If we listen to the news over the past few weeks we can’t help but be disturbed by the high levels of racial tension rising in American cities everywhere. We’ve seen so much black and white discord over the past few months we question the efficacy of any advances made during the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. Racial issues aren’t just social issues; they impact every aspect of being human. Yes, race is about skin color and physical features, very intimate parts of who we are. All of us recognize race as physical and social aspects of our existence because these are the most obvious areas tensions among different races emerge. We discriminate against someone because of how they look and develop social systems unfairly treating one race as inferior to another based on how we think, feel, and relate to the differences we see in people not like us. What we forget is race impacts our spiritual lives as well. There’s a reason one of the most racially divided days of the week is Sunday. Deep within our very spiritual lives we struggle to meet one another on a human level. Somehow we let what’s different about us divide the unity the Spirit beckons us to embrace. Racial issues impact ALL of who we are thus they’re spiritual issues as much as they’re physical, social, emotional, and cognitive issues. The question we need to ask is how can we temper the negative spiritual issues destroying us and build upon the positive elements racial diversity provides? How can men and women charged with the spiritual care of others help them identify a holistic remedy to what’s often viewed as merely a social problem?
Let’s start with a brief reminder regarding the Christian faith and its relationship with creation. Christianity is a faith in which the visible becomes the starting point for knowing and experiencing what is invisible. Creation is good and beautiful because through it we come to know the one who is true and holy. For some Christian churches this is the whole foundation of the idea of “sacraments”; visible signs the make us acutely aware of an invisible grace God bestows upon us at particular moments of our lives. Through the water of baptism, we experience the grace of new birth, the anointing with oil gives us a physical experience of an anointing of the Holy Spirit, bread and wine broken and shared provide us with a unique experience of Christ himself who was broken and poured out for us. Christ, through the incarnation is the invisible Word of God made visible through his human nature. The Christian cannot embrace a spirituality that abhors the created order because through creation (The creation which God has declared as “Good”) we come to know the beauty of the creator himself. In order to remedy racist spirituality, we need to first see that which God has created, the many different races of people, is intentionally good and meant to be diverse and different. God intends a diversity among creation as all elements of creation somehow speak to him. Human beings are meant to be different, no race is better than the other, because within the diverse human experience, Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, etc. God is encountered. To believe one race is superior to another is not a Christian approach to understanding people, it’s a distorted sinful understanding of the gift of diversity within creation and the human condition. Like the Trinity itself, the diversity of each person is in no way inferior to the other, rather it emerges as a unique experience of the same divine essence.
A second point to make clear is that within a proper holistic Christian spirituality racism cannot be tolerated because within it is the assumption that somehow a human being can be relegated to a thing. If each of us is created in the image of God regardless of the diverse way God has elected to create us, we can never be something other than a human person. We are not an object to be used as the means to another end, we are always a human being created with human dignity that reflects the image and likeness of God. When I encounter a person of a different race, I encounter another human being first. The race of the individual is the visible sign of the diversity and beauty of God who is made manifest to me through the encounter of this other person. I must first see the divine spark, the other Christ in my fellow human being before I see the other’s race or differences from me. When I first seek what is common and unites us I can appreciate the differences each of us have and know the beauty of the creator God.
We often marvel at the many shapes and colors an artist uses to paint the most beautiful artwork on canvas. We might even describe this experience as an encounter with the divine as our eyes drink in the colors and combinations of geometric shapes placed together in ways we may never have imagined. If we can be moved to such awe and wonder by looking at what a fallen human being has created how is it we don’t see within the diversity of the human condition the deep mystery and beauty of God. My friends, don’t be drawn into the evil elicited by the sinful need to identify ourselves as something unique based on our color or facial and body shapes. These are only beautiful, important, and essential because they point us to a common human condition which reflects and makes visible the invisible and beautiful God. I will choose to love the whole Christ as he is made manifest in the diversity of people which make up his body the church. Perhaps by starting with these spiritual truths and experiences I will not see other people as white and black objects to be used, tossed away, and targets of anger and aggression but rather fellow human beings made to give and receive love. Perhaps this spiritual understanding will keep me from forming my hand into a fist and instead extend it as an open invitation to friendship and love.