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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

In Christ There Is No Jew or Greek...

This post is overdue by about a week and a half, but I think I'll finally take the time to write it and see if anybody has any thoughts in response.

On Sunday, September 18, my wife and son and I spent about 4 hours at Shoutfest -- a Christian music festival that tours around the country. The event we attended was in Johnson City, TN, and this experience may not reflect other Shoutfest dates, but our experience prompted me to consider an ongoing problem in the Body of Christ.

First of all, I will confess that the style of music presented at Shoutfest is not exactly up my alley. We went because it was the weekend of my son's birthday, and he wanted to see Disciple (one of the groups....ummm....singing). But this is not a critique of the...ummm...music. ;) I guess I'm getting older than I want to admit!!

So, there we are, watching a particular hip-hop group perform, and the crowd that was there (which was not overwhelmingly large to begin with) was receiving them pretty well overall, but apparently not well enough to satisfy the performers. So, they (the performers) began to chide the audience after one of their songs. It's quite possible that they were trying to be funny in doing this, so I was willing to overlook comments like, "We don't think you really want to hear any more songs. We'll just end our set now instead of doing another song." That very well could have been (and probably was) tongue-in-cheek. But it was the next statement that really surprised me and caused me to really question what was going on.

"Everybody's just looking at us. What? You don't have black people here in Johnson City?"

Paul made a very interesting statement in Galatians that I think gets overlooked a lot in the Body of Christ. It's found in Galatians 3:28. "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." This verse could be applied in many different situations, but I think that the one area that we need to really consider is how this relates to various races of humanity.

What was the relationship between Jews and Greeks in Paul's day? To be very concise, it was not a good relationship. But Christ changed that. Paul is describing in the context of the surrounding verses the reality that when we are baptized into Christ, we take on Christ and become equal heirs to the promises given to Christ through Abraham. In other words, our national identity takes a back seat to our identity as Christ. One might even go so far as to say that our national identity does not matter anymore once we are in Christ.

So why would someone who claims to be in the Body of Christ even joke about others rejecting them on the basis of their race? Is that a joking matter? I really don't think so. I don't want to go so far as to say I was offended, but I was deeply saddened by the comment.

Frankly, as one who tries very hard to not tolerate any kind of racism in himself, I get very frustrated when I am either individually or corporately accused of racism. I sometimes want to stand up and scream, "Why can't we all just get along?!" Because it seems to me that the issue will never go away if we're willing to draw attention to our different human races, even in jest.

I am in Christ. Therefore, I do not find my identity as a white person. I do not find my identity as an American. I do not find my identity as a male. I am a Christian. If you are in Christ, then I do not identify you as a male or female, black or white, American or Chinese, etc.

It reminds me of a comment I once heard or read Bill Hybels make. He wanted to use a particular illustration in a sermon, and asked his board their impression of the story. In the story, he described a man as "a black man" (or something similar to that). After he finished the story, one member of the board wisely said, "Does it matter to the story that the man was black?" Hybels admitted that, in reality, it didn't matter to the story at all. He removed the race reference when he used the illustration in his sermon. I applaud that kind of thinking.

I do not deny that racism does exist in our culture. In fact, racism in some form or other has probably existed in every culture since sin entered into the world. We know for a fact that it was rampant in the time of Jesus and of Paul. That's not the issue. The issue is that, even though it might exist in our culture, it does not need to exist in the Body of Christ. Or, to be more strong about it, it must not exist in the Body of Christ. We who truly are in Christ will not behave in such a manner, nor accuse others of it, nor joke about it.

What are your thoughts?

Until next time,

steve :)

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