In response to sanctions imposed on the Episcopal Church by the Anglican Communion, Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry had this to say:
“I stand before you as a descendant of African slaves, stolen from their native land, enslaved in a bitter bondage, and then even after emancipation, segregated and excluded in church and society. And this conjures that up again, and brings pain.”
This was in the way of defending the Episcopalian policies that elicited the sanctions, namely acceptance of homosexual clergy and solemnization of same-sex marriages. According to Bishop Curry, these policies do not violate biblical teaching, but rather fulfill the New Testament promise that God’s house should be “a house of prayer for all people,” and that Christ is a condition in which there are no social distinctions. As a descendent of slaves, he was, he said, acutely sensitive to the pain of exclusion.
He is not, however, acutely sensitive to the Eighth Commandment, for his witness here is decidedly false. (This is the Ninth Commandment for Reformed and Orthodox.) A glance at Mark 11:17 show that the word (in all translations) is “nations,” not “people.” The difference in meaning between these words is great, and the substitution of one for the other is dishonest. The Bishop’s abuse of Galatians 3:28 is too common to require comment.
Curry’s claim to be descended from African slaves would appear to be true, although not, perhaps, entirely in the way he intended. Almost all Africans brought to the New World as slaves began their sad story of bondage at the hands of other Africans. In very few instances did some crafty white man throw a net over an African and haul him away into servitude. There is a reason the whole melancholy business was called the slave trade, and that is because (for the most part) white men traded things like cloth, beads, liquor, ironware and firearms for men and women who were already captive slaves. Black men understandably coveted these things that Europeans offered to trade, but apart from gold and elephant tusks, had very little but slaves to offer in exchange.
I do not say this as an apology (i.e. defense) of the slave trade, but as a simple matter of honest witness. At the point that Africans were “stolen,” the man doing the stealing was almost always an African. European buyers on the coast certainly kindled his avarice with the promise of attractive trade goods, but among the generals and foot soldiers of the slave trade, there was a good deal of what we today call diversity. Here’s a description that strikes me as an honest and impartial witness to what actually happened:
“The slave trade is carried on in Guinea with some regard to the laws of the country, which allow of none to be sold but prisoners taken in their national wars, or people adjudged to slavery in punishments for crime; but the largeness of the country, the number of kingdoms or commonwealths, and the great encouragement given by the Europeans, afford frequent pretenses and opportunities for the bold designing profligates of one kingdom to surprise and seize, not only upon those of a neighboring government, but also the weak and helpless of their own.” (Anthony Benezet, Some Historical Accounts of Guinea ).
Africans in the New World have always been more or less segregated, and they have also been excluded, but only a portion of the segregation was a result of exclusion. In fact, the two words denote opposite social tendencies, the former being a matter of association and the later a matter of dissociation.
At the center of the word segregate you see the root greg. This comes from the Latin word gregarius, meaning “flock.” Gregarius is the source of the English word gregarious, meaning sociable or fond of the society of others. The prefix se means “apart,” as in the word separate (i.e. take parts apart). So to segregate is to form a flock apart, and as a practical matter it means to form a flock with one’s own kind. Dogs are gregarious, but they are not gregarious with cats, or even with other packs of dogs.
The word “exclude” means to shut out or close off to. Exclusion suggests a man pounding on a locked door, begging to be let in, while a man on the other side blocks it with his shoulder and tells the pounding man to go away.
The ancestors of Bishop Curry did pound on some doors, many of which were eventually opened, but this had little effect on segregation because segregation is natural to humans and absent only where forcibly forbidden. Consider sexual segregation at social gatherings. Up to age eighteen or so, boys and girls naturally segregate into two separate flocks. For about ten years after that, they mingle, for reasons that are also natural, and too obvious to mention. Once they have paired up in marriages, however, it’s back to segregation. The men on the back deck are not excluding the women, and the women in the kitchen are not excluding the men. They are acting according to nature and are in no honest sense violating the spirit of Galatians 3:28
Churches are, likewise, naturally segregated. Critics of Christianity would like to make this a cause for shame, ostentatiously quoting Galatians 3:28 and censoriously remarking that, “America is never more segregated than it is on Sunday morning.” Such critics fail to mention that the doors are not locked and no one is outside pounding with his fists and crying to be let in. The people who are not in the pews have segregated themselves into a “flock” whose worship style they find more agreeable.
Anyone with broad experience of American churches knows that worship style is the big difference between a “Black Church” and a “White Church” of the same denomination. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go somewhere new next Sunday and you will learn something. In fact, I think it would be a good idea if all Christians visited each other’s churches from time to time, not in an effort to overcome segregation, but to understand why segregation occurs and why it is not inconsistent with Galatians 3:28.
The commandment against bearing false witness demands truth-telling when truth-telling matters. It does not, so far as I know, prohibit storytelling, jests, tall tales or the writing of poems. Nor does it demand that I answer every question a nosey parker might think to ask me. It would seem, however, to prohibit a Bishop from misquoting scripture to his own advantage, or distorting history to magnify the crimes of his enemies, or imputing malice where none exists.