One of the most complex challenges of our time is also one of the great triumphs of the cross. In writing about the cross in Ephesians 2, Paul says that through the “blood of Christ” the dividing wall of hostility that separated Jew and Gentile has been broken down. Earlier Paul has proclaimed that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile (Gal 3:28). John, in his vision of the heavenly throne room in Revelation 7, describes a great multitude that no one could number from every nation, tribe, tongue and people, in short both an ethnically and culturally diverse crowd brought together by the blood of Christ.
And yet in so many ways America remains divided on the issue of race and culture. Whether it is the racially motivated events that have taken place in cities across America like Saint Louis, Baltimore, Charleston, or the complex issue of refugees and immigrants from outside of America, it is illustrated time and again that this unity that Christ won is difficult to experience and we are still in the “not yet.”
And lest we think that the struggles are “out there” and that we here in good ole’ GR are immune from such issues consider the research done by Thomas Frohlich and Sam Stebbins on the Worst Cities for Blacks Americans. Guess who makes the list? That is right GR comes in at #5. In fact, the top ten is made up entirely of cities from the midwest. Using factors like economic and educational disparity, incarceration rates, etc… the picture that is painted is not a flattering one.
So why bring this up here and now? First, as I said at the beginning, this is one of the triumphs of the Cross of Christ, the central event in history. Failure to reckon with this victory or relegating this aspect of the victory to second or third tier status, puts us in danger of not embracing the call of the Gospel in its fullest. Secondly, this coming Monday America will commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Sadly many will put this “holiday” in quotation marks, choosing to see it as a product of affirmative action or some other “liberal” agenda. Others will take potshots at the character of MLK (and there will be truth in their claims), but miss the bigger picture of what the day stands for, and how it is inextricably tied up with the Gospel.
Race in America; issues of culture and ethnicity in our churches are not easy ones to grapple with and there is no “technical solution” to implement that will easily solve the “problem.” Put another way, this is not black and white issue, and it will not do to presume to have the answers or “put it simply.” What is needed is a Gospel-driven attitude whereby we as individuals or collectively as a church, in humility, engage people or groups of people who are different from us. Our prayer is that by listening and learning from the other’s narrative we begin to bring Gospel shape to a story that incorporates more than simply our experiences.
My purpose in writing is to encourage us as a community to not grow weary in our well doing, but to continue to push into the complexities of life in the “in-between” times as we wait for Christ to come again. Let us be the people of the cross, those raised to newness of life! We, who were once the outsiders, the alien, the “other”, are now the Fathers’s beloved! As the beloved, we are enabled to love others with a love born in us of the Spirit’s power.