I promise you this is not happening because I am being lazy, but because these words fit what I’m trying to say. They did, after all, come from my own mind. This just demonstrates that I am consistent – at least about this topic.
As I’ve thought about this topic afresh lately, I can’t say that I’ve moved from the basic position represented in these posts. I also can’t say I have made as much headway in moving past some of the things that cause the deep “soul ache” I will allude to below. It’s still there…
That said, here is my final (at least for now) post on this topic. I can only talk about this is small bits at a time. I may revisit it again at some point. This was originally posted on my old blog in August of 2008:
I have talked about this many times before, and most of the time I would rather not. But it is a point of contention in my heart – it is a deep soul ache that I cannot seem to soothe away easily. And so, I must engage this topic yet again. Pray for me.
I recently listened to a message that was first introduced to me about a year ago. It is a message that Thabiti Anyabwile gave at a T4G conference. I won’t go into the reasons I searched out this message again; but I will walk through some of my thoughts, some of the things that this new hearing of the message has caused me to ponder.
Anyabwile’s primary thesis is this: the foundation of our worldview in terms of how we see ourselves and other people is deeply flawed and inadequate. Specifically speaking, the idea of race as biological difference does not in reality exist. Please hear clearly what he is not saying: he is not saying that the differences do not exist, but that our explanation of those differences doesn’t exist. And, most importantly for Christians, this foundation is built on an unbiblical set of assumptions that undermine the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, and could very well undermine the Gospel itself. For these reasons, we need to completely remove this rubric of race from our thinking and replace it with a more biblical set of assumptions about identity. The rubric he embraces is ethnicity, which includes such things as “language, nationality, citizenship, culture and perhaps religion”. As I said the first time I talked about this message, I highly commend it to you – there is so much to this message I would be hard pressed to do it justice in this entry.
In his message, he expounds on the truth that our biological identity is rooted in Adam – we all share biological solidarity with Adam and Eve, our first parents. This reality is not rooted in the Fall, but in the creation of man, male and female, in the image of God. This is the foundation upon which our identity must be grounded. Because, although there are indeed difference across ethnicities, our shared identity as human beings made in the image of God is our unifying truth. For the Christian, this is more deeply expressed in our union in Christ, where God has created a new man, breaking down the wall between Jew and Gentile (of which all non-Jewish ethnicities belong by the way) and becoming our peace. The cultural identity of this new man is one of holiness and righteousness in Christ, as God works to conform us to the image of His Son. This is the basis of our unity, and our identity, and should determine and inform how we view our earthly identities of ethnicity/race.
I explain this at length because this message has had a profound effect on the way I think about race – and how much I desire to remove this distinction from my vocabulary and the way I see myself and others. As Anyabwile puts it, the “trajectory of race” does not lead to unity, because it exalts our differences instead of focusing on our common humanity. Race as biology is deeply personal, and any discussion or racial distinctions can be heard as an ad hominem attack on the person, leading to division.
I would have to say that I am a living example about how physical difference cannot be used to determine racial identity. Those who know me know that I am very fair-skinned. It’s not always evident what “race” I belong to just by looking at me. My biological makeup would include a host of difference “races”, although I am forced to identify with only one. What determines which is dominant? Cultural forces demand that I identify myself as Black, and I would never back away from that identity (and not for biological reasons, but cultural ones; I will discuss that in a later post). But is it a “racial” distinction? Is marking my identity in this very narrow view of race really helpful?
The bottom line? This idea of race as we understand it is distinctly American. It is completely foreign to biblical thought, and woefully inadequate in engaging all the different cultures and ethnicities that are represented in America today. Historically, race has been about Black and White – but more and more the ethnic makeup of America makes these categories way too constricting. Not to mention they leave no room to engage people of Native American, Hispanic or Asian descent, except to assign them their own “color” – Brown, Red, or Yellow and so forth. Trying to fit people in neat categories of racial distinction denies the richness of ethnic identity. I need to be clear here that I am not an advocate of “multiculturalism” as it is so popularly espoused on many liberal university campuses today. What I am trying to demonstrate is that this rubric of race is woefully inadequate in explaining the differences that are real across, and even within, ”races” as we commonly understand them – and it serves more as dividing lines than a point of unity.
Bringing this into the context of the body of Christ, what shall be our governing principle in defining who we are? I argue that our identity in Christ should trump our ethnic identity. Notice I did not say it should remove it – but it should govern how we view it. The way that race is defined creates a barrier for that. Because race is so rooted in personhood, the idea of asking a person to subordinate their racial identity to their identity in Christ can sound or feel like an attack on the individual, a swallowing or taking away of personhood instead of a liberating invitation into the new reality of who we are in Christ. How do we move past that?
I will not pretend to hold the keys to this aspect of the kingdom if you will, but I constantly wrestle with these thoughts, and they needed an outlet…so, here we go again…
More to come…maybe on this topic, maybe something else. Who knows but the Lord…(sly grin)…
Grace and peace…