Race-less Gospel

A race-less life is a Christ- filled life.


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Change

“Looking to Jesus the author and finisher (KJV)/ the pioneer and perfecter of our faith who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame and has taken a seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”

~ Hebrews 12.2, NRSV

Some say, “Change is good” while others lament, “Change is hard.”  The former affirms that there are times when doing things differently is beneficial but the latter points to the difficulty of it.  Change may be good but it can be hard work.  Still, nothing worth having is attained with ease or without some amount of blood, sweat and tears.

The race-less life is about change and while I am certain that this change is good, it can be hard.  But, that doesn’t mean that it cannot be done, that we should give up and revert back to the way we have always been.

Race says that we are stuck in who we are and who has been, that we cannot change our race.   But, as a Christian believer, we do not affirm that there are some things that God cannot do but that he makes us new creatures in Christ (Second Corinthians 5.17).  We believe that all things are possible with God (Matthew 19.26).

And since race says that I cannot change myself if I believe in it, then I will change race.  I will change my confession concerning it: “I am race-less.”  This statement redefines race and says that race does not have dominion over me.

Besides, God made us in his image and it is not our physical appearance that He wants to change.  He wants to change our sinful state, to heal our broken hearts and race has nothing to do with that.  Race can’t bring this kind of change– only Jesus can.  The change that he brought on the cross was hard but it was for our good.


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Resurrecting Race

Who told you that you were socially colored black/ white/ red/ yellow/ brown/ beige?  Sure, you looked in the mirror and saw that the pigment of your skin had a ‘color.’  But, who told you that it was this color or that?  Who gave you its meaning?  Who told you that it was better or worse or meant that you would be richer or poorer?  Who told you that you were different because of it?  And why?

What is the meaning of race and why do we continue to bring it up in our discussions concerning human identity?  Why do we continue to spread this message?  Disproven biologically and unsupported biblically, why do we continue to talk about ourselves, to reduce our meaning, to allow our purpose to be determined by  the social coloring of skin?

The truth that race is a social construct and societal contract has long been proclaimed.  This good news has been around for a long time but we continue to repeat the lie: I am black/ white/ red/ yellow/ brown/ beige.  But, if we are made in the image of God who does not define Himself by a social color, then who are we re-creating ourselves to be?

Unlike Jesus the Christ, race is dead and it has no resurrection power; still, we continue to prop it up, to lift it up as the standard for our lives and the lives of those to come.

Race has no power save what we give it.  We must stop talking about race as if it is real and present with us.  Race died a long time ago.  It only lives in our minds and memories.  We are resurrecting race.


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Anyone can be a racist

Racism has been defined by this simple equation: racial prejudice plus systemic institutional power.

Along with this equation goes the argument, “people of color can’t be racist because they don’t have the power to oppress.”   That is, in order to be a racist, you must be able to oppress persons socially?   So, if you are a socially colored black person who abuses a socially colored white person because of their ‘race’, you are not a racist because you are not oppressing them?  Well, what are you doing and why is it somehow not as bad as oppression?

It seems that there is a hierarchy of offenses when it comes to race and abuse is acceptable depending upon who is the recipient.  Such an argument suggests that while the action is inappropriate, it is understandable.  It is not as bad because it didn’t happen to the whole group.

But, I disagree with the definition cited above.  While racism is systemic, it begins with us as a system is built one person at a time.  To suggest that because it is widespread and affects millions of this cultural group but not millions of another– because of race– is prejudice.  Racism is a personal sin that is practiced communally.  Racism is individual acts of unkindness, hatred, violence and familial, educational, ecclesial, economic and political isolation.  Consequently, anyone can be a racist.

So, what qualifies a person to be a racist?

1.  If you believe that you know a person and their societal worth based on the social coloring of skin, then you are a racist.

2.  If you believe that one’s inferiority and supremacy is determined by the social coloring of skin, then you’re a racist.

3.  If you believe that without race, human beings can know nothing of themselves or others, then you are a racist.

A racist is one who believes in the supremacy of race above all other truths– social or otherwise.  She and he use their personal power to create a world wherein they can only see persons as oppressed and oppressor.  And if they do not have the systemic power to oppress, then they utilize their personal power for the purpose of micro-oppression (Roger E. Olson writes about it in A Few Words About Oppression.  These micro- oppressions are small in scale but impactful nonetheless: silence, distance, separation, hate, jealousy and the like.

It is not just in the obvious transgressions of history or that of present hate crimes.  It is in the little things that we say about “those people.”  Those are hate crimes too.

It is a painful truth but an obvious reality in our world that the sin of racism has infected us all, that there is a little bit of racist in each of us.  God, deliver us from race.  Amen.


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Blinded by Race

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

~ Luke 4.18-19, NRSV

This scripture from Luke, an echo of the prophet Isaiah (61.1-2), has been referred to as the mission statement of Jesus the Christ.  I like it for many reasons but primarily because of the qualifications for which Christ is enabled to serve us: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me … because he has anointed me … He has sent me.  There are no “I” statements.

There is no mention of his external appearance, familial pedigree or educational background.  He doesn’t say, “Because I am the Son of God.”  He did not get this position because of Who he knows or where he comes from.

No, Jesus is able because of God and God alone.  The Spirit is from God.  The anointing is from God.  His directive is from God.  Even his proclamation does not belong to him; it is “the Lord’s favor.”

But, these truths are not the point of my writing today.  What strikes me is the fact that he came to restore sight to the blind and it is my belief that race makes us lose sight of what is true, what is real and what is valuable.

In America, everything is a matter of race.  Not only does “cash rule everything around us” as we are a capitalistic system, a money- making machine; but race rules everyone around us.  It is our wisdom and understanding; nothing seems to make sense apart from it.  We believe that no matter what happened or didn’t happen, race has something to do with it.

We believe in race so much that we have a race card.  We can play it and it can change a perspective and challenge an outcome.  Race provides us with a kind of vision that distorts our various realities and in turn, divides us.

Primarily, race changes the way that we see ourselves.  As Christians, we are new creatures in Christ but our racial identity is not left behind.  It is incorporated into our beliefs, doctrines and practice of faith.  We change the Scriptures to support it and to justify our racism, prejudice and segregationist practices.  We become socially colored Christians who have socially colored churches where we worship a socially colored god and messiah.  Despite the nature of our relationship with God, that is spiritual, race has to have something to do with it though it is physical and external.

But, Paul said to the people of Galatia, “Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed.  Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith.  But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.  As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (3.23-28, emphasis added).

He thought it important enough to repeat it to the saints at Colossae: “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.  In that renewal, there is no longer Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian and free; but Christ is all and in all! (3.9-11, emphasis added).

Who creates the new self?  Race.  Of course not, we did not confess Jesus the Christ as Lord and Savior of our lives in order that we might be in relationship with race but with God.  So, how is a racial identity then a part of our new identity in Christ Jesus?

Race is a ploy of the enemy in that it fights against unity with ourselves, our God, our neighbor and the stranger.  Paul, when speaking to the Galatians, tells them (and us) “all of you are one in Christ.”  All.  Everybody.  Everyone has been clothed with Christ and therefore, there is no longer Jew or Greek, there  is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female.

Clothed with Christ and all of these external designations are removed.  So, who are you wearing?  And if with Christ, these external designations don’t matter then, why are we spending our lives trying to make Jesus fit into these categories?

Secondly, race changes the way that we see our Creator.  If we cannot give up race then we must give up the true and living God.  A racialized god or a god who incorporates race into the salvific plan is not the God of our Christian faith but an American god of a racial faith.  The race god is temporal and our God is eternal.  The race god hates some human beings but our God loves all that He has created.  The race god says that some will have dominion over the earth and this includes other human beings but the God of the Christian faith says that we are all joint- heirs with Christ (Romans 8.17).

God has no faith in race and race has nothing to do with the work of Christ in us and for us.  Race does not inform God’s view or treatment of us.  Race is not a counselor to God or a friend of the Trinity.  Race is with us not with God.

If we see God as socially colored black/white/ red/ yellow/ brown/ beige, then we have made a god in our image and likeness.  This is another god.  If we cannot worship God unless this god “look like us,” then we again have created an idol.  We cannot control the image of God.

Finally, race changes the way we see life and all of creation.  We cannot see past race or beyond it.  It is the plank in our eyes that must be removed (Matthew 7.3).  We cannot read the Holy Scriptures and accept its revelation because of it.  Race says that anything that does not support it is an enemy and a liar.  But, let God be true and race a liar (Romans 3.4).

Race has blinded us to the truth of our new being in Christ Jesus.  As believers, we are new so we don’t have to take on the old stereotypes of American slavery, Jim Crow segregation or today’s hand me down identities, patched together with pain, bitterness, unforgiveness and shame.

No, God says, “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43.19).  Or, has race blinded you?

 

 


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God’s people

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you out of all of the people’s on earth to be his people, his treasured possession.”

~ Deuteronomy 7.6, NRSV

The scriptures that accompany this verse have been used for all of the wrong reasons: American slavery, Jim Crow segregation, rules against “interracial” marriage also known as miscegenation or exogamy.  Persons have used it to justify their belief in human superiority and inferiority, separating persons according to the social coloring of skin.  According to race, persons are chosen according to physical characteristics– by other human beings.  Who are we to judge?  We don’t even like everything about ourselves.  How can we possibly talk of perfection as it relates to entire cultural group?  This ridiculous reduction does not begin to compare to what it means to be chosen by God, which is what the passage speaks to.

The nations that the Lord removes so that the children of Israel can occupy the land are described as stronger and more numerous (Deuteronomy 7.1).  They defeat them not because they have a larger army or better equipped soldiers.  They win because the Lord is on their side.  Persons don’t like to talk much about the God of the Old Testament but He is the same God in the New Testament.

Jesus, much like the children of Israel, was chosen to be the Messiah not based on looks or social pedigree.  In fact, he was not the king that the Jews were expecting.  He did not meet their “messianic expectations” so to speak.  But, this did not matter.  God was with him and because of him, God is with us.

Why God chooses us has nothing to do with how we look.  We are made in His image so if this were the standard, then doesn’t that suggest that God would choose everyone?  It does unless you believe in socially colored gods, that there is a god made in our image.  But, there is no god of socially colored white people and god of socially colored black people and god of socially colored red people and god of socially colored yellow people and god of socially colored beige people.  To be such is to live in a racialized reality, to live in the world that race has created.

We are chosen not based upon the fluctuating feelings, doubts and opinions of others.  We are not socially colored black/ white/ red/ yellow/ brown/ beige people.  We are not race men and women as we can not be children of race and of God.  We cannot be chosen by race and  by God.  We are either a racial nation or a holy nation.  The two are not synonymous.

As Christians, we are God’s people, holy, a treasured possession, race-less.


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It’s Not My Armor

32David said to Saul, “Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” 33Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.” 34But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, 35I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. 36Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God.” 37David said, “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” So Saul said to David, “Go, and may the Lord be with you!” 38Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. 39David strapped Saul’s sword over the armor, and he tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them.” So David removed them.

40Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the water, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine.

First Samuel 17.32-40, NRSV

The story of David and Goliath is a familiar one.  There are many popular sermons and songs that sing of the faith and courage of David.  We love to celebrate his victory over Goliath, proving that “the bigger they are, the harder they fall.”

But, David’s story also makes an important point about the way we fight historical enemies that seem to be larger than life, whose stories are greater than reality.  I love that David defeated Goliath but I am more impressed with the way that Goliath was defeated.  David does not elevate his enemy but places Goliath on the same plane as the lions and bears that he has killed.  Goliath will die just as they have not because he is David but due to the faithfulness of his God.

David does not focus on the size of Goliath but on his past success.  David’s confidence is not based on who his enemy is but he relies solely on the track record of God who has delivered him again and again.  “He has done it before and He will do it again.”  Lions. Bears. Goliath.  The Lord saved me from the lions and bears; Goliath does not have a chance.  He will meet the same fate.

But, there is a problem.  Saul has placed his armor on David.  It is representative of Saul’s way of fighting and the weight of it renders David immobile.  Sure, it is armor; he’s protected but he can’t go anywhere.  He has the king’s sword, expertly tested and made of the finest materials.  But, it is of no use to him if it prevents him from fighting.  It doesn’t matter how many Saul killed if David can’t pick it up.

David has to use what he is most comfortable and familiar with.  He will fight Goliath without the armor of Saul, picks up five stones and walks toward Goliath.  He’s picking the fight today!

The armor of Saul is much like that of race.  Persons accepted it in the past and were comfortable fighting with it despite its weight.  They accepted the racial identities of white/ black/ red/ yellow/ brown/ beige and gave no thought to other alternatives.  But, when it was passed down to me, it just didn’t fit.  I couldn’t fight race with their armor, with the name Black/ black, Negro/negro.  I had to use what I was most comfortable with so I put down race and picked up race-lessness.

Ironically, our racial identity makes us defensive and at the same time, defenseless.  We are always on guard and standing guard because “they are out to get us.”  Within the racialized reality, everyone is a suspect so we must be vigilant, expecting to be hurt or injured by every encounter.  But, this mindset breeds distrust and anxiety.  It is a painful way to live.

Race says life is a struggle or a battle and that we are not equipped to win.  There is no protection and no direction from race while it continually feeds us the images of war and we are a part of them.  Not only are “they” our enemy but we are too.  Consequently, we are fighting outwardly and inwardly.  We look in the mirror and want to fight.  We look at our neighbor and want to fight.  We look at the stranger and want to fight.

The racialized life says that our socially colored skin is both our personal power and a public weakness.  It is our skin and its social coloring that is the problem and no matter what we do to it, it is never strong enough.  It is our armor and the soft spot of our identity.

Race is the armor of generations past.  But, I cannot fight the giants of life in the armor of race: that is, with hatred, bitterness, anger, unforgiveness, prejudice, stereotypes and segregationist habits.  It doesn’t fit me; it’s not what I’m used to.  It’s too big and bulky.  It’s heavy and slows me down.

I know that I am young but I am not inexperienced when it comes to fighting.  Just because I don’t have the experiences of generations past, just because my battles are not as great, my resume not as lengthy and my victories don’t make front page news does not mean that I cannot kill Goliath.  I’ve got five smooth stones and I’m not backing down.  “Here, I come Goliath!”

 


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Race is a ‘different gospel’

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel– not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel.  But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaim to you, let that one be accursed!  As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!”

~ Galatians 1.6-9, NRSV

Paul writes to the churches of Galatia and to us to remind us of the freedom that we have in Jesus the Christ.  The churches in Galatia had been converted to this new faith and were walking in its liberating life and love.  Paul had removed the shackles of regulations only to return and find them restored.  And it happened rather quickly!

Why?  Because it was familiar and it was what they knew.  They knew the law but were not yet familiar with God’s grace, that is God’s unmerited favor not based on works or in our case, the social coloring of skin.

This response is similar to that of today’s Christians.  We have experienced an emancipatory conversion through our relationship with Jesus and now live in the Spirit, liberated from the laws of the flesh.  But, it does not take long before we, too, turn our ears to those familiar voices and experiences.  Afraid of the newness of life that Christ provided, we will arrest ourselves and detain ourselves.  We will sentence ourselves and walk back into the cages of the socially constructed identities of race and the legality of the social coloring of skin.  This is not the gospel of Jesus Christ.  This is a different gospel.

What is the gospel, the good new of Jesus the Christ for the 21st century?  It the same message that was given in the first century: “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (First Timothy 1.15).  Those are the only persons that he came for and it is the only category that all of humanity fits into.  We post- modern Christians want to do as Christians have before us.  We want to make the gospel new and even popular.  Well, referring to humanity as sinners is not new and it certainly isn’t popular.

What do race and sin have to do with each other?  What sin does the belief in race produce?  Race is pride in appearance, the external salvation of the self and the belief in the supremacy of humanity– even above God.  Race says that our salvation is found in the social coloring of skin not the salvific work of Christ on the cross.

It is an old sin draped in new words.  But, the worst of its kind, the creature attempting to be like the Creator in ability and knowledge.  Race offers the same deal that the serpent in the Genesis narrative offered to Eve (Genesis 3.1-7).  And the Church’s response imitates that of Adam: silent acceptance and subordination to race.

Frankly, the American Church is but a tool, a part of the machinery of capitalism as it was for slavery and Naziism.  Today, the Church is commercialized, a brand that wants to sell a new product.  We want to have the “latest and the greatest,” the shiny new toy.  But, the message of Jesus Christ is more than two thousand years old and it has not changed.  We have changed but Jesus has not.  He is “the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13.8).

We have allowed race to translate the gospel instead of the gospel translating race to us.  Race tells us who Jesus is and not vice versa.  Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon write in Resident Aliens, “By the very act of our modern theological attempts at translation, we have unconsciously distorted the gospel and transformed it into something it never claimed to be… (We have) transformed the gospel rather than ourselves” (22-23).

We can change the methodology but what it means to be Christian today is the same as it was when Jesus walked the earth: “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16.24).  The cost of discipleship remains unchanged: follow Jesus, deny yourself and die.

Race is a perversion of the gospel.  It says, “Follow socially colored white people.  Deny yourself in order to become like them (i.e. “act white”) and die to the true, authentic and new self that God has called and created you to be.  It is the good news of the flesh, the celebration of the social coloring of skin and that skin is ‘white’ (but not really).  This is not the gospel of Jesus Christ but different gospel and I join in Paul’s repetition, “As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!”  Race is another gospel.

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