Ferguson, Race, and The Goodness of Created-Physical-Existence

Consider this one very small contribution to what is a huge and beyond complicated subject that I would much rather listen than contribute to.

One of the ways to approach this subject is to try to formulate a Christian account of race in light of the Gospel. A key text here is Ephesians 2:14-16–“For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.” (NKJV)

In framing the discussion, I’ve heard some who seem be saying “We should talk about this subject as Christians. Not as black Christians or white Christians, but simply as mere Christians. In Christ there is neither ‘Barbarian, Scythian, slave, nor free’, after all. Paying special attention to a black perspective on this subject is divisive to the body of Christ where black and white don’t matter anymore.” And then those commentators who are perceived to maintain this kind of “spiritual neutrality” are praised for their “Christ centered objectivism” and those who “keep bringing up race” are accused of being divisive, and just throwing gas on the fire. “If you would quit bringing it up it would quit being a problem” is the (sometimes) unspoken hint.

I think we need to be careful here that we don’t unwittingly act out an unwarranted, almost gnostic, dismissal of our identity as physical beings in favor of a more “spiritual”, race-less, Christian identity. A robust account of our identity as persons created in the image of God with real physical bodies is essential to staying on course here. God created a physical world and called it very good. He’s not afraid of matter, and he’s not afraid of the physicality of our human bodies. He made us this way, and then he became embodied in physical flesh Himself! When he created man and later divided Him at Babel, he certainly knew of the thousands of different people groups, languages, cultures, perspectives, and skin tones (there are thousands) that would result. He points us to a future, not in which race is “done away” along with the tears and the pain, but one in which re-embodied people distinguished as from every tribe and tongue and people and nation are gathered around the throne praising the Lamb.

God created us in real bodies with real melanin, and that’s a good thing. In the body of Christ, we come from different perspectives that have been informed by our backgrounds, including our ethnic background. That’s a good thing. The mere existence of ethnic differences in the body of Christ is not in itself divisive, but only when those difference are allowed to form the basis for sinful division. Hence, the answer is not to pretend that those differences aren’t real, but to love one another through them, in them (and not “in spite” of them!). The glory of God in the gospel is when His Spirit takes those real differences and makes of them a unity in Christ–but not by pretending that those differences are not real or significant. What kind of glory is that? “Look, these people are getting along! (when they figured out that their skin color is illusory and irrelevant).” The unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace across ethnic boundaries is not made more glorious by ignoring those differences, but rather by robustly affirming them. The power of the gospel is not manifest by “not talking about race” but by bringing race to the table in all of its complications and messiness, and working through it in love. When a person becomes a Christian, does their physical body cease to matter? Is it merely an illusion, a distraction,–or worse–a necessary cause of division?

“Not talking about race” is not gospel unity–it’s superficial, and it might even be symptomatic of worse: a subtle denial of our good, created, physical, bodies, in color, no less.

I can’t wait until we have perfect unity around the throne. Until then, as a white-Christian, I need to hear from those parts of the body who can help me see my blind spots, and who are experiencing suffering because they are black-Christians, or otherwise. In my own limited and finite perspective, I need to hear from black-Christians. 

I’m not capable of participating in a “race-less” Christianity yet. If I’m reading my Bible right, I don’t think we ever will.

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2 thoughts on “Ferguson, Race, and The Goodness of Created-Physical-Existence

  1. Clarence Ogle

    I am a white man in a Christian church composed mostly of African Americans. However, many of our blacks are educated and are doctors, lawyers, business owners and high-ranking civil servants and officers in the US Army. Our senior pastor, co-pastor and the three associate pastors are all black. I love and respect these leaders and the many committed Christians in our church. They are my brothers and sisters in Christ, and I am blessed to be in their midst. Our church’s motto is “We’re not just a church; we’re family.” The distinctions between the blacks in our church and the blacks who have been killed by police are far more significant and meaningful differences than the racial difference between persons of different races. In most cases, the great differences between these two groups of black Americans – those killed by police and those in our church – are their families while they were growing up, their upbringing and their devotion to our Lord Jesus Christ.
    Why does a person become a police officer? One of the reasons that some persons become police officers is in order to exercise authority over other persons and dominate them. This character flaw combined with the influence of New York’s police union has kept some mean and too violent police officers patrolling the streets of that great city. It seems clear that excessive and deadly physical force by a police officer was the cause of Eric Garner’s death. In my opinion, dominating, intimidating and manipulating are all demonic. Then there are the cases where police officers exercised very poor judgment at best (or simply evil intent at worst), such as killing a young child who was threatening passersby with a toy gun.
    Charles Barkley, a well-known African American, said that those who looted and destroyed stores at the height of the unrest in Ferguson were not blacks, but scumbags. There are many good African American citizens in our nation. Every citizen should respect other persons and the laws of the land. It is clear, though, that there is a need for change in police procedures in many localities.
    Mr. Kleven, please contact me when you have time. Thank you!

    Reply
  2. dtkleven Post author

    Hi Clarence,

    Thanks for your thoughts. I appreciate your perspective; nevertheless, I want to push back on a couple things you said.

    >”The distinctions between the blacks in our church and the blacks who have been killed by police are far more significant and meaningful differences than the racial difference between persons of different races. In most cases, the great differences between these two groups of black Americans – those killed by police and those in our church – are their families while they were growing up, their upbringing and their devotion to our Lord Jesus Christ.”

    I would want to say that the distinctions are really not so clear. Across the lines of economic-class, religion, up-bringing, and race, we can affirm more core unity than dissimilarity. The blacks in the news and the blacks in your church are all: made in the image of God; born into circumstances not of their choosing or deserving; sinners.

    Further, the fact that those members of your church have worked hard to become pastors, doctors, lawyers etc. is commendable. However, the fact that other people have been unable to overcome problems like poor upbringing, poor education, and the struggles of being a marginalized group, does not drive a distinguishing wedge between them and your friends. It does not make them less deserving of justice. The answer is not merely “try harder” or
    “make better choices”.

    I don’t think you were necessarily saying any of that, so don’t read this as an attack on you 🙂 Just some thoughts sparked by a phrase you used.

    ~Daniel

    Reply

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