Adam and Eve carried within their DNA the potential for all of the physical variations – obvious or subtle – of the human race. Ever feature and hue woven into the tapestry of humanity were hidden possibilities. Every culture and clan; every nation, tribe and tongue; they all spilled forth, splashing and splitting and breaking into a thousand rivulets from the headwaters of creation.
At every division, sin was the stone in the way. Like a massive rock outcropping in a stream, jealousy, pride, hatred, and murder split the flow, sending one group this way and others that. Along the way God interacted, protecting and redirecting, sometimes encouraging the division, other times bringing divergent streams back together. The Flood, the Tower of Babel, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses.
Ultimately, when the time was right, Jesus.
Jesus is the second, and final, Adam. As Adam was the source from which humanity flowed, Jesus is the river into which all humanity is meant to flow. Diverse humanity scattered from Adam. Scattered humanity finds unity in Jesus. What was broken is made whole. Painfully. Slowly.
The reality is that from the start, followers of Christ have found a multitude of reasons to separate and divide, carrying on the sad pattern. Loving the different, let alone loving enemies, has not come easily, but it is precisely there that we must carefully and intently follow Jesus, for nothing demonstrates the new life in Christ more clearly than loving the unlovable, the different, the other, the enemy.
I listened to a very interesting interview yesterday on the Seminary Dropout podcast. The host, Shane Blackshear, talked to Kyle Canty about race, privilege, history, and the challenges to experiencing multiethnicity within the church. Canty is a husband, father, writer, and leader within the church. He is also black, and offers a perspective that I need to hear. In addition to the interview, he shares his thoughts on his blog, and he recently wrote an article about racial reconciliation for Christianity Today, which you can read here.
I was thankful to hear his perspective. And, I’m thankful that we share a desire to experience oneness in Christ. But, I was dismayed when the conversation turned to the question of the viability of the multiethnic church, because the message conveyed was that there is little hope for a truly multiethnic church in the United States.
I think he’s right. At least that it is very, very hard to experience the kind of multiethnic church as he envisions it. And, I recognize that it is especially challenging to consider the changes necessary to achieve a multiethnic church, when viewed from the perspective of the forever-submitting.
But, I also think he’s wrong. The church already is multiethnic, and has been since Cornelius embraced Jesus as Lord. That’s true of the church universal, and true of the church in the United States, and true of the church in Philadelphia, and true of the church in his neighborhood. Where it’s not true is in the chunks of the church that we have cordoned off and stuck labels on.
We can’t take a small part of the church and put a wall around it and define it by some subset of characteristics and hope that it can be any more than that. But, we can recognize that the church is all those who follow Jesus, and we can connect with them freely, and we can love them freely. In this way, the realization of a multiethnic church is entirely possible.
Ultimately, the culture we want is the culture of Jesus alive and active in our midst. His culture does not lead us to homogeneity, it leads to a shared diversity. Can you picture that? Can you picture what the church would look like in your city or neighborhood if we recognized that there is but one church and we saw each other as siblings and we sought to honor and care for each other in spite of differences?
There’s much to unpack in that vision, and I realize you may be shaking your head, full of objections or questions, so I’ll stop here for now. Please, if you do have questions or objections, share them in the comments and I will address them in a future post.
Action: What barriers do we hide behind to keep us in our comfort zone? How can we cross lines to love the different, and especially those from a non-dominant culture? We have institutionalized differences; in what ways has that limited our ability to experience and demonstrate to the world the unity that Christ desires? Are there changes you can imagine that would foster the kind of interaction that the New Testament exhorts us to? Please comment!