“As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus”
– Paul the Apostle, Galatians 3:27-28, NRSV
We have all heard this text read before, offering insight into equitable justice in the midst of unjust and sinful systems. Before a righteous and just God, we all stand equally guilty and equally forgiven as the cloak of Christ is thrown over us. In return, disciples are called to faithfully demonstrate grace, mercy, and love without biases.
With the tragic events of Ferguson, MO still fresh on our minds, and the talking heads of cable news networks drowning out the airways, I have been mulling over how the church evaluates, reconciles, and engages race. If we were truly honest with this issue, the church remains thoroughly confused and perplexed when addressing racial issues.
Historically, we have a horrible track record. In most cases, the church used European expansionism to fuel evangelical fervor in order to rape and destroy ethnic identities. In my own ancestral heritage, the remarks by U.S. Army Captain, Richard Henry Platt (1840-1924), were recalled with frequency. Arguing for schools to educate Native American children, the Captain infamously said, “We must kill the Indian to save the man.”
We have failed within other traditions as well, enslaving Africans and profiting from the cheap labor of Asians and Hispanics. We like to claim that we see others without racial biases, but the reality is we do this all the time. No matter what the skin color we cast our gaze, we judge, we draw conclusions, and we create unjust systems that are as unbalanced as the world has ever seen. One only has to look at the racial make-up of the prison system to understand how race remains a neglected issue.
Today, as in his time, the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. still ring loud, “It’s appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is 11:00 a.m. on Sunday morning.” Granted, the church has attempted to address race issues in the past but without much success. For the most part, we are still a segregated and confused community. The time has come for us to set around an upper room table and seek ways we can break down barriers, understand racial narratives, and move forward as a united community. One meeting or conference will not achieve this dream, but it can be a start. More importantly, it will take a lifelong commitment from clergy and laity to seek out ways racial tension can be defused until a new way of relating to one another can be established. We must do something soon or the racial tension in this country will continue to escalate.
The church must learn to put on the cloak of Christ, which does not shun anyone’s cultural and racial identity underneath. We are all created by God uniquely and he has deemed us good. However, if racial biases are truly learned through culture and experience, which I believe, then we need to do some unlearning and create a new path forward.