We’ve been surrounded all week by talk about equality. The hateful shooting in a Charleston S.C. church has brought to the surface the enduring existence of racist thinking in the minds of some; though it has also brought to the fore the remarkable response of forgiveness from many of the families impacted.
This was a hate event that turned into a grace event.
In light of that, what does the Christian gospel have to say about race relations?
Actually, a lot – but I want to focus on one foundational passage that should forever settle in our minds how we think about others that are “different” from us (as individuals or groups):
…in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:26-29)
May I give a little bit of context for this remarkable, we’re-all-on-the-same-level passage?
The Christian message came into a time and place where the Israelites – the physical descendants of Abraham – were “the chosen race.” This was nothing inherent – they did not possess superior humanity – but it was strictly through the election of God.
God was “with” Israel – and everyone else was an outsider. Gentiles were dogs. Samaritans (half-breed Jews) were despised. The sense of superiority was both tribal and religious.
That was the reality; and throughout human history, from the ancient past to the current day, you’ll never find a time when people of varying tribes, races, cultures, and belief systems did not look down upon, make war with, and subjugate others. Tribal strife in the Middle East is nothing new. Slavery, ethnic cleansing, oppression – where and when have these ugly practices NOT occurred??
We are a fallen HUMAN race; prideful superiority is woven into the fabric of our corrupted hearts. Not a single reader of this post is free from it – nor is the writer.
But into this mess came the radical message of the gospel of Christ.
All humanity had already been levelled under the dominion of sin. But the divine announcement of the Christian faith was that ANY and ALL could have equal standing with God based strictly on believing in the emancipation proclamation of Jesus as Savior. Jews and Gentiles; slaves and free; men and women; all races, backgrounds, cultures, standings in life, genders; even all stained with every variety of moral shortcoming and rebellion – ALL are welcome to turn from sin and come to Jesus, and be granted the status of spiritual offspring of Abraham. Chosen ones. Equally fallen, equally forgiven, equally adopted – equal in status before God and one another.
The body of Christ is one, composed of many. Different, yes. United in a common humanity and salvation? YES.
From the richest to the poorest, all robed in one righteousness, one faith, one hope. Jesus Himself. We retain our racial and cultural and other differences, of course; but all pride in such distinctions is obliterated.
This is why racism is so wrong; and this is how it is overcome. Apart from the gospel, racism is a fact of life. In Christ, racism must bow to a salvation that levels every human being before an infinite and wise God. You have to drop your superiority when you humble yourself before the living God.
Love wins, in other words.
And the amazing-grace response of the people of Charleston demonstrates that fact. Forgiveness, in the face of such hurtful hatred? It is the grace of God at work – so eloquently described by President Obama in that city’s memorial service this week.
Grace is what will overcome racism. Equality is not derived from something so flimsy as legislation, though laws can help usher in more equal practice. True equality is not acheived through the pile-on pronouncements of social media mobs. No – equality is ultimately a God-thing. Even the Declaration of Independence explicity declares that fact:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”
Equality is rooted in eternity. When we personally know God’s embrace of our unworthy souls, we will fully grasp that we are all equal; and then, in humility and gratitude, we will embrace one another.