Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick said Wednesday that America’s problem with racism is an issue of “loving God” and suggested that the “culture of a country” cannot be changed unless people “accept Jesus Christ.”
Patrick said during a Wednesday Fox News interview with Shannon Bream:
And Shannon, for me, as I look at this and it breaks my heart, what I’m saying from the original crime that was committed by the police officer on George Floyd to what’s happening in our streets, that we have racism in this country, Shannon. But it’s really an issue of love.
It’s loving God… You cannot love your fellow man if you don’t love God, and we have a country where we’ve been working really hard, particularly on the left, to kick God out. We need a culture change to address this racism. You cannot change the culture of a country until you change the character of mankind. And you can’t change that unless you change a heart. And for millions of us on the planet, we believe you can’t do that unless you accept Jesus Christ or unless you accept God. And God has been left out of this equation through all of this.
Patrick added that healing cannot come “through commissions and blue ribbon panels and more laws.”
While the Republican’s words likely sound pretty to some, history shows that Christianity and the Bible — which Patrick says are necessary for ending racism in the U.S. today — were used in defense of slavery in the past.
The end of white Americans’ ownership of African bodies did not come because people found Jesus — it came through some of the very avenues that Patrick now deems unhelpful, even as some Christians used their holy text to argue for slavery’s continuation.
TIME magazine noted in a 2018 piece, adapted from Noel Rae’s book The Great Stain, that pro-slavery Christians contorted the Bible’s words to make the case for slavery as God’s design.
Out of the more than three quarters of a million words in the Bible, Christian slaveholders — and, if asked, most slaveholders would have defined themselves as Christian — had two favorite texts, one from the beginning of the Old Testament and the other from the end of the New Testament.
Rae goes on to quote a portion of Genesis 9, which reads as follows:
The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) These were the three sons of Noah, and from them came the people who were scattered over the whole earth.
Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s naked body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked.
When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, he said, “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.”
He also said, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem. May God extend Japheth’s territory; may Japheth live in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be the slave of Japheth.”
After the flood Noah lived 350 years. Noah lived a total of 950 years, and then he died. (Genesis 9: 18-29; NIV)
Rae wrote that the Old Testament story was eventually boiled down and became known as “The Curse of Ham,” where “Canaan was dropped from the story, Ham was made black, and his descendants were made Africans.”
The second passage, Ephesians 6, was written by the Apostle Paul and included this bit about slaves and masters:
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. (Ephesians 6: 5-8; NIV)
Together with other Bible verses that could be used in support of slavery, these passages were put to work for slave-owning Christians who saw their practice as righteous, God-ordained, and necessary to continue. Some also pointed to the fact that the New Testament held no instances of Jesus condemning slavery.
Patrick may not be using his religious faith to openly promote the subjugation and mistreatment of black Americans, but at the very least, his words argue for a lack of action by those in power to move the country toward equality in the treatment of all its citizens. Instead, Patrick believes a "return" to some romanticized version of widespread Christian love will save the day.
And while some might assert that the brand of Christianity that argued in favor of slavery, or argues in favor of white supremacy today, is merely a perversion of “true” Christianity, it is worth noting that religion simply is not a requirement for treating one’s fellow humans with dignity and respect — and it often makes no difference in how people conduct themselves in daily life.