This week, I am attending the Children, Youth and a New Kind of Christianity conference hosted at Calvary Baptist Church in downtown DC. Dave Csinos, the founder and chair of the planning committee, has drawn leaders from across the world for “intentional reflection and conversation about the spiritual formation of young people within progressive, emerging, missional and fresh expressions of Christian faith.” I have been afforded the opportunity to contribute to the discussion and today, I shared from a presentation that I titled “A New Kind of Life: What Jesus Has Already Done About Racism.” Here is just a snippet of what I shared with those in attendance:
We, as American Christians, are not children of color but children of God. Our identity is not rooted in our flesh or its appendages but God. We simply cannot be both socially colored black/ white/ red/ yellow/ brown/ beige and Christian. We cannot be privileged, judgmental and xenophobic because of the social coloring of skin and “poor in spirit”, gracious and welcoming of the stranger. Or, oppressed, angry and revengeful and “more than a conqueror in Christ Jesus,” peaceful and forgiving.
These social identities were created for the advantage and disadvantage of another. They are neither complimentary to our Christian faith or Christ- like. They are of this world and we, as Christians, are not. Race informs us of how the world sees us not how God sees us. Race looks at the social coloring of skin, the outward appearance but God still looks at the heart (II Samuel 16.7). …
This social coloring of skin, this ability of race to make us believe that we are able to discern between saved and sinner, missionary and heathen, chosen and rejected is not the predetermining factor for our lives and its contributions or the means by which we come to know ourselves, our neighbor or our God. Race consciousness is not synonymous with God- consciousness. We don’t learn who we truly are through race but through our relationship with Jesus Christ.
The Church’s poor witness as the Body of Christ is evident when we profess to be “born again” or “new creatures in Jesus Christ” but rise from the baptismal pool to live the same racialized life that we have always led. It suggests, at least to me, that Jesus is able to “conquer death, hell and the grave” but when it comes to matters of race, Jesus has no power. Jesus cannot teach us about race. Jesus cannot heal us from race and its effects. So we go down into the water and get up still believing that race can be baptized, that our racial identity is a part of our Christian identity, that our socially color coded bodies cannot and should not die with Christ. …
Helmut Thielicke wrote in The Freedom of the Christian Man and I would agree, “Our understanding of freedom is threatened with disintegration because we do not know what ‘we should become’ because we have lost our sense of what we were intended to be.” We, American Christians, do not know what Christ must be in us. This is why race is so appealing; it is because it does the work of becoming for us though a prepackaged existence. But, Immanuel Kant would nudge us with his axiom, “You can because you ought.” So, break the seal.
So, God is not calling us to make persons socially colored black/ white/ red/ yellow/ brown/ beige but to make disciples of Jesus Christ and the two are not one in the same. Righteousness and wickedness cannot be based on or determined by the social coloring of skin and neither should our knowledge of Jesus Christ include that of race. As American Christians, we must realize when we are being acted upon by the forces of this world as we are guilty of making God and Jesus Christ in the image of race, creating color- coded theologies that only support “our people” though God loved the world which would suggest all people. T. B. Maston wrote in God and Race that “(God) is not a racial, national or denominational deity” and “there is no racial discrimination in (God’s) family… Our kinship is basically spiritual. It was Jesus who said, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3.35). …
We may think that the Church is not the place to talk about race, its privileges and setbacks. It’s inappropriate and irrelevant. We’re here to praise God, right? But, God is concerned about the way that we praise and worship and learn and serve– separately.
And Jesus never talked about race and he wouldn’t have. Race did not exist. Persons were not described, prejudged or stereotyped based on the social coloring of skin. Yes, persons were discriminated against but it wasn’t because of race. It is chronologically impossible to suggest that the first century gospels or early Church letters talked about or made mention of a concept created in the sixteenth century.
And we do talk about race. In fact, we sing about it: Jesus loves the little children/ all the children of the world/ red and yellow, black and white/ they’re all precious in his sight/ Jesus loves the little children of the world. But, this is not how Jesus loves children. This is how we love “them” and teach our children to love “them”– according to the social coloring of skin. We place them into these social categories and thus, incorporate racial formation into our teachings about Jesus Christ and his love. We are singing about Jesus and talking about race. We are creating distinctions, separating persons according to the social coloring of skin like loads of laundry– light and dark. This is not the unconditional love of God but this is how race loves us.
Discipleship is done in relationship. We learn about the love and life, the ministry and message of Jesus Christ and likewise, the commitment of a disciple by watching other disciples. But, we also learn prejudice and stereotypes in relationship as we are not born with a foreknowledge of race because we are not predestined to become socially colored beings. We draw this “color line” around our sacred spaces but we can erase it by practicing the boundless love and acceptance of Jesus Christ who did not allow social categories to prevent him from eating with the undesirables of his day. We should not allow society to tell us who we can be seen with and who we can serve.
The call to discipleship is not discriminatory: “Whosoever will, let them come” (Revelations 22.17). A gospel that includes race is no good news at all; it is a “different gospel” and does not offer a new kind of life. I am told that “the ground around the cross is wondrously level” so if any one group be elevated then how can Christ be lifted up?
What has Jesus already done about racism? In fact, what has Jesus done about race and its social categories? Jesus prayed. In the seventeenth chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus prayed, “I ask not only on behalf of these but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may be one. As you, Father, are in me and I in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
Jesus prayed this prayer because there were already divisions among the believers. He prays for a unity that allows for the diversity seen in the Holy Community,”a diversity in persons while maintaining essential unity.” Jesus prayed that they would become indivisible and whole. The number one often represents and is symbolic of unity, agreement, harmony and interdependency. It means sameness in nature, kind or condition. But, one is problematic for race in that there is only one category and it includes everyone.
But, in Christ, there is no majority or minority, no center or marginalized, no insiders or outsiders, no citizens or aliens. No one is foreign in Christ, counted numerically or categorized culturally. But, we are all one in Christ and Christ is in all.
The name of Christ then includes all and is the name for inclusivity. There is no diversity of souls. We are one Body of Christ as the prayer did not divide us or section us off. Jesus prayed the same prayer for all and we are Christ’s answer to this prayer. We need only become it. For when we become “completed into one,” then the world will know that God sent Jesus. Our unity will be proof that Jesus is the Savior. This is what is at stake and it won’t be accomplished so long as we are divided into socially constructed categories. This is why the gospel of Jesus Christ was and is and will remain race-less. This is the new kind of life that Jesus came to offer his disciples. Amen.