A tangled thread: The Curse of Ham, African Americans, Alt-Right White Supremacy, and the SBC (Part 1)

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Genesis 9: 9-25 sets the stage for centuries of misinterpretation of Scripture and shows how the Alt-Right and White Supremacy movements have used theological malpractice to drive a wedge among the races. JOE WESTBURY/Index

This is the first of a two-part discussion of Resolution 10 and its passage at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Phoenix, AZ on June 14. Part 2 can be found here.

Southern Baptist African Americans are generally pleased with the passage of Resolution 10 during the denomination’s annual meeting in mid-July in Phoenix, with some caveats.

The overwhelming affirmation put the denomination on record for opposing not just racism but the growth of the Alt-Right and White Supremacy movements. It was more than just about Black and White issues; it focused on a growing political ideology that uses Scripture to justify the subjugation of all races under Whites, or Anglos as they are more commonly being called.

But perhaps just as many individuals, as judged through interviews with African Americans who attended the vote after the proposed resolution’s initial rejection, were disappointed that the statement did not go far enough.

Arlington, TX pastor Dwight McKissic’s original resolution cited the Curse of Ham, a very narrow biblical interpretation drawn from Genesis which provides the movement’s justification for White domination of African Americans. That group has since broadened the interpretation to include all non-White races as being inferior to their own race. The Curse of Ham, directed toward African Americans, was used throughout the South to justify slavery but its roots go back before the founding of the nation.

For example, while the Declaration of Independence promoted “all men are created equal,” that guarantee of equality meant just that – men – and did not include women or the slaves who were owned largely in the Bible Belt South.

Texas pastor Dwight McKissic moved to bring his proposal on the “Alt-Right” and the Curse of Ham to messengers meeting in Phoenix, AZ on June 13. VAN PAYNE/BP

On June 19, in an interview with National Public Radio station WAMU, McKissic said he felt he needed to offer the resolution because of a growing  perception of Alt-Right views that were becoming common among Christians.

He agreed to support the revised resolution after the Curse of Ham was removed, but he and others felt the false doctrine was the very heart of the discussion that Southern Baptists needed to have.

“I accepted the revised version because I’m for peace, I’m for common ground rather than battle ground. But in doing so they (the Convention) did not denounce the theological license and psychological cover which the movement is using,” he said.

The Curse of Ham may be a largely forgotten and uncomfortable history to many Anglo (White) Christians who remember it from their Sunday School days throughout the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s and even later. But it remains a concern for some African Americans who are uncomfortable with the growing Alt-Right movement, its close connections to White Supremacy, and its perversion of specific Scripture verses.

In this two-part series, Griffin pastor Grady Caldwell explains the issue from the African American perspective for Index readers. Caldwell is pastor of New Mercy Baptist Church and is a member of the Executive Committee of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board

Index: Can you give us an overview of what the Curse of Ham is all about?

Grady Caldwell

Caldwell: The so-called Curse of Ham is a false doctrine that was perpetuated to validate the idea that it was biblical for slaves to be in subjugation to the White race.

The enemy’s job has always been to twist and manipulate Scripture to further his cause. You can find an isolated scripture to justify any point of view you wish to take, but that’s not ‘rightly dividing the word of truth.’ Anytime you see a principle established in Scripture, that principle will not exist in isolation to other Scripture verses; it will be reinforced elsewhere. You don’t see that reinforcement with the story that occurred between Noah and his sons.

Index: Where does that ideology come into play with the recent meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention?

Caldwell: That interpretation is the root of the problem with Alt-Right and White Supremacy theology, and is why Dwight included it in his original proposal. Even though it is a false teaching it is deeply rooted in Baptist theology and most likely existed well before the Southern Baptist Convention was founded in 1845.

It is my understanding that the Convention was founded over the refusal of the Northern Baptist Convention to allow Southern slaveholders to serve as missionaries. That was the breach which caused churches in the South to form their own denomination in Augusta at First Baptist Church. It was the Southerners belief that the Bible condoned slavery.

Gratefully, the Southern Baptist Convention has apologized for that founding and repudiated its teaching. We were hoping for an additional repudiation of this false doctrine as put forth in Dwight’s original resolution.

Index: Where is the Curse of Ham found in Scripture?

Caldwell: Not only is the theology lacking, but its title – the Curse of Ham – is totally wrong because Noah placed the curse on Ham’s son Canaan (Noah’s grandson), not Ham himself.

This is what we get from the biblical account in Genesis 9:20-25 (NKJV).

And Noah began to be a farmer, and he planted a vineyard. Then he drank of the wine and was drunk, and became uncovered in his tent.

And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and went backward and covered the nakedness of their father.

Their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. So Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done to him. Then he said: “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants he shall be to his brethren.”

You see, the curse was never given to Ham even though he was the one who committed the sin; but to Canaan, Ham’s son and Noah’s grandson. Genesis 10:6 tells us that Ham had four sons: Cush, Mizraim, Phut and Canaan. Had the curse been given to Ham then all people of African descent would have been cursed, but the curse was given to only one of Ham’s four sons. So the statement that all people of African descent were cursed does not stand the test of Biblical accuracy.

Part 2 will be posted tomorrow on The Index website. For further background and to understand the full discussion,

  • Click here to read the response from the Georgia Baptist African American Fellowship;
  • Click here for the response from the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention;
  • Click here to read the account of the passage of Resolution 10 as reported by Baptist Press on June 14;
  • Click here for a description of the Alt-Right Movement as provided by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission during the Phoenix convention;
  • Click here  to read the actual resolution, titled “On the Anti-Gospel of Alt-Right White Supremacy,” and formally known as Resolution 10;
  • and click here to read a 2015 historical discussion of racial superiority by Southern Seminary President Al Mohler.

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