Many people charge the Bible with being sexist and racist. Whether the Bible is sexist and racist goes to the heart of who the Bible says God is. What does the Bible say about these things? How does the Bible describe men, women, ethnicity, diversity and human life?
Is the Bible accurately portrayed in the media on these issues? Is it accurately understood by the common person? Is the Bible accurately followed by the people who claim the Bible as their guiding light?
These questions are relevant today as Black Lives Matters and women’s marches and gatherings make the news and immigration policy is being debated in the national media in the United States.
How do we value human life? What is the basis for the value of human life?
And what does the Bible really say about these things?
This begins a five part series that looks at the evidence of how God views sexism from a biblical overview and evidence of how God views racism from a biblical overview, followed by the evidence in the Bible of the way Jesus viewed sexism and the evidence in the Bible of the way Jesus viewed racism.
History is a chronicle of racism and sexism. The historical structures of our world have perpetuated those attitudes since time immemorial. Societies and cultures have treated “others” as second class citizens all throughout history. The strong have enslaved and oppressed the weak, and men have oppressed and lorded their strength over women since the beginning of recorded time.
The strong have always oppressed the week. The study of history is the study of the strong oppressing the weak. History is taught from war to war, which is the ultimate expression of racism, oppression and devaluation of human life. Humankind has tended throughout history toward seizing power and abusing that power at the expense of other people.
As enlightened as we see ourselves today, these themes continue even as we make active, intentional efforts to overcome this tendency of human nature. We have taken steps to eliminate racism and sexism, but racism and sexism persist. We abolish slavery, and the institution of slavery is replaced by Jim Crow laws and social structures that continue to oppress. We abolish segregation and pass civil rights laws, and they are replaced by systematic criminal justice policies that disproportionately imprison black men, and so on.
For all the women’s rights campaigns and laws aimed at eradicating the legalized oppression of women, women are still objectified everywhere we turn. Men continue their predatory behaviors and boast of it (even the President of the United States), and domestic abuse continues its toll primarily on women.
Richard Dawkins, the famous atheist who wrote The God Delusion, blames the God of the Bible for being oppressive and immoral, as do many people today. He says this:
“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
The fact is that the Bible has been used to justify racism, sexism and other things like that. But, are those things what the Bible really stands for? Is that the message of the Bible? Is the Bible really racist and sexist?
I think the Bible is clearly not those things.
Anyone can use another’s words and twist them for their own purposes. We should forget what people say, and consider what the Bible really says. We should begin with the overarching message of the Bible on the issue of human value, racism, sexism, etc. We should consider what the Bible reveals to us about the heart of God in these matters.
I believe the Bible answers these questions and gives us the foundation for declaring, objectively, that racism, sexism and oppression of other people is unequivocally wrong.
We can start in Genesis, where we are told that God created the world in the beginning and created people in His likeness. He created us in His image – male and female. It takes both male and female to reflect the image of God. He created us with a purpose, and we are told His creation was good.
I think we can all agree, however, that the world is not as it should be. The Bible explains the dystopia of the world as sin. Sin means, literally, missing the mark. Sin is a distortion of God’s purpose and what is good. We are told that sin entered the world through choices humans made after the world was created, but Genesis gives us a picture of what God’s purpose and goodness looks like before the distortion of sin.
Some people blame God for the dystopia of the world, but the Bible places the blame on us. After the initial idyllic start, we are told that things go wrong. As a timeless being, God certainly saw what lay ahead, but He chose to press forward anyway, because it was part of accomplishing His purpose.
This is because people, the crown of God’s creation, are given free will. People are given the ability to choose to be like God or to choose to go their own ways, adopting values that are different than God’s values.
Sin is the exercise of that free will to choose purposes and values that are not God’s purposes and values. The Bible explains that the result of choosing purposes and values that are not God’s purposes and values is that the world becomes a place that distorts God’s purpose and values – a world that is contrary to the way God intended it to be.
This is all part of the plan. It’s not as if an omniscient, omnipresent, eternal God was caught off guard by this development. It was probably inevitable that any created being, if given the choice, might exercise that choice to go in a different direction. There would have to be a back up plan if God’s purpose was to be fulfilled. The Bible is the story of that backup plan – God’s redemption of the world after going its own way.
In the meantime, we muddy the water. We choose values at odds with God’s values. The Bible tells us the world we know is not the way God intended and purposed it to be when He created it, but it will be redeemed. We all sense that the world is not the way it should be, but we aren’t very good at fixing it because we all tend to want to go our own way (even in our attempts to fix the wrong in the world).
In the Old Testament, we are told that God provided a Law for His people to live by that was temporary. It was not ideal. People would try for a time to live by it, but they never did a very good job. Paul tells us in the New Testament that the Law was a stop gap. It was given as an instructor for a time to make us aware of our sin (showing us that we miss the mark). It was eventually replaced by a different law introduced by Jesus.
Actually, it isn’t replaced so much as the old law, the stop gap that pointed toward something else, is fulfilled in the new law. The law to which the old rules only pointed is revealed in Jesus. Jesus showed us by His life what living by the Law looks like because he kept it perfectly. At the same time, He pointed us beyond the Law.
If we want some idea of God’s ultimate purposes and values, we need to look to Jesus and jump to Revelation where we get a glimpse of what the world looks like when it is redeemed. Revelation foretells when God will restore the order He intended. Focusing on Genesis, and then on Jesus and finally taking a look at the glimpse we get in Revelation of the way things should be, we can see a more accurate picture of God’s values and apply them to the issues of racism and sexism.
If we want to get an idea of what God really intended for the world when he created it, and what He still intends, we need to understand that the world in which we presently live is not representative of God’s ideals. We need to go back and look at Genesis, and we need to look forward to Revelation where we are given a glimpse of what it will be like when God restores the world to His purposes and ideals. We also need to look at what Jesus, who claimed to be God in the flesh, says.
With this backdrop, we will cover sexism specifically in Part 2 and Part 4, and we will cover racism in Part 3 and Part 5 of this series on whether the Bible is sexist and racist. I hope that you will keep an open mind to what the Bible says that is relevant to these issues. In the meantime, to get a flavor for where this is going, please take some time to view the video below.
Inspiration for this series comes from a presentation by Lara Buchanan: