I have been in many conversations about race recently. I’m truly pleased we are having those conversations. For some, it has not been a regular topic of concern and discussion.
In the context of those conversations, I’m writing to address a well-intended comment I have heard for several years. Some have said a version of, “I don’t see color; I just see people.” Others have said something like, “I just treat everyone equally because we are all the same.” It’s possible I’ve made similar statements upon occasion. I think I understand the motivation behind those statements, and I affirm the intent of most who have made such statements in my presence. We are all the same in many ways.
However, as I look at Scripture, and as I have interacted with various cultures over the years, I’m beginning to wonder if this is a biblical view. At the birth of the church on the Day of Pentecost, the Spirit empowered the apostles to speak in other languages. The number of peoples and cultures represented in Acts 2 was impressive. Was their receptivity to the message influenced by the fact that it was delivered in their heart language and not simply the trade language of the day? My cross-cultural training and experience suggest to me that this was likely the case.
Acts 6 describes an incident early in the life of the church that might be helpful. Widows of one cultural and linguistic background were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. The solution was not to tell the Hellenistic Jews to stop speaking Greek, but to appoint men full of faith to ensure that all the widows were cared for.
As Gentiles entered the early church, a council meeting was held in Acts 15. Peter effectively asked the Jewish Christians to allow for cultural differences and not to impose Jewish practices on the Gentile Christians. The council wrote a letter that must have been a great encouragement to the Gentile believers. Certainly, there were biblical standards to follow, as illustrated in their letter. But there was also an acknowledgement that imposing Jewish culture and practices on Gentile believers would be inappropriate. In effect, they were not viewed as the same, and that was OK.
John described an amazing scene in Revelation 7. The individuals standing before the throne and before the lamb could have simply been described as a “multitude.” But he provided additional descriptions of whom he saw standing there. In addition to saying “no one could count” the number of people present, John noted that every nation, tribe, people, and language was represented. Not only were we created with divine differences, those differences may be preserved for all eternity.
Scripture seems to indicate that God does see differences with regard to race, culture, and language. A quick categorization of the biblical passages above shows he recognizes them (Acts 2), honors them (Acts 6), protects them (Acts 15), and preserves them in Heaven (Revelation 7).
How can we recognize, honor, protect, and preserve our differences while still seeking a unity that glorifies Christ? I think the answer is found in the question. But I think the first step is to become comfortable with the reality that while we have a lot of things in common, people are not the same. And that is by God’s design.