Guest opinion: Reflections on the ‘chosen race’
What did you believe when you were young that you later learned was false? I used to believe in Santa Claus.
But a more profound example of something I no longer believe, that pervasively lasts through many adulthoods in Western civilization, is the Judaic Old Testament’s “chosen race” philosophy. I’m not sure that I or most of my privileged generation deliberately held onto or consciously practiced ancient religious racism in its starkest literal sense. But here is an example of the racial perception still carried prominently into our modern orthodoxy. Notice these words for worship and praise in Latter-day Saint Hymn No. 59: “While all the chosen race Their Lord and Savior own, The heathen nations bow the knee …”
Like parts of other neocolonial songs, the rest of this hymn and its stirring music mostly provide New Testament hope to anyone. But the ambivalence still shows a widespread and regressive blind faith in Christianity’s protestant Calvinism.
During the Protestant Reformation some 500 years ago, Western Europe’s French-Swiss aristocracy-connected John (Jean) Calvin regressed to trust the ancient elite Jewish scribes’ retrospective writing of the Old Testament more than the east-German peasant Martin Luther did, and more than the schismatizing Catholics or Jesus of Nazareth himself, who was not from the south where Judah’s orthodoxy had evolved at Jerusalem. The Judaic “chosen elect” mindset restored by Calvin’s Reformed Protestantism sunk deep into the British Empire’s Anglican theocracy as British Israelism, and later as Christian fundamentalism in a U.K.-U.S. relapse to biblical inerrancy with King James’ version. (Today, this English tradition gets reflected again in U.S. politics as a puritanical identity Christianity or Christian nationalism, but more generally as exclusive “American” exceptionalism.)
Brit-Ish was claimed to mean Covenant-Man in Hebrew, which assumed the divine favoritism that had first morphed into Judaism’s sole chosen bloodline of the Old Testament: Abraham-Isaac-Jacob. This did not include eldest Ishmael nor slighted Esau, and retroactively also excluded Abraham’s siblings and even the ancient Hebrew faith’s farther-flung other descendants from earlier Noah’s Japheth and Ham. In turn, this lineage supremacy helped justify the British royalty’s global empire. They claimed to be the literal inheritors of heaven’s unshared birthright blessing to Jacob, passed through Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manasseh, which itself had come to pretend an unconditional promise. Brits of the British Isles had presumed that they were direct genetic descendants of the once “lost” 10 tribes of northern “Israel” and that they were at least equal to inherit for a “New Jerusalem” any promise claimed by the southern kingdom of Judah-Benjamin.
This racial Anglo-Saxon triumphalism was then “pressed into the service of British imperialism, on one side of the Atlantic, and American Manifest Destiny, on the other” (Dr. Armand L. Mauss in “All Abraham’s Children: Changing Mormon Conception of Race and Lineage”). Brigham Young divulged his own descent and upbringing among (New) England’s Calvinist Puritans and British Israelism when he too insisted: “The spirit in (the sons of Ephraim) is turbulent and resolute; they are the Anglo-Saxon race … bearing the spirit of rule and dictation.” Belief in British Israelism is now refuted by archaeology, ethnology, genetics and linguistics.
The Bible’s New Testament and the Book of Mormon’s “Another Testament” also try to persuade against such discrimination and for deliverance to them that are so bruised and oppressed: “God is no respecter of persons” and “all are alike unto God.”
“God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean. … Then Peter opened his mouth and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that (reverences) him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him. … God … put no difference between us and them.” (Acts 10:15, 28, 34-35; 15:8-9)
“… black and white, bond and free (royalty or subjects), male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.” (2 Nephi 26:33)
“God is not a partial God.” (Moroni 8:18)
The Old Testament’s conditional and broken ancient covenant is expressed as such in Jeremiah 31:31-32; as “divorced” in 3:8; and reiterated in Hebrews 8:9 (among others).
“God … hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth.” (Acts 17:24-28)
You are not children of Abraham; all are children of I AM (Yahweh/Jehovah), before Abraham was. (paraphrasing Jesus in John 8:33, 39, 58)
No wonder Elder Quentin Cook provokes a haunting introspective in a footnote with his general conference talk last spring, which further redefined “gathered” Israel, by quoting a Black African Latter-day Saint: Whenever she came to the word Israel, she would “throw the book aside and say, ‘It is for the whites. It is not for us. We are not chosen.'” The genealogy of Africans, similar to Asians/Eurasians/Persians and even Shem’s eventual and simultaneous Arab progeny including indigenous Palestinians of all three native religions, has been outcast in Western-most Judeo-Christianity from a birthright because none of them were from Abraham’s “covenant” line of Isaac and Jacob. The latter had been renamed “Israel” with its 12 tribes alone, as if further intermarriage with outside genetics would not be extensive.
Those others can be “adopted” in, we say condescendingly, assimilated into chosen Israel’s ethnocentric identity and values as if we are grafted more authentically. But if all humanity is of one blood, divine children of God all in his image, to be loved alike as inclusive kinship (despite Enoch callously wondering at God’s weeping for the “residue”), then why would equal heirs need or want a different pedigree? At most, a narrow “covenant” group is likely only symbolic of an old exclusionary lineage who once covenanted to bless the rest before they lost their promise and now need, like the rest of us, to re-reform to the shared service of fellow beings instead of a self-proclaimed superior monopoly working for God.
This article is not antisemitic but rather anti-ethnocentric. Islam is transethnic while accepting different nationalism among adherents. For a simplified reading about the retrospective and retroactive writing of the Old Testament, see Jewish-American Bruce Feiler’s “Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths,” who yet finds therein the initial mandate that “God’s blessing is promised to all.” BYU scholar Richard Ben Crosby also highlights especially the Old Testament as being not only contingent but “rhetorically composed.” A comprehensive treatment of these conclusions can be studied in Samford University’s textbook “An Introduction to the Old Testament: People of the Covenant” by Smith, Crapps and Flanders Jr., who declare: “In every way Israel had ceased to be a covenant people.”
Jade Henderson retired from Wyoming state government in 2015. He and his wife have lived in Spanish Fork for less than seven years. He served a Latter-day Saint mission in Muslim Indonesia some 45 years ago before obtaining a Bachelor of Art degree in international studies.