“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.