What Does Archaeology Have to Do with Racial Justice in Modern Times?

A new voice is rising up that is reconnecting social justice to the truth of scripture

The Dead Sea Scrolls on display at the caves of Qumran that located on the edge of the Dead Sea in Israel.

“These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to one another, render true and perfect justice in your gates. And do not contrive evil against one another, and do not love perjury, because all those are things that I hate – declares the Lord.” Zechariah 8:16-17

A major archaeological discovery was made recently in some remote caves in the Judean Desert. Among the discoveries were, coins from the time of the Bar Kochba Revolt, the skeleton of a child dating back some 6,000 years, and a 10,000-year-old exceptionally well-preserved basket. (From 2,000-year-old biblical texts found in Israel, 1st since Dead Sea Scrolls by Rossella Tercatin for the Jerusalem Post, March 16, 2021.)

These items were found in “the Cave of Horror” in the Nahal Hever area of the Judean Desert. The Nahal Hever is an intermittent stream in in the West Bank, flowing from Yatta to the Dead Sea. At the head of the stream are two caves, the “Cave of Letters“, and, further up, the “Cave of Horror“.

Though the caves are hard to access, looters have raided them over the years. Archaeological efforts many years ago netted portions of the Book of Numbers, Psalms and Deuteronomy. Until recently, people might have assumed all artifacts to be found in those caves had already been removed.

The Greek scroll of the minor prophets found at Nahal Hever may even be the most significant find to date. Some date these fragments in the 50 years before Christ, and others date them in the 50 years after Christ. We don’t really know, but scholars seem to agree that the fragments come from “an early revision of the Septuagint in alignment with the Hebrew text”.

Modern archaeological finds continue to affirm Scripture and the continuity of Scripture through the ages. Poignantly for today in these times, the discovery of the scroll of the minor prophets found in the Nahal Hever speaks to an age old theme.

The passage in Zechariah 8 quoted above was found among the fragments. From old, from ages and ages past, we find that God desires truth and justice from His people.

“Speak the truth to one another, render true and perfect justice in your gates.”

I am reminded that God’s desire for justice and truth from His people is the same today as it was then. I think about these things after listening to the Disrupters podcast in which host, Esau McCalley, spoke to the political strategist, Justin Giboney. As they were talking about faith and politics, I realize that justice and truth continue to be priorities for God, and only the circumstantial details have changed.

I have written about Esau McCaulley before. Justin Giboney is cut from the same cloth. He went to Vanderbilt and played football there. After law school, he was working for a law firm when he got involved in politics and found he had a passion and some gifting in the political arena.

During this time, he was reconnecting and growing deeper in his faith. A clash between faith and progressive politics led him to a personal crisis. At the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, NC in 2002, a question was put to the delegates whether to keep the phrase, “God-given rights”, in the platform. The loudest voices demanded removal, and it was eliminated from the platform.

Justin said, “It was a crazy moment for me.” The experience brought him to a crossroad. “I have to distinguish myself from this party”, he thought to himself, “Nobody is really representing my community on some of these issues. We care about social justice, but we also care about moral order.”

The interesting part of the conversation, for me, came when Esau McCauley said with a chuckle, “I know the answer to this question, but I am going to ask it anyway: Why didn’t you just become a Republican?”  

Justin’s response was intended for “the wider audience” (people like me): “It wasn’t even really an option”, Justin said, “Unless you are going to be ‘exactly like us’, there is really no conversation.”   

“There isn’t really a conversation,” McCaulley agreed, “about the issues that affect the African American community” in the Republican party. “It’s not just a set of policies”, added McCaulley, “It’s about the narrative of America…. That narrative just doesn’t fly in black and brown communities.”

Many religiously conservative African Americans feel alienated from both parties, but African Americans have tended to go along with the Democratic party without standing up on the moral issues because they can’t abandon their social consciences to defect to the Republican party.

Most African Americans, don’t feel they can go to the Republican party because “there is almost no concern about civil rights and no conversation about racial justice”. That leaves them stuck with the Democratic party, which is “cool about the trappings of faith” but not keen on things like the sanctity of human life.

The answer to the dilemma for Justin Giboney was to carve out his own path. He began to gather Christian with politicians in the Democratic party and dialogue with them. That effort led to the formation of the AND Campaign that combines a concern for issues of social justice with a concern about morality.

Up to that point, Justin observed, combining social justice efforts with a concern for moral order wasn’t an option. For the black community, social justice issues took priority over moral order because of the “Exodus motif” in their history and collective experience. They couldn’t be true to their past experience if they abandoned social justice.

Today, some people are rising up with a traditional black church perspective on social justice who are orthodox in their religious beliefs. These are not black conservatives who parrot the talking points of conservative culture (downplaying issues of social justice). They also aren’t progressives who are willing to leave their faith at the door to social justice.

People in this movement understand the importance of social justice and civil rights, and they understand biblical faith. These people are forging a new path forward. Included in this group are people like Justin, Giboney, Esau McCaulley, Charlie Dates, Lisa Fields, and Jackie Hill Perry.

“Something is happening. It’s a big deal!”, says Giboney. This new group of young, black, justice-minded people who have a strong, biblical faith are speaking to and connecting with people of divergent perspectives in a way that resonates.

People in the progressive camps don’t know what to make of this movement. They expect this new voice that champions morality to be evangelical and “white-centered”, but it clearly isn’t. This voice is clearly coming from within the perspective of the black narrative. This movement is reconnecting social justice to the truth of scripture.

The scrolls of the minor prophets found recently in desert caves evidence God’s heart for justice and truth from thousands of years ago. Just as God was doing then, God is always bringing His people back to justice and truth.

I am excited to be catching on to what God is doing in these days. I believe He is calling white evangelicals to link arms with our black brothers and sisters in this movement.

My hope in writing on this topic is to amplify that voice. As members of the body of Christ who have not experienced the sin of slavery in our ancestry, and the sin of racial animus and oppression in our collective past, who have not known the lasting effects of that sinful past in our present lives, we need to learn to bear our brothers’ and sisters’ burdens.

I don’t know exactly what that should look like, but I am committed to the biblical principal of it. This isn’t critical race theory. This isn’t a Marxist idea. This isn’t progressive politics. This notion of bearing each other’s burdens is profoundly biblical.

We need to embrace it because we love our neighbors. We need to embrace it more importantly, because we love God, and God loves justice and truth.

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