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Saturday, March 5, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Refuting `Curse Of Ham' -- Book Aims To Liberate African Americans Who Have Suffered Over What He Didn't Do

The Christian church has long been a bulwark for African Americans, serving as the focal point of community politics, economics and worship. But for many black people, the cultural link with biblical heritage has not been as strong.

Now, as communities of color actively search for their identities in Christianity, the church has begun to deal with cultural perspectives in the Bible.

Hoping to shed more light on God's interaction with people of African descent, Mercer Island author and lecturer Wayne Perryman has published a book examining a controversial theory known as the "Curse of Ham" that, until recently, has been virtually unquestioned by Bible scholars.

In his book, "The 1993 Trial on the Curse of Ham," Perryman, 48, looks at Ham, one of Noah's three sons. Ham's own sons, Cush, Mizraim, Phut and Canaan, inhabited the African countries now known as Egypt, Ethiopia and Libya.

Because of his descendants, Ham is sometimes called the "father of the black race." And because of what is often termed a sin committed by Ham - the book of Genesis reports that he went into Noah's tent, where he saw his father naked and in a drunken sleep - many say God caused Ham's descendants to be black.

Throughout history, and particularly during slavery, many whites used the passages outlining the so-called "Curse of Ham" in Genesis 9 and other scriptures to justify the subjugation of American blacks.

Perryman, however, contends that Ham committed no sin, and observes that in the Biblical story, Noah actually cursed Ham's son Canaan, not Ham himself.

"The outright lie is that Ham is cursed. That is not in the Bible. It never said Ham did anything wrong," Perryman says.

Many theories have developed about why Noah pronounced a curse on Canaan.

Bible concordances and commentaries say Ham breached family ethic when he saw his father drunk and naked, and The Bible Knowledge Commentary, from Victor Books, says Ham's son was cursed because Ham joked with his brothers, Shem and Japheth, about the incident. The New Bible Commentary, Revised, from Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., calls "Ham's sin" an "act of malicious disrespect" that connects it with the curse on Canaan.

But Perryman argues that Noah would not have cursed Canaan, as stated in Genesis 9:25, if it had been Ham who had committed the wrongdoing.

To support his theory, Perryman "resurrected" Ham for a mock trial.

Last year, Perryman called a person out of the audience during a church lecture series to play the role of Ham. Acting as defense attorney and also speaking for Ham, Perryman gave answers about what he says actually occurred in Noah's tent.

Perryman says through the use of other biblical passages, he believes he has uncovered the truth about why Noah cursed Canaan.

A business consultant with Consultants Confidential of Mercer Island, Perryman says the inspiration for the mock trial came while he was reading about Ham in Christian publications.

"It was all negative. Even though the scripture says Canaan was cursed, people said it was Ham. So God said to me `Tonight, I want you to go put Ham on trial. I want you to defend us both on charges that Ham was cursed.' "

After the mock trial, Perryman, a Seattle native who is a licensed minister in the Church of God in Christ, compiled excerpts of the evening's presentation and published them in a 38-page book last October. He says the response to the book has been positive.

"Blacks and whites both say the book has set them free. There's a tremendous hunger to know the truth."

Historically, the theory of Ham's curse was used as a basis for the maltreatment of blacks in the United States.

"In the 19th century, the Civil War, there were churches that struggled with the issue of slavery," says Rabbi James Mirel of the Temple B'nai Torah of Mercer Island. "There were ministers, churches and even movements for whom one of the justifications of slavery was based on scriptural passages.

"But people who understand scripture know the Curse of Ham has nothing to do with Africans, African Americans. I think it was an excuse to perpetuate their own prejudices," Mirel says.

Perryman agrees. "To make Ham cursed was not an oversight. It resulted in slavery, denying blacks admission to priesthood. That theory has a long history of hurting blacks."

Dr. F.S. Rhoades, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church of Tacoma and author of "Black Characters and References of the Holy Bible," says the curse theory is still presented in many churches today.

"The theory may not be verbally spoken or written, however more than 50 percent of all communication is visual. In most white and black church facilities, literature and visual teaching aids, only white images are used," says Rhoades, who has not read Perryman's book. "In a subliminal way, the Curse of Ham is affirmed and perpetuated in the minds of believers or churchgoers."

Perryman hopes to show African Americans their prominent place in God's plan for Christian people. "Unlocking this mystery would liberate blacks. I hope it liberates blacks from the mindset that we are second-class citizens . . . so blacks can embrace Christianity and not reject it."

Race is a subject rarely discussed in religious circles. The Oct. 4, 1993, issue of Christianity Today featured 20 black evangelical preachers talking about continuing prejudices in the conservative white evangelical church. In it, the Rev. Billy Graham says "too often Christians have turned a blind eye to racism . . . willing to stand aside while others take the lead in racial reconciliation."

Perryman says fear often stifles honest debate about race in the church. "Race is a subject Christian people are afraid of," he says.

"The 1993 Trial on The Curse of Ham" is available mainly through mail orders at Consultants Confidential, P.O. Box 256, Mercer Island, 98040, for $10.

Ultimately, Perryman wants to bring healing to black communities that are suffering.

"I hope it lets blacks know how much God loves them and how God included, and never excluded, them."

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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