A Starting Point for Christians in a Dialogue about Race (Post Two)

“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.” Gal 3:27–29

I used to read Galatians 3:27–29 as a unifying call for Christians to recognize the unimportance of their social identities within categories of gender, ethnicity, and socio-economic standing with respect to a Christian identity that is far superior. To put it in more explicit and personal terms: the fact that I am a Black man does not matter because what matters is Christ. My identity in Christ is not a competing identity but an all-encompassing identity that overshadows anything I once held dear prior to conversion.

I don’t see it that way anymore.

Now I see these verses not so much as a statement about me and something I must cognitively assent to but as a statement about God—namely, that God does not have a type. God accepts people no matter where they fall on the social binaries of the day. A free Jewish man has no priority, privilege or advantage over an enslaved Gentile woman in salvation; God accepts both of them equally and with no preference. Thus Galatians 3—and many other Pauline passages like Philippians 3 and 1 Corinthians 7—is not a call to abandon identities but to abandon our subconscious and deeply held belief that God has preferred types of people, preferred identities that get us closer or nearer to God.

This is nothing new theologically speaking; I’m tapping into something quite instinctual in Christian thought. Then why is this truth so far from Christian practice? Why are we implicitly taught every Sunday that God has personal preferences within the human race?

God demonstrates personal preferences with nearly homogenous leadership teams—leadership is usually composed of one race, gender, and marital status.

God demonstrates personal preferences during times of worship that favor people who can stand, walk, hear, see, read, and speak.

God demonstrates personal preferences with socio-economic standing because churches operate within the social norms of suburban, middle class, American citizens (note well all the buzz words).

God demonstrates personal preferences with clothing brands and body type.

God demonstrates personal preferences with communication and learning styles evidenced in similarly organized services and sermons each week.

On and on it goes.

At one time it was probably hard for anyone (Jewish insiders and Gentile outsiders) to imagine that God accepts anyone except Jewish individuals who happened to be men. And this likely fueled those early less-than-theological claims that one must “be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses” in order to be saved (Acts 15). Well, the same is true today: if I asked you to name the senior pastors over the most prominent or influential churches in America, you’d be hard-pressed to provide a list that isn’t almost 95% White married men.

Galatians 3 ought to be a personal reminder that God doesn’t have favorites and that you and I do not have to conform to the dominant culture of western Christianity to be acceptable to God. You and I do not have to think, write, exegete, or theologize like a White married man with 2.2 children in order to have legitimate ideas and in order to illuminate God’s heart for an audience. But if you happen to be a White married man with two kids and a fraction of another, that’s fine too; just don’t expect or demand – and do actively resist implying – another’s conformity to your worldview.

You and I do not have to become something we are not in order to receive grace or to continue in it. Worshipping God together while intentionally acknowledging and giving equal space to our differences proves the lyrics to the song all believers will one day sing (Revelation 5:9–10):

“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals,

for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God

from every tribe and language and people and nation,

and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,

and they shall reign on the earth.”

We are made acceptable to God on the same terms—the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ (his sacrificial life in our place). God doesn’t have a type. Therefore, we are not called to be the same and to ignore distinctions.

We should see red flags when a church is mostly homogenous with only a sprinkle of difference on and beneath the surface. We are missing something really basic if a person that thinks and behaves differently—outside conversations of grace-empowered sanctification—is asked or feels from subconscious messaging that they must conform to a particular local body’s culture to be welcomed and to fit in.

Father, move it from our head to our heart and to our practice by your Spirit, for Christ’s sake. Amen.

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