If you haven’t heard a lot about racism and prejudice in our country lately then you haven’t been paying attention. With the killing of Trayvon Martin, the murders two weeks ago in Tulsa, and an African American President running for re-election for the first time in our country’s history, race is definitely a hot topic. My fear is that politics of division (from both parties) and a wave of anger and fear will lead to things getting worse before they get better.
How did we ever get here? The first time we ever see people divided in the Bible is in Genesis 11. The people have gathered at Babel to build a huge waterproof tower to reach the heavens (see “how to survive a world-wide flood as an act of rebellion against God”). God says, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.” So God scrambled their languages, scattered them across the earth and prejudice and division entered the earth. Since then, people have congregated with those like them and separated from the others.
Fast forward thousands of years to the Apostle Paul, the man God has called to be a missionary to every people and nation on earth. He writes in Ephesians 3 that the mystery of the Gospel is this, that every single nation in the world (Gentiles) are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. When Paul talks about the mystery of the Gospel, he doesn’t talk about grace or forgiveness or justification or obedience. When Paul talks about the mystery of the Gospel he is talking about the end of racism, division and prejudice because of Jesus and his Kingdom. In Christ, we are members of one body. Bill has a sermon (my favorite) where he talks about how the church functions as a “third race.” My identity may have previously been an Oklahoman while Ryan’s was a Texan, but now we are simply Christians. There is no black or white, there is Christian. There is no Jew of Gentile, there is Christian. There is no English-speaking or Hispanic, there is Christian. We are the end of the curse of Babel, and as such what God said of those at Babel should be true of us, “that as a people speaking one language there is nothing we cannot accomplish.” In our case, that’s exactly what God wants us to do.
Unfortunately the church has historically struggled to do this. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” In some cases the church has improved dramatically in this regard over the last forty years. In other cases not.
In a year when race is going to be part of our country’s conversations on a regular basis, I pray that Christians will rise above these divisions. I pray that we will rise above the politics of race and instead by driven by a Biblical approach to politics. I pray that Christians will not send emails or make jokes based on race. Don’t let “It’s only a joke” or “I wouldn’t say it if it wasn’t true” be excuses. I pray that as our world seeks to divide people that the church will step up and unite people. I hope we cling to the mystery of the Gospel and make it a serious part of our personal and communal commitment to Jesus Christ. I hope that in little ways and in big ways the church of tomorrow will become a light of every kind of unity in Christ Jesus to a world who would recognize Christians by their love.