Greetings from all at the Graceworks team.
First off, I want to thank all those who have helped to support our work in these difficult times. This means a lot to us, both the material support and the love and trust behind it.
I had planned to write something about a basic curriculum for Graceworks going forward but I felt it would be wrong to ignore the discussions on race that are raging in America and echoed all around the world. We had stated that one of the marks of Christian maturity was:
Relational Maturity — connected to and sharing life with others in healthy community
Perhaps it is now important to state that relational maturity includes a respect for all races because we believe all are created in the image of God. The Bible does not teach a hierarchy of races. If the Jews had a special place in God’s purposes, it wasn’t because they were a great nation but because God chose this group of wandering Arameans to showcase His unmerited love and to use them as a channel of His love to all nations.
The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 7:7–8 NIV)
What is clear is that we all came from Adam and Eve and therefore are members of the same race, the human race. And the vision of life in the new heavens and the new earth is one that celebrates all races. This will be the song offered to the Lamb that was slain:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.”
(Revelation 5:9b–10 NIV)
“. . . every tribe and language and people and nation” — God’s new humanity will have representatives from all peoples.
Paul is also clear that:
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26–28 NIV)
The major divide for many of Paul’s communities was the one between Jews and Gentiles. In Christ that division, and by implication all other divisions including those on the basis of race, was dismantled.
And Jesus must have caused quite a stir when He made a Samaritan the hero of His story on “the Good Samaritan” while speaking to a Jewish audience. Jesus wanted to make a point that those who inherit eternal life can be of any race as long as they love the Lord with all their heart, soul, strength and mind, and they love their neighbour as themselves (Luke 10:25–37). There is a twist in the story because a Samaritan would have grown up being shunned by Jews, and here the Samaritan in the story showed love to a neighbour who was probably a Jew. Followers of Jesus are to show compassion and love to all, even to representatives of races that have wronged us. This was a lesson that Jonah had to learn too when he was sent to preach a message of repentance to the Assyrians, a race that had caused so much pain and suffering to the Jews.
Articulating a theology of the equality of the races is important. The challenge is to live out the implications.
At a personal level, we all need to take a long hard look at how we view other races. We may be surprised at how ingrained racism is in our souls. Having close personal friends of other races is one way we can keep ourselves honest and indeed receive help to see our own prejudices. I once wrote a piece that featured an Indian. Someone said that it was racist. I was horrified. I quickly asked a number of my close Indian friends if I had come across racist to them. They assured me I had not.
Then there is the matter of forgiving those from other races who have hurt you and the danger of resenting a whole race because of the actions of some from that race. I remember that for some time my dad would be upset if anything Japanese was mentioned. As I grew older I understood. He had seen friends and family tortured and killed by Japanese occupying forces during World War 2. He seemed to be more at peace about this matter as he grew older.
The most difficult manifestation of racism to deal with is systemic racism, where structures in a society favour certain races and keep other races down. Sometimes, affirmative action that is meant to help a disadvantaged race only results in more injustice. I think followers of Jesus Christ in all societies should be at the forefront of pointing out such racial injustices and doing whatever we can this side of heaven to redress those injustices.
I once led a mentoring group consisting of people from different countries and difference races. We were all participants at a conference and the members of the group had never met each other before the conference. My highlight of the conference was when one member of the group told another member of the group that she had always had a prejudice against people of his race but that in the context of the group — and we all had shared our stories — she had had a change of heart.
Mentoring for maturity — one heart at a time.