Category Archives: Race and Christian Identity

Can we live without race?

See the source imageRace is about beginnings.  Do we enter the world as colored people or do we become colored people?  Chicken or the egg, social colors or creatures, which came first?  It is a necessary question if we are to rid ourselves of race.  If we are to see that we can live without it, we must become aware that we are not alive because of it.

Race does not make us come alive.  We do not cease to exist if we no longer call ourselves by its names.

Race remakes us.  It is another Genesis narrative, a second baptism of flesh into colored waters.  We don’t wade in these waters but are drowned.  Who we are and could be dies and who race says we must be in order to tell this story correctly is brought to life.

Let there be colored people.

We come up beige, brown, black, red, yellow and white.  People of color cannot be people of God too.  Because we cannot have two creators.  Choose this day who you will be, Who or what flesh speaks for you.  One or the other, my enemy or my brother?

Choose a side and then stay on your side.  Walls, fences, gated existence, sheltered lives, we live somewhere off in the distance from ourselves.  Race forbids us to come any closer.  Stay where you are.  Race speaks for us; only it can say who we are.

But race has no intentions of introducing us to our true selves.

We are not born colored but reborn colored, called by racial names.  We are told that we are colored people.  By whom you say?  It is not an ominous they but us… just little old you and me.  We tell ourselves that we are colored.  We are answering to ourselves.

This is race.

If we are to be race-less, then we need only realize that we don’t really know ourselves when talking of our humanity according to the terms and conditions of race, that race is a corporate illusion, a daily, social magic trick, that we no longer want to keep this lie going, that race is up our sleeves and not under our skin.

The Color of Compromise: Jemar Tisby’s new book aims to talk about the difference race has made on American Christianity

His book arrived in the mail yesterday.  I must confess that it is one of forty books that I have ordered in recent weeks.  New home, new bookshelves, I am creating a library to support my future work on  the raceless gospel.  I want to be surrounded by these conversation partners.  I have also decided that I want to be buried under my books.  Please tell my family to pile them on top of me and now that I think about it, under me as well.

I will rest on pages.

But before then, I will read his book and so many more.  Tisby’s book is where the conversation on race and the church in North America should start: with the realization and acceptance of our role in its existence.  Race is not just a social construct, but an ecclesial one.  Beginning with the bombing at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama on September 15, 1963, Tisby calls us to account for our complicity.  He writes, “Historically speaking, when faced with the choice between racism and equality, the American church has tended to practice a complicit Christianity rather than a courageous Christianity.  They chose comfort over constructive conflict and in so doing, created and maintained a status quo of injustice” (17).  For him, we must start by owning what we have allowed by letting racial identities persist and racialized injustice to continue in our families, churches and neighborhoods.

Providing a historical survey, this is more than a history lesson but a call to action.  He recounts our sinful past so that we can face this present moment with the assurance that it need not be repeated.  We can say and do something different.  Tisby is convinced of the possibility.  He says, “Christians deliberately chose complicity with racism in the past, but the choice to confront racism remains a possibility today” (19).

From American slavery to the Black Lives Matter movement, the book concludes with a how- to list, which I will not detail here.  You will need to pick up the book.  Detailing the history of race in the making of the church in North America increases the sense of urgency for the healing work required and before we put the book down, Tisby has given us several assignments.  But, these are not ones you and I can simply check off.  The change that race has made on American Christianity will require more of our time and tongue.

Tisby’s words can change how we talk about race and in turn, our Christian faith.  Now aware and accountable, we are empowered to say something different and in so doing, to truly see each other without race and for the first time.

What are we talking about when we talk about race?

We’ve got to come back to ourselves.  We’ve got to take more than a few steps back and  we will have to step on more than a few toes in the process.  But, let’s begin to walk it back.  Let’s go back to the beginning.  Return to the first Word that is certain to be the last Word, Alpha and Omega.

Race is not God’s story with us or for us.  Race is not even a narrator.  It has no speaking role.  Instead, it is a rumor run rampant, a hand me down lie that has never fit our humanity.  An 18th century invention, it has no theological support.  Still, we cheer it on, take it on as apart of who we are.

But this race talk has got to stop.  I call on your tongues to push back.  I ask that your souls not budge, that you not give it an inch or an ear.   Instead, we must listen more deeply as race is simply skin talk, superficial gibber, surface level banter.  When we talk about our skin and its social coloring, we literally have not scratched the surface of our human being and its understanding.

Still, we carry on with our prejudicial assumptions and segregated living arrangements.  But, we must not make room for race.  Because we’ve gotten no where with it.  Carried down through these hundreds of years, carried on the backs of one generation after another, we’ve got nothing but bent back and broken hearts to show for it.  We’ve got to leave it on the side of the road now, admitting that we do not need it to survive but have used it to serve our pride, greed and lust for power.

We’ve got to confess that this has gone too far, gotten out of hand and that we are tied up by our own tongues.  Our freedom is literally on the tip of our tongues.  We need only speak the Word to return to God’s story.  Race has created this distance between us and the Divine.  A hierarchical humanity, this is a step down and far, far away from what God had in mind when God called us by name– not by social colors.

When we talk about ourselves as racial beings and not human beings, we are talking ourselves out of our shared humanity.  Our common denominator is not color but our Creator.  To be sure, race is not a likely substitute, a shoe in and certainly not a stand in, which is why we have to really think about what we are saying about ourselves and each other.  Because we are more than out on a limb or hanging ourselves out to dry when we suggest that the totality of our existence depends on our skin when Jesus came to save souls.

Plain and simple: It’s Jesus or race

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“His (Jesus’) life must mean the death of race in us.”

| Brian Bantum, The Death of Race: Building a New Christianity in a Racial World

It’s not hard.  Letting go of race is not difficult.  I know that it is not something that we would consider and that you didn’t ask for assistance with.  I know that you two have your problems but they’re your problems.  I know that I should stay out of it, that its a personal problem, a social conundrum, a spiritual dilemma.  I really should keep my nose out of it and my two cents.  But, I can’t.

While some people can’t get their minds around this race-less gospel, they shake their heads in agreement. Yes, it is a social construct.  Yes, it is not a biological reality.  I know that color and country are not synonymous, that color is not my Creator.  Yes, I am more than skin but soul and Spirit- filled.  Yes, but no.

No.  We have to stop right there because they can’t go beyond this intellectual acceptance.  Yes, that was their confession but no.  Getting rid of race is too hard.  It will take more time.  No talk of starting now and no mention of when this racialized existence would come to an end.  They just know that it can’t happen.  It won’t happen anytime soon, in the near future.  Strangely, they cannot see a future when race is not near.

“Because who would I be without my color?  I have always been beige, brown, red, yellow, black or white.  How would I identify myself?  Who would I identify with?”

So much to lose and not enough to choose from.  Race has them covered.  Life can only make sense to them if they are colored.

You would think that I asked them to peel off their skin.

They speak as if they would cease to exist and though Christian, the idea of being born again never crosses their mind.  There is no need to enter the womb a second time (John 3.4).  Enter water and Spirit.

But, for those who confess Jesus as Lord, it seems way too easy to put race to death through our new life in him.  New creatures, we simply cannot stop identifying with race.  And worse still, we imagine that God cannot be identified apart from it.  But, we can have one without the other and only one cancels out the other.

So, what will it be– Jesus or race?

The undivided body of Christ


Our reconciler, Christ is the middle man.   Our sacrifice, his body brings us together.  Jesus shortens the distance between us and God.  He paves the way, makes the way, clearing up any confusion about the way that we should go.  His cross is our signpost.  His hands pinned to a cross say, “This way.  This way.”

Golgotha remains largely undeveloped. The faith doesn’t make martyrs like it used to.  Instead, Christianity produces businesspeople and great success.  Christ’s life is a transaction; we exchange his message for materials.  Capitalism divinized, the Scriptures become a kind of coinage and we cash in on it.  Just “name it and claim it.”  This message has turned some heads and turned others away.

Yes, we get turned around. The songwriter is right: “Our hearts our prone to wander.”  And we are conditioned to turn on each other.  Us against them, it is the American way.  Capitalism calls for contests, for fights to the death.  There can only be one winner.  Crabs in a barrel, we will claw each other’s eyes out for the distinction, the blue ribbon, the plastic trophy, the sash that is a good meal for moths.

We push each other and pull on our own flesh. It all seems to get in the way.  And we do this every day in a myriad of ways, this separation of self and soul, self and sibling.  All God’s children, we invent differences.  We draw lines in the sand and around our circle of influence, our cultural group.  But, our people are not God’s only people.  God’s circle of love is so much bigger.

We cannot get a hold of God’s finger. We cannot get a handle on God’s love.  God keeps reaching out and touching persons strange to us and those whose faces we are trying to forget.  God’s will is undivided.  Mind made up, God’s attention is not divided.

Father, Son and Spirit, God is community and the divine norm is unity. There is no separation in God, no getting between Father and Son or Son and Spirit.  They work together, and this arrangement has worked forever.  Christ’s body, the expectation will not change.  Come together.

Eyes, ears, nose, mouth and feet, all are needed. We cannot be a body without each other.  This is message of the Apostle Paul to the people in Rome: “For as in one body we have many members and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are who are many, are one body in Christ, ad individually we are members one of another (12.4-5, NRSV);

to the church at Corinth: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many are, one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (12.12-13, NRSV);

to the Galatians: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (3.27-28, NRSV);

and to the Colossians, “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 and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!” (3.9-11, NRSV)

Time and again, this is Paul’s message and as baptized believers, it is our new reality and aim. We must reduce our allegiances, cut the ties that bind us to old identities.  We must get smaller, to decrease that Christ might increase (John 3.30).  We must be singular in our focus, setting our eyes on the prize and become the answer Christ’s prayer: “Make them one as we are one” (John 17.22).

We need to get down to one, one body, his body. Because we share one Lord, one faith and one baptism (Ephesians 4.5).  As Christ is, so we must be. Undivided.