Mr. Crosson: Just replace the word “Bible” with “US Constitution” in your recent article — “With Liberty and Justice For All: Why the Bible Promotes Equality” — and we have a deal.
Finer details aside, when we Americans talk about “liberty and justice for all” we are alluding to equal rights for all human beings regardless of their race, gender or religion. As a naturalized American of Asian descent, I firmly attest to the fact that our constitution lives by these values. But the Bible?
Last year while I was waiting for my flight at Milwaukee airport, a Christian priest (who was distributing literature at a kiosk) engaged me in a conversation. The topic? You guessed it. How the Bible offers liberty and justice for all. As the discussion got deeper, my eight-year-old son felt nervous and wanted me to leave.
Suffice it to say, the Bible is an umbrella with many holes when it comes to the rain showers of equality.
So allow me to ask three questions along the lines of racial, gender, and religious equality and what the Bible has to say about it.
Let’s tackle racial equality first. My black Christian friends typically avoid this topic. Take for example Exodus 21:20-21 which says: “If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property.” One could gloss over these verses if there was no evidence of harm done. But is it not true that Sunday morning eleven o’clock is the most segregated hour in our country? Wasn’t the Southern Baptist Convention formed on the premise that Bible sanctions slavery? Isn’t it the Bible’s lack of equal rights for men that became the genesis of historic books like Civil War, A Theological Crisis in the nineteenth century America?
And even within slavery, the Bible seems to treat Israelites differently. Take, for example, Deuteronomy 24:7 which mentions, “If a man is caught kidnapping one of his brother Israelites and treats him as a slave or sells him, the kidnapper must die. You must purge the evil from among you”. The verse seems to suggest that God’s tolerance for possession of an Israeli slave is much lower than a non-Israeli slave.
And then comes the question of gender equality. Did the Bible treat women with liberty and justice? Did it give them basic rights, such as a right to own property, right to inheritance, right to marry, right to divorce, or even a right to vote? How do we make a claim for “equality” when Corinthians 14:34 states, “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted to them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also said the law. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.” Really? So no free speech either? And Ecclesiastes 25:22 seals the deal of a women’s fate by proclaiming, “Of the woman came the beginning of sin, and through her we all die.”
And the third and biggest concern I have is the lack of religious equality in the the Bible. For every verse that suggests religious tolerance you could find two more stating an eternal hell for folks who do not believe in Jesus Christ as their savior. The Bible specifically seems to set the stage for modern tropes in anti-Semitism if you look at verses like, Thessalonians 2:15, “You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to everyone.” Who is to say as to what extent such verse may have played a role in atrocities committed against the Jews including the Nazi Third Reich and the Holocaust? The point is not to put down a spiritual text. But the claim of equality is not well grounded in the Bible.
So let me tell you why my son was uncomfortable with the conversation at the Milwaukee airport. When the priest ran out of arguments he looked at me and said, “If you don’t believe in Lord Jesus as your savior, you will be going to an eternal hell.” That seemed to be an offer for equality, justice and liberty on gun point!
I was able to board my plane then and engage in a similar conversation today, not because of the equality of Bible, but the liberty and justice which the Constitution of United States assures me.