Unity Means Embracing our Differences
Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.
I remember attending a Christian conference where I met an older white gentleman who was making small talk with me. We did what “normal” Christians do. We began to get to know each other, sharing our origins, occupations, and other similar things. When I told him that I was attending Asbury Seminary, he touted my school’s reputation with great excitement. He then asked me about my vocational goals upon graduation, and my answer seemed to shake his grin and furrow his brow. My answer to him was that I plan to lead racial reconciliation within faith communities in order to help them reach all people and hear the voice of the community.
He became disinterested in further conversation and returned to the larger crowd.
Unfortunately, I cannot confirm that he labeled me as a liberal in his mind, but there is often something that seems unsettling or unrealistic to people regarding racial reconciliation. Reactions like his tend to come with the territory. As a leader, I am not trying to reinvent the wheel. I am just trying to bring people of all nations and realities together under a unifying truth. I am convinced that the image of God requires a relevant response to individual and structural racism and prejudice and that honoring his Image creates a unity that is not easily broken.
At the beginning of the biblical narrative, the concept of the imago Dei (the image of God) is presented as God creating and designing every human being in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27). The unifying truth should be that every human being, whether that person likes it or not, is an image-bearer of God. Instead of using that truth to approach every person with the same enthusiasm as the next, we often focus on what we can see to determine their potential and curb our enthusiasm according to it. Honestly, I have missed the mark on this more times than I can count, and I have had to pray that God would give me another chance to love that person the way I should have in the first place.
In my opinion, sin fuels these prejudices in the world and results in the corruption and division of the very diversity that God celebrates.
The truth is that we begin to forget what informs our ethics. We should treat everyone the same because we are all image-bearers of God. We often expect the worst out of people, but find them pleasantly better than the perceived norm once we begin to know them. The problem is that we often do not allow people to get that far with us.
We do not allow ourselves to have meaningful interactions with people who are not like us in skin color, socioeconomic status, gender, and many other categories.
We allow our prejudices to keep people who do not look like us or do not seem to be like us from being our co-workers, our neighbors, or even our fellow congregants. We may have surface-level interactions out of functionality with the other at the local Kroger, but we often are looking for a way to keep them over there and us over here. We even know how we are going to conduct ourselves, once we are on the other side of highway. We have got to be real with ourselves. We have to be willing to examine ourselves and be honest with one another. As long as we are playing the “us and them” game, we will not be able to establish unity. As individuals who know the truth, this is our business. Politics play a role, but unity in our communities is on us.
In Christian communities, I have come across people who say, “I do not see color.” I appreciate how they treat me, but the colorblindness mentality can send a message that we can have unity as long as you do not notice how I am different from you. Rather than forcing yourself to not see color, why not recognize how I am different from you and still love me? Though there is plenty of evidence concerning unity in Christ, I do not think that means that we should refuse to recognize how we are different.
We can recognize that we have different spiritual gifts, so why not recognize other ways that we are different from one another?
When we acknowledge that we are different from one another, we tend to respect the existences of others and want to know how our realities can be different. Transformation can and will happen in meaningful dialogue among individuals and communities on equal terms and with equal effort. In order for this to work, it is going to cost something. More than the occasional free event, it is going to cost your time, energy and resources.
The cost of transformation is going to be the giving of one’s self.
I am convinced that God is in the community-building business, which makes it our business. If we allow the image of God to be the unifying truth in our lives and recognize that we have been created different but equal, then it will show up in the way that we treat one another. I am not looking to make anyone feel guilty. I am trying to encourage individuals and faith communities into showing the world how unity is done. Transformation can and will happen in meaningful dialogue among individuals and communities on equal terms and with equal effort.
Even if I do not live to see the changes at an institutional level, I hope that I can play a role in uniting people under the truth that we have been created and designed by a loving God who desires for us to love God and others as ourselves.
View the Seven Minute Seminary, “Racial Reconciliation and the Gospel” by Lisa Yebuah.