.” Our worst tragedies and failures been with the groups who were forced to come (blacks), and forced to leave (Indians).
The recent riots in Los Angeles have reminded us some hatred-barriers still stand tall among us. We still have a long way to go in building adequately good relationships between whites and blacks.
I once feared the black-white rift was irreconcilable, but on a mission trip to Brazil years ago, I saw firsthand that skin color can be overcome. In Brazil blacks, whites, and every color in between, mix socially and even maritally without anyone casting a second glance. Brazil has no bad “history” to undo. Slaves were freed in Brazil by proclamation of an Empress who, when a little girl, promised her beloved black nanny their release. Brazil fought no war to free its slaves. Emancipation was accomplished in love and peace. There were no 600,000 deaths, as in our Civil War.
America has bad “history” to overcome, but has nevertheless made some progress. Certain government programs have worked. Bureaucracy can be chaotic, and meddle too much in our lives, but the Civil Rights Laws have made a difference for the better in many ways. No one can rightly stereotype blacks as either rich athletes or poor slum dwellers. The growing black middle class is a major factor in America’s changing social scene. In 1976, 66% of black teens completed high school; the number is now 78%.
Christians must press for even more progress, and lead the way in healing dissension. Many believers wrongly supported slavery, but others were in the forefront of the antislavery movement. Presbyterians and Quakers especially carried the banner here. Livingstone, Wilberforce, and others led the way overseas. It is high time for believers to step in the gap again.
Christians must also lead the way in healing the bad “history” rift with native Americans. Again, many believers were wrong in their dealings with Indians, but other Christians were right. William Penn, practicing the teachings of Christ, had peace with every Indian tribe he encountered. The Pilgrims, also in the spirit of Jesus, with the help of Squanto entered into a peace treaty with the Indians which lasted forty years. The teachings of Christ have worked in the past and can work again.
Regarding blacks, Indians, and all others, we must tell people to drop their stereotypes, to end racial jokes and slurs, to look past one’s skin color. The issue is not the hue of one’s flesh, but the holiness of one’s heart. We must get past the surface, and consider mind, body, and soul. In Jesus all barriers come down–no walls, no classes, no castes, no race, no gender.
Jesus is too big for any one group. Ours is an international Christ. He has bound Jews and Gentiles, and people of every climate, together. Even His name could not be entirely Hebrew or entirely Gentile. Jesus is Hebrew, Christ is Greek. He was born in Judea, but Magi came from the Orient to hail Him. Egypt protected His infancy, Galilee His childhood. His disciples were Jews, but one bore the Macedonian name Philip.
Jews thronged Him; Greeks also came, saying, “We would see Jesus.” At His feet, Jewish Mary listened (LK 10:39), and a Syrophoenician woman found “crumbs” (MK 7:24ff). Jesus was judged by a Jewish High Priest, a Gentile procurator, and by Herod, a Jew/Gentile Idumean mix. Jesus’ cross was borne by a North African, and bore a superscription written in Latin and Greek, as well as Hebrew. A dying thief of Israel saw Him as a king; a soldier of Rome confessed, “Truly this was the Son of God.”
The attack against prejudice must be led by the followers of this cosmopolitan Christ. “Modern progress has made the world a neighborhood: God has given us the task of making it a brotherhood” (Sir Philip Gibbs, The Cross of Peace). We can do it and must do it, for we are the followers of the only One who supersedes all class distinctions.
For this message I am indebted to my regular sources, plus the following:
1. Dr. Harold Renfrow, Southern Baptist missionary who arranged my trip to Brazil, and taught me much about the culture and people of Brazil.
2. An editorial by David Gergen, editor at large, U.S. News & World Report, “The Two Nations of America,” May 11, 1992, page 76.
3. An article by Mara Leveritt, Arkansas Times, “The End of Race,” October 1991, pp. 57ff.