In my last installment, we covered how it has long been the goal of many white evangelical Christians to force their interpretations of the Bible into national law. We compared their zeal with Islamic Sharia law, because their objectives are identical: To base societal laws on religious texts, making everyone subject to religious dogma whether one practices said religion or not.
No Biblical interpretation is more fraught than the curse of Ham.
In the book of Genesis, Noah (of Flood-and-Ark fame) had three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. While the Bible never mentions race, it is big on the geneology of its various stars. Genesis chapter 10 details the descendants of Noah as his sons and their offspring rushed to repopulate the earth.
By most accounts, Ham was Noah’s middle son. The name Ham means “dark” or “sunburnt” or “black.”
One can already see where this is going.
According to Genesis, Ham’s youngest son Canaan was cursed because Ham saw his father Noah’s drunken nakedness. Scripture is silent on the nature of the curse, but that hasn’t stopped people from using the “he was cursed with Blackness” interpretation, drawn from Ham’s name, as a means to subjugate others since ancient times. According to Black History and the Bible:
The attempt to make Ham the target of the curse is the very definition of false teaching, when the verse clearly names Canaan as the target of the curse. As the story unfolds, we see that Ham was the one that discovered his father naked and immediately told his brothers. From these three verses, many false teachers have decided to create false doctrine to push on the church.
The Bible does not say that he uncovered his father’s nakedness.
The Bible does not say he had sex with his mother.
The Bible does not say he had sex with Noah.
The Bible does not say he castrated Noah.
There are no indications that any of the above scenarios took place, and yet these teachings are very prevalent within the church. Those that teach or follow such doctrine are either deceiving, being deceived, or both.
This false interpretation was used by slave traders and southern plantation owners to justify enslaving African peoples. In the minds of many United States founders, it also justified excluding African people from the statement All men are created equal. To quote Britannica:
In his initial draft of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson condemned the injustice of the slave trade and, by implication, slavery, but he also blamed the presence of enslaved Africans in North America on avaricious British colonial policies. Jefferson thus acknowledged that slavery violated the natural rights of the enslaved, while at the same time he absolved Americans of any responsibility for owning slaves themselves. The Continental Congress apparently rejected the tortured logic of this passage by deleting it from the final document, but this decision also signaled the Founders’ commitment to subordinating the controversial issue of slavery to the larger goal of securing the unity and independence of the United States.
In many parts of America but especially in the south, this weaponization of the Bible is still deployed in churches to support racist discrimination toward peoples of color. The curse of Ham teaching is still so prevalent in the south, Black Southern Baptist pastor Dwight McKissic introduced this resolution condemning racism and the curse of Ham at the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix, Arizona:
“Whereas, the roots of White Supremacy within a ‘Christian context’ is based on the so-called ‘curse of Ham’ theory once prominently taught by the SBC in the early years — echoing the belief that God through Noah ordained descendants of Africa to be subservient to Anglos — which provided the theological justification for slavery and segregation ….”
In the evangelical church of my upbringing, the curse of Ham was taught from the pulpit as justification for viewing people of color, but especially Black people, as inferior. Because if the Bible is the ultimate authority, and the Bible says people of color were cursed (again, it doesn’t), then following God’s law means discrimination and subjugation are not sins. Efforts by Man to pass laws promoting equality may be disregarded and disrespected, because God’s law trumps Man’s law.
When one understands these racist underpinnings, it is not difficult to fathom how white evangelical Christians stand next to groups like the Proud Boys and the Ku Klux Klan.
Many white evangelical Christians use the Bible to justify their feelings of white superiority. They are more offended by a Catholic crucifix (“The Bible says Jesus ascended into heaven. He isn’t on the cross! This Catholic nonsense is wrong!”), than they are aghast when Klansmen burn crosses. Even though they may pay lip service to equality, many white evangelical Christians stand back and stand by when confronted with racism, because supporting discrimination and racism serves their purposes.