Jun 5, 2009

On Racial Integration

Brad Bellmore's article "Why is the Church so Segregated?" is very thoughtful on the issue of church integration in the United States.

I have read a few books delving into racial justice, including a biography of Martin Luther King Jr. and even (at an international scale) Ghandi's Hind Swaraj . I agree with one commentator of the aforementioned article that the racial discussion is a bit worn out and even now possibly a catalyst for further racist thinking. The term "race" has in itself become a somewhat divisive term. Henceforth, I agree with those who suggest that citizens of the United States ultimately (while not being "color blind") see each other as fellow children of God instead of some variety of "_______ American". Those who follow Jesus must recognize that the Kingdom of YHWH transcends physical borders. I do believe, however, that God intended for there to be diversity across the world. It makes life so much more interesting and dynamic . . . and humbling.

I have wondered whether such terms as "_______ American" are limiting and unhelpful. "African American," for example, or the somewhat more vulger limitation of "black," merely implies skin color. Yet, Africa is a large continent full of its own vast cultural diversity (not to mention a fair amount of European and Middle Eastern cultural roots). Similarily, "Caucasian" is an unhelpful term in also merely indicating skin color. It is vaguer than the term "African American" in its meaning. Caucasian generally implies European origin; however, Europe itself is an equally diverse continent. The same conclusions can be applied to the broad regions of Asia, Central and South America (generally termed Latin America with a number of other "general" word descriptions), as well as the Pacific region. And I do not think I have ever heard anything like "Middle Eastern American". Usually immigrants from the Middle East define themselves as Iranians or Afghans, etc. I think it is most helpful, if identifying your cultural roots is necessary in the conversation or relationship, to be specific. That applies to Americans as well. If someone is American, despite having ethnic Nigerian, Russian, Israeli, Guatemalan, Philippino, Korean, English, German, etc. roots—all of which may be important facets of his or her heritage—yet he or she has been born and raised in the United States, he or she is an American. Simply American. Not "Nigerian American" or "Russian American", just American. The United States was founded on principles of vast diversity. Though surely not practiced anywhere near perfection from the beginning (e.g. the oppression of many Native American tribes; though, even that conflict went both ways), it is something unique—a strange social experiment perhaps. It is a cultural melting pot of sorts, rooted in countless nations of the world. In some sense, the United States is built on principles that anyone can live and progress no matter what cultural or social heritage they have come from. There is something remarkable, though not necessarily fully beneficial (e.g. losing one’s cultural identity: another topic for another time), in such openness.

I do occasionally wonder what it really means to be American, but that is also a subject for another time. Nonetheless, many foreign populations themselves (e.g. Germany) find it difficult to truly identify what makes them as Germans unique in the world. Perhaps the era of strong nationalism and even patriotism is fading with such evident growing globalization and internationalization (greatly rooted in economics—e.g. money: another source of disunity).

However, the most separating factor of late seems to be religious affiliation. It seems the world has circled back to its ancient social sins. I pray that the incredibly oppressive violent so-called religious wars of the past do not repeat themselves. Some seem to have never truly ended as one examines the tribal wars of the world. Perhaps all have never really ended. They merely have shifted to more discrete methods on occasion like social division.

Overall, I find inspiration in the aforementioned article commentator’s call to exceed such diverse and numerous barriers between people, and remember that above all we share something much greater: humanity. Aside from that, and perhaps gender, each person is completely unique from the next. While there is surely academic merit (i.e. for the purposes of social study) in making some cultural generalizations, let us not forget that the only way to truly know someone different than ourselves (i.e. everyone) we must take the time to build relationship with them, to hear their story and live life with them in some form of community. This can only be hoped to achieve through Love, who is Jesus Christ. Love is the foremost call of humanity, from whence other issues (e.g. salvation) can be later addressed. In some sense, I believe all else grows from Love, like the Tree of Life lost after Adam and Eve’s banishment from the Eden. But perhaps it is no longer lost, but has been offered anew to every heart through the atoning work of the Gospel, which is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It is surely more complicated than that, but I am more interested in foundational Truth at this point. Such Truth has been difficult enough to practice.

I do not have practical solutions or answers. I leave that to greater minds. Yet, I conclude with this question: Without Love for our neighbor, for our fellow human being, are we not then reducing ourselves to a mere scattering of islands in a endless ocean? Are we not then utterly alone in the world without hope of redemption and reconciliation? We have been shown and given real Love, which is the Holy Spirit, through the Word of God, who is Jesus. It is a timeless endeavor, but one that we must nonetheless pursue. It is the pursuit of holiness, of sanctification. It is the pursuit of YHWH.

“Love is not against the law.” (Derek Webb)