Noah damning Ham, 19th-century painting by Ivan Stepanovitch Ksenofontov.
Part I: Seminary, the Sons of God, and the Curse of Ham (if all you care about is the interpretation of the curse of Ham feel free to skip to Part II below)
I went seminary to learn the Bible. I think all of us who become clergy or professors are drawn in part by our curiosity about the Scriptures. We are driven by a desire to know. At our best, we want to take that information and use it to preach God’s word faithfully to those he has entrusted to us. For me, this desire to know took me far from the south of my childhood. But I was willing to brave the snowstorms and New England culture that was so alien to me if it meant understanding the Scriptures better by the end.
So I did as I was told. I learned my Greek and Hebrew. I studied paradigms and learned (at least partially) how to diagram sentences. But the more time I spent in exegesis and theology courses, the more I realized that my interests and those of my caucasian colleagues diverged at a variety of points, none more so than in the issues that received extended discussion in class.
I remember being told that everybody had to be able to answer questions about the following text, as it was sure to come up during the course of our pastoral ministry:
When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose. Then the LORD said, “My spirit shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred twenty years (Gen 6:1–3).”
Who were these sons of God? Fallen Angels? The descendants of Seth? If memory serves, we were all required to write a paper on the topic. I honestly cannot recall what I said. Before seminary, I had never given much thought to who these sons of God might be and since seminary, no one has asked me about them.
From childhood, I had known about the curse of Ham. I knew that it meant I was supposed to be inferior. Thus, black slavery in the past and our present second-class status was a manifestation of the will of God. I remember looking forward to dealing with this text in detail at some point in seminary.