The Snake in the Garden

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Crushing the Head of White Supremacy

(Author’s Note: Since I first began working on this piece and others to follow, “white supremacy” has become an over-worked term used questionably by leftist politicians as an all-purpose slur on all things conservative and on all conservatives as well. I use it here according to its proper, limited definition.  There are several from which to choose. See my choice below.)

White Supremacy, A Definition
Historically, white supremacy has been understood as the belief that white people are superior to people of color. As such, white supremacy was the ideological driver of the European colonial projects and U.S. imperial projects: it was used to rationalize unjust rule of people and lands, theft of land and resources, enslavement, and genocide.

The Original Garden
The place was perfect: food everywhere, animals who just wanted to be petted and named, a lovely mate with whom to frolic and the Creator Himself to walk with in the cool of the day.  Unclothed and unashamed our first two parents enjoyed life on this earth in ways and at a depth that we can only dare to imagine, if at all. Yet, slithering somewhere in the green-speckled shadows of Eden there was a snake.  Slimy and repulsive? Not this one. He was slick and clever with delicious lies dripping from his forked tongue. He was fascinating to look at and so very enticing to listen to. Once his conversation with Eve commenced the garden clock started ticking.

How did a snake get into this otherwise perfect world?  Theologians have tried to explain this without success since the angel with sword first took his position at the garden gate.  They call it, “the problem of evil.”  How can God be the Creator of everything and be good to the core and still allow evil to exist in His world?  No one has found a solution to this riddle and it is not my purpose to try.  I must deal with the world as I find it.  Every garden has its snake.

The Garden of America
And so it remains today.  Even such a lovely, promising, fruitful garden like the United States of America is home to a horrible, evil snake—white supremacy.  What is meant by the term?  It goes beyond racial prejudice.  It is the system designed long ago by those of European descent to manage those whose skin emanates a darker tone.  Racial prejudice assigns a lower value to people of color and supremacy serves to keep them at a lower position on the scale of life.  I will deal with the sources of this in a moment.  White supremacy has been around so long that to white people in can be it an unconscious pattern of thought.  It can be as natural to us as breathing.   It was the subtext of our founding documents and our social structure.  Our founders did well when they declared that all people were created equal, but they did not realize the full extent of what these words meant.  Hidden beneath the surface of their words, the snake was coiled and ready to strike.  The unspoken subtext to their declaration was so commonly held by all that it need not be stated in the text—“all white men were created equal.”  The southern members of the Continental Congress were dependent on slave labor for their wealth and standing.  This terrible system could only be justified by the belief that those with black skin were inherently inferior and not fully human so, naturally, they were not included in the sweeping declaration of human rights. The concept did not sweep that far.  The northern colonies had to go along to keep the lucky thirteen together and the snake found weeds in which to hide.  Politics is like that.

But there is a world beyond politics wherein truth conquers all—the world of the Kingdom of God.  True freedom is found here, freedom for all.  The words of Jesus are promises undiminished by the passing of years or by the passing of laws composed by men.  He said we can know the truth and the truth will set us free.  The southern slaves discovered this when they found real solace in the religion of their oppressors.  They left us songs that move our spirits all these years later because they contain words of truth, liberating truth. In a supreme irony, they discovered Jesus and His promises of freedom in the Bibles used by their oppressors to enslave them. In dark woods in the dark of night, they found a powerful light—Jesus! They found strength and hope in His words and in His presence.  The struggle against the snake was begun and continues in the worship of Jesus, the Christ. In the 20th century this fellowship would be come known as The Blessed Fellowship, the theological base of the Civil rights movement of the 1960s.

How can this be?  The story is told there in the almost perfect Garden of Eden.  God made a promise.  The snake would bruise the heel of the woman’s eventual Son, but the Son would crush the serpent’s head.

Genesis 3:1; 13-15 NIV
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. …The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, “Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your bell and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

That Son was Jesus and the battle culminated at the Cross.  Jesus will bear the marks of the wounds inflicted there for all eternity, but He disarmed and defanged the snake, destroying his most deadly weapons, hate, fear, and death itself.  He shares that victory with all who believe in Him.  Hear His words, “In this world you shall have tribulation but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.”  His primary reporter of this good news, the Apostle Paul, encourages us to be “more than conquerors through” Jesus.  This we can do, whoever we are, whatever we face, and whatever oppressive system confronts us.  History proves this to be true. No man or country or political system has ever been devised that can defeat the believer.  Even if oppressors take our lives, they have only sent us into the arms of our Savior. Jesus instructed us to fear God not men.  Paul testifies that for him to live is Christ and to die is gain.  True liberty is found only in Jesus for His power extends far beyond any temporary circumstances we face.  He has crushed the head of the snake.

The garden is bigger than America. 
It is as old as civilization itself.  Where groups of people are classified by their features, some identifiable group declares itself to be the leaders, the first among un-equals, and the injustices begin.  Unspoken at first and later codified into laws the supremacy of the ruling race becomes the ruling force, the glue holding the world together, perceived to be essential and protected by any means possible.  Western Europe fell victim to this deception, this hissing of the snake.  Because of the printing press, the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Counter Reformation, the Age of Discovery, and finally the Industrial Revolution, all centered in Western Europe, the myth of white superiority was easy to believe.  It seemed obvious to the most casual or the most careful of observers.

The concept of empire was the natural result.  Since most of  the European “superiors” were Caucasian and the inhabitants of newly discovered lands where the raw materials required by the advanced nations were populated by non-whites, it was easy to assume them to be inferior and in need of constant supervision.  What we now call white supremacy was seen as essential and reasonable. It was in this errant but omnipresent ideology that the British Empire became universal and it was true that “the sun never sets on the British Empire.”  While this belief led to the well documented cruelties of colonialism it was perceived as a natural and necessary order of civilization.  Those of different skin tones of the colonized lands did not see things this way but they were usually unequipped to take issue with the industrialized nations colonizing them.  This enticing idea caught on and empire building became the focus of nations in Western Europe and spread to the Pacific rim.  This self-centered profiteering finally resulted in World War II which can be seen as a clash of existing or projected empires. The snake was everywhere.

Even in the church.  While the command to go into all the world with the message of Jesus was and is a legitimate one, it has proved to be difficult to rescue it from more materialistic, nationalistic missions.  Christianizing indigenous peoples was seen as virtually the same as westernizing them.  The concept of the expansive growing Kingdom of God, including local and denominational or national church groups, would have to wait on 20th Century Pentecostal missions to see the rise of indigenous missions programs seeking to build indigenous churches.  It is most unfortunate that 18th and 19th Century missions and European colonialism were so often tilling the same soil in the garden making the snake’s work of deception that much easier.

In the late 18th Century, the 13 British colonies in North America shook off the inequities of the royal crown to become an independent nation.  Our constitution was and is a most remarkable document and has established an enduring nation of unprecedented freedoms for so many.  The obvious and painful contradiction that a nation dedicated to freedom would also be a slave-holding one seemed to be invisible, or deliberately ignored to many.  The radical language of equality for all “men” was intended for all “white men.”  African Americans, Native Americans, women, and immigrants of varying shades of skin would have to wait.  The words—the promises—of freedom had been written and they were in force.  Freedom promised would be delivered, someday.  That process is still underway.  The fateful year of 2020 saw public demonstrations, some legal and some illegal, of the need for more steps toward the full implementation of the promise.

The Cross and the Constitution 
Powerful words, one spoken, cannot be unspoken.  Promises lawfully made must not be lawfully unmade if the nation is to continue its progress.  American citizens of all colors have the promises made in the Constitution which remain in force unless the character of the nation itself is changed, which some intend to do.  The words mean what they mean today, regardless of what they might have meant to the men who wrote them 200 years ago.  The snake in the American garden must fear these words and try to confuse them with lesser ideas like Marxism, socialism and communism which have been thoroughly discredited by history.

American Christ-followers also have an even greater snake killer—the Cross of Jesus Christ.  The snake in the American garden operates on deception as he seeks to convince Americans that good can be accomplished by evil means.  As a follower of Jesus, I have the wonderful US Constitution and I have an even more powerful document, the Word of God.  The victory of Jesus at the Cross is available to me through the power of His name.  The Gospel of Christ is all about victory!  Through Him I can be a victor and not a victim.

How is this possible? Because of the One Jesus was and is.  John the Baptist, standing waist deep in the Jordan, proclaimed the identity of Jesus,

John 1:29 NKJV
“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!”

The snake is powerful in every nation of the world because the sins of people live in the hearts of people everywhere.  Sin is never defeated by human means: progress, technology, science, healthcare, education, re-distribution of wealth, revolution, the arts, military might, political extortion, or will power. Even a constitutional democracy is powerless to defeat the force of sin. Laws can alter behavior but only Jesus can change hearts. The only way sin is defeated and taken away is by faith in what Jesus did at the cross.  The Gospel of Christ is full of promises of victory that have proven true since the Old Testament prophets and New Testament writers uttered them. Jesus put them into words. The disciples packed them into letters and the church fathers lived and died by them. Saints through the ages tested them and believers today around the world prove them every hour of every day. This is the day of opportunity.  If you are an American Christian, you have these two, proven realities on your side: the US Constitution and the Cross of Jesus, the Christ.  You can be an overcomer.

Late last year, we celebrated my wife’s birthday at a Pizza Place.  The young men and women bussing the tables wore shirts with messages on the back.  As I was thinking of this essay, the messages rang so true to me:

  • “Make your mark.”
  • “Change the game.”
  • “Keep it real.”
  • “Fire it up!”

These 3-word challenges express each American’s opportunity so well.

The Constitution
Because we are blessed with the Constitution, we can live lives that prove that all of us have been created equal.

  • We can find God’s will for our lives and “make our mark.” If someone thinks we are inferior, we can prove them wrong.
  • We can “change the game.” If we find the game rigged against us, we can refuse to play along and find another game we can win.
  • We can “keep it real” by doing good work because it is the right thing to do and trust God to open doors for us.
  • We must “fire it up!” We can live lives empowered by the Holy Spirit.  His anointing is his power-gift to us.

How blessed are we to be Americans today!  The 200-year-old words are coming true in our generation!

The Cross
We also have the Cross—the symbol, not of death—His death was “once and for all”—the cross is the symbol of life.  “Take up your cross,” Jesus said, “and follow me.”  Search the gospels for the promises He made to you.  Read the Apostle’s letters for their details on our promised lives of blessings.  Discover what the Christian life is intended to be.

I think what I am proposing is a different concept that is at one time more practical and more spiritual. Those who refuse to believe in the spiritual nature of man will not see the value of what I propose.  Their faith can only be placed in sort of a material/mental complex: politics, laws, influence, celebrity, images, persuasion, threats, and even social extortion as in, “Give us what we want our we will take to the streets.”  The reality of the fallen human spirit can be denied but it is still there.  Ignoring it does nothing to remove its influence. What was pure in the Garden of Eden is now corrupt in the American Garden and will remain so until rescued by Jesus Himself.

The Synthesis—Kingdom Supremacy
Through careful attention to the spiritual nature every person possesses, a powerful synthesis of social justice and spiritual liberation is available—the Cross and the Constitution.  The Cross of Jesus defeats the evil and the Constitution guarantees liberty to live in the resulting freedom.  We could call this “Kingdom Supremacy.”  Without regard to race, each US citizen is equal before the law and before the community and is free to become whatever he/she can become.  As long as we seek to unite people by the very things that separate them, we are still listening to the snake. Let us reach deeper than skin, deeper than histories, all the way to the human spirit, made in the image of God and rescued by the powerful Cross of Jesus the Christ. “Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.” We have an opportunity with a double promise from God:

  1. The US Constitution and
  2. The Cross of Jesus Christ.

Make your mark! Change the game. Keep it real! Fire it up!

Consider these scriptures:

John 8:31-32 NKJV
Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.  And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

Colossians 1:13-20 NIV
For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

1 John 5:3-5 NIV
This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

Romans 12:9-21 NKJV
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Matthew 5:9 NKJV
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2021 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

Be sure to read the follow up to this essay, “Meet At His Table.”

The Snake in the Garden

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