For the past few weeks, I’ve been writing and rewriting a post about white privilege. Fun ,right? But, it’s a topic that’s been discussed in our home, among our family, among our friends, and among our co-workers a great deal since the killing of George Floyd and the subsequent protests for racial justice. I even had a catchy title to go with it: “White Privilege: What it Is, What it Isn’t, and Why Christians Should Care”. Snazzy, huh?
I think white privilege is a completely misunderstood subject that all White Americans need to start talking about. To be honest with you, I didn’t understand it until I was in my mid-twenties…and I’m still learning. White privilege isn’t just about money…it’s about opportunity. It’s about the fact that by and large, White Americans have been given more opportunities than Black Americans. Take my grandfather, for instance. My grandfather grew up in Southern Missouri, the lone son in a family of six. His folks were nothing more than dirt farmers, really, but my grandfather had opportunity. He enlisted in the Army during WWII, and upon his discharge he was given the opportunity to get a home loan. Black American veterans could not. He also had the opportunity to go to college, if he wanted to, but Black American veterans could not. He started a couple of businesses with my grandmother, probably getting a small business loan from the bank. Something Black American veterans could not do. My grandparents were working class people. It took a lot to put food on the table and build a future for their children. But, even so, they had more financial opportunities than Black Americans.
As a Christ follower and a student of Scripture, I know that our God puts a high premium on justice. Seriously…do a keyword search of the word justice on Bible Gateway an you’ll find 130 entries in the NIV, 220 in the CEB, and 173 in the NRSV. Justice matters…and differing access to opportunity based on the color of one’s skin is a blatant form of injustice. So, as a Christian, I have to care about white privilege. I have to seek to understand it; moreover, I have to work to change it, because God commands his followers to love justice.
But, then I read this verse in Ephesians, and I realized that the message God has for us about racial justice is so. much. more.
Paul’s words to the Ephesians came at a time when people were deeply divided by race. Diversity was not encouraged, and while people of different backgrounds might occupy the same piece of land, they certainly didn’t live together. The Jewish Christians (yes, I know that sounds like an oxymoron) had a massive superiority complex when it came to the early church. They prided themselves on their birthright as God’s chosen people. Jesus was a Jew. He came as the promised Messiah to the Jews to deliver Israel once and for all. Who were these Greeks who wanted to be part of Jesus’s salvation? They hadn’t been enslaved in Egypt. They hadn’t followed some crazy man around the desert for 40 years. They hadn’t built the Temple of the Lord, been exiled into Babylon, and overcome oppression time and time again to establish the kingdom of Israel. The Greeks made statues and ran around in togas for crying out loud! The Jews considered them to be highly immoral and unclean. They didn’t practice the Jewish Law, they weren’t circumcised, and… they ate pork. The Jewish Christians started trying to impose all sorts of restrictions on the Greek Christians. They had to adhere to the Law, they needed to be circumcised, they had to change their diets, their clothing, on and on and on. The Jewish Christians were attempting to deny the Greek Christians their opportunity to receive Christ’s salvation…a fact that did not sit well with Paul.
In the above verse, Paul calls all of the early Christians out for their prejudicial practices. Paul reminds them that in Christ there is one body…and entry into that body depends not on race (or gender, or nationality, or political party, or economic status, or age, or previous misdeeds). Rather, entry into the body of Christ depends on one’s acceptance of Christ as Lord and Savior of their lives. You see, Christ sacrificed his body on the cross so that ALL who seek him may dwell in unity with him. When the Roman soldiers broke Jesus’s body, they also broke down the barrier of hatred that so often divides people from one another. There can be no hate in the body of Christ because Jesus’s death was an act of love. And love is the perfect bond of unity (Colossians 3:14).
As Christians, there should be no barrier of hate that can divide us from others. This is why I believe that as Christians…moreover, as American Christians…we are compelled to stand up for racial justice. The brutal legacy of slavery has left indelible scars on this country that are still oozing infection. We can’t erase them, nor should we. But I do believe that, with the power of God’s love and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, we can HEAL them once and for all.
Jesus broke down the barrier of hatred that divides us. So, how do we begin to break down the barrier of hatred that is racial injustice? As White Americans, we have to first stop and listen. I’m not talking the kind of listening we too often do, sitting around coffee shops, barber shops, beauty salons, and dinner tables with people who look and think just like us and sharing the same opinion over and over. I’m talking about listening to those who have had vastly different experiences than us. White Americans need to listen with open minds to the stories of our Black American brothers and sisters because it is only by listening that we have any hope of understanding. And I do believe, with every fiber of my being, that we as Christians are called to seek an end to injustice…including racial injustice. We have to allow Jesus’s work on the cross to break down the barriers of prejudicial thinking we may have grown up with or accepted as the norm. We have to love with Christ’s heart, and carry that love with Christ’s hands and feet in an effort to heal the brokenness all around us. We have to have the courage of Jesus as he preached the Good News to put our own preconceived notions, opinions, understandings, and teachings about race aside so that we can become the true body of Christ…a body that sees color and says that all of it is a beautiful creation of God.
Blessings and Peace,