I am not ignorant that much has already been written with regards to the racial tension in our country. Blogs and online media are overflowing with opinions and advice, articles that are helpful and those that do little other than incite hate are in abundance.. I’m sure that the caricature cartoonists are at their best, making light hearted banter of a rather serious issue. I have read the many statements from churches, parachurch organizations and some mature Christian opinions I value. Facebook has pinged out of control and data bundles depleted from the mass of videos portraying -as well as CNN could- the violence and menace of all that is happening.
I am also not ignorant that I write this as a very white male, shaped by my privileged past. And moulded by my Eurocentric right to do things my way and have the last word. I am challenged by the constant dialogue of those around me that reaffirm this by using language of exclusion, “they”, “them”, “us”, “our”. Challenged by the braai conversations of how bad it is getting, only to see the inch steak turned and another craft beer opened from the camping fridge that normally resides in the back of the Fortuner, parked on the pavement in, what to my mind, might resemble a laager.
But mostly I am aware that this letter need be addressed to no one but myself, and thus I will address it to me. You are welcome to do the same, to read it as if to no one else but yourself.
So where do we start?
The increasing conflict between cultures is part of a larger problem of identity and otherness. The general tendency of people (including Christians) to give ultimate allegiance to their cultures leads inevitably to a kind of “sacralisation of cultural identity” captive to one’s culture, and so to an unbalanced view of culture and identity. This generally leads to people holding onto things with both hands as if their identity would fall to ruins if they were challenged. This is always problematic as it promotes an intrinsic division of otherness. The so called “them”.
Instead of reflecting on the kind of society we ought to create in order to accommodate individual and communal heterogeneity, it is a wiser question to ask what kind of selves we need to be in order to live in harmony with others. The church should perhaps focus less on social arrangement and more on social agents. It is the church as individuals that ushers in the kingdom. What should shape social agents so that they in turn can fashion healthy influence over culture?
It requires cultivating a proper relation between distance from the culture and belonging to it. For Christians there should be a change of loyalty. Identity is not culturally found and people bound; but rather and only in Christ. There should be a move away from self, a required move to depart from a particular culture and give ultimate allegiance to the God of all cultures. This is anchored in Paul’s understanding of the cross. The cross of Christ, as the foundation of a new community, creates unity as Christ gives himself for many. The differences among many members are not erased but brought together in a complex interplay of diversity. Yet each difference is challenged at the cross and tested, purging all “idols” that have hidden under the sacrilege of culture. Religion must be de-ethnicized so that ethnicity can be de-sacralised. Paul deprived each culture of ultimacy in order to give them legitimacy in Christ. Paul deconstructs the falsehood around cultures to point to the unifying work of the cross. With one foot planted in our own cultures and the other in God’s future, we have a vantage point from which to perceive and judge the self. We can all then become as Christ intends self-less. Not simply because of moral intent but because of God’s new world, a world in which a great multitude “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” is gathered “before the throne and before the Lamb” (Rev 7:9)
Paul does this practically in Gal 2:19-20 – Paul de-centres his self (the old self being crucified with Christ) but also re-centres himself around Christ (it is Christ who lives in me) The story of Christ in His self-giving love, is at the centre of Paul’s self, Christ being the new identity that Paul has taken on.
My challenge to all, is that we will stand far away from our cultures to see the bias, the sin and the idols that we bring with. But close enough that we can transform it by the power of Christ at work in us. As followers of Christ we have a new identity that has been moulded by grace, we no longer live for the self, but rather for the one who gave Himself. Where we have not done this it is to our shame, and we should fall on bended knee in repentance, without a change of heart there will never be change of self.
Inscribed on the very heart of God’s grace is the rule that we can be its recipients only if we do not resist being made into its agents, what happens to us must be done by us. Having been embraced by God we should embrace others. Not for any merit on their side but simply because the love of Christ compels us. John sates this so well, (1John4:7-12)
7Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.11Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
In fact, Christ burdens love by requiring that we love our enemies, as Christ pointed out to his followers, they will be children of God not necessarily when they love those who love them but when they love their enemies and thus imitate God’s one-sided love directed towards a rebellious and estranged humanity. It is the downward movement of God, his self-giving love for sinful humanity, and his passion to save the world that presents the model for our social practice, and relational norm. That while we were still enemies of God, Christ died for us. This encourages a proactive reconciliation. A going into the world of cultures and loving unconditionally an inclusive “US”. Echoing a new understanding of what it means to say “Our Father who art in heaven”.
It causes us to pray at every opportunity for unity. Not only when disunity is perceived. It causes us to learn a language other than our mother tongue so as to address someone else in theirs. It causes us to become nauseated at the shallow racial jokes so often uttered at social gatherings, it asks us to include in our understanding of the church all peoples. Not as a mission project but as the great commission project. It causes us to find our hope in Christ and not in a political figure. It causes each of us to think long and hard about comfort and kingdom. May we come to love all people with the same kind of love that we have because of the cross.
Soli Deo Gloria