Tag Archives: Galatians 1.8

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.

Cutting Away The Flesh of Race: The Marks of Jesus

“It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that would compel you to be circumcised and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For even those who receive circumcision do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may glory in your flesh. But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. Peace and mercy be upon all who walk by this rule, upon the Israel of God. Henceforth let no man trouble me; for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brethren. Amen.”

~Galatians 6.12-18, Revised Standard Version

Cosmetic, “corrective” surgeries for the eyes, nose and lips are examples of what I would consider a racially- motivated circumcision (though arguable not the definitive area of the body impacted by which the word is defined), a cutting away of flesh in order to ensure social purity and perfection. Persons from various cultures are changing their outward appearance, exchanging their cultural distinctions for features that allow them to appear more socially colored “white” for career advancement, social acceptance and/or the enhancement of self- esteem as the image of the social construct of whiteness is viewed as the image to be made in in American society. My argument is no different from Paul’s as it relates to this matter.

This racially motivated circumcision only brings glory to the flesh and is not a work of the Holy Spirit. For what do we profit in changing our appearance to fit the mold of what is socially deemed beautiful in the eyes of humanity? What of it is tied to the cross of Jesus Christ and His suffering? How does our appearance ensure that we will keep the law or that we are saved by this social faith through a fluctuating grace? The changing of our appearance does not fulfill an Old Testament law or a New Testament promise. We are saved because of Christ’s redemptive work on the cross and we are able to keep the law because of the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Race suggests that one’s moral character and likewise, one’s relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ can be determined by appearance, that we can merely look at the social coloring of skin and determine whether one is righteous or unrighteous, chosen or to be turned away. It is because we have associated the social coloring of skin with the nature of good and evil. Perhaps, we have taken phrases like “children of light” and “children of darkness” too literally, attaching their meaning to particular cultural groups (I Thessalonians 5.5). For various reasons, we continue to attempt to locate evil in a particular people group. But, it is a false doctrine to suggest that the social coloring of skin has any position, purpose, power in God’s household of faith, the practice of the Christian faith or in the divine will of God for believers. Those who would incorporate these legalities are false prophets, false teachers of the Christian faith and I join the apostle Paul in saying, “Even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which you have received, let him (or her) be accursed” (Galatians 1.8). A racialized Christianity is indeed another gospel.

Changing one’s external appearance does not contribute to Christ’s work of regeneration within us. I submit that today it remains easier to make external changes that we approve of, find agreeable and are socially acceptable than to “take up our cross and follow Christ” (Luke 9.23). The social coloring of skin is not what makes us acceptable before God and those socially colored white are not without sin neither are they God’s model for humanity. That position is reserved for Jesus Christ alone and His ability to serve as the sacrifice for our sins had nothing to do with race.

Race supports the righteousness of this world and the social construct of whiteness is a self- righteousness. We are made new creatures not by the changing of our outward appearance but by the internal work of the Holy Spirit. The new creature or new nature is “created after the likeness of God” who is Spirit “in true righteousness and holiness” and not that of any human being (John 4.24; Ephesians 4.24). We are to conform only to the hand of God for there is only one Potter (Jeremiah 18.1-12).

So, I don’t allow anyone to trouble me any further about my appearance, the size of my nose, the shape of my lips, the social coloring of my skin because because I bear the marks of Jesus Christ as His servant and messenger.