“Bringing Up the End of the Pack”

81sHqHE9VGLDon Carson on racial reconciliation from his book Love in Hard Places. The entire section (pp. 87-108) is a classic Carsonian treatment of the subject–historically informed, logically thought through, with deference to multiple perspectives, and willingness to say true things–all reasons why Carson is so great to read on so many subjects. Anyway:

Although the ways in which we will live out the gospel mandate of becoming one new humanity may take somewhat different shapes in different subcultures, we must be doing something to realize that gospel goal; certainly we must not be perceived to be knee-jerk reactionaries who are dragged into racial reconciliation kicking an screaming, bringing up the end of the pack, the last to be persuaded. For we constitute a new humanity under the Lord who insisted, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

p. 108

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 humans and later divided them 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.