Christianity is based on this beautifully difficult tension between the relevant and the righteous. We as believers have been charged with a very difficult task of being “in this world”, but not “of this world”. Sometimes that concept is difficult to unpack. Clearly, we live here on this planet. We are concerned about the needs of it and the needs of others that inhabit it, yet to follow Christ means to be sanctified or set apart from it. How are we to perform the both/and? How can I be wholly fixed on the reign of God when all my stuff is here? These are valid questions with which all believers must wrestle.
In an effort to be set apart, some Christians have gone to great lengths to get involved with reconciliation, restoration, and community as mandated by Jesus Himself to love God and love our neighbor. These are not easy concepts to tackle and the willingness to do so demonstrates a longing to look more like Christ and less like the broken world around us. But sadly, sometimes our nature as humans erodes our understanding of what it means to be different than the world and thus makes us sadly reflective of our culture instead of reflective of our God.
Being set apart is a fancy way of saying different. And anyone who has ever been thought of as different understands that there will be times in your life where you will have to make decisions that are unpopular, refrain from activities that are not germane with who you are, and often overcome a lot of ignorant and hateful language and/or actions from others that are not like you. In my experiences of being different, I have always had the option of being like the world, and deflecting the ignorance and hate spewed at me back to that person, or on others. On the other hand, I could take the moral high road and make an attempt to use the Spirit of God to show that person love and compassion whether or not I think they deserve it. Before I walked with the Lord my very nature was to react as the former description. I believe that as I grow in relationship with Christ I will act and react more like the latter.
What I have noticed about Christianity today, particularly in the Western, white culture is the way that group resembles the world in action and reaction toward certain subjects that make them uncomfortable. Subjects like racism and classism seem to be very difficult subjects for the Western, white church to openly discuss. In fact, recent activities between Christian organizations points to a general lack of ability by some Western, white Christians to be comfortable when confronted by other Christians with issues of latent racism and cultural blindness.
Instead of being open to critique and willing to examine any issues of racism or cultural incompetence, the initial reaction of some Christians is to deflect attention from their own short comings and pit allied groups against each other in an effort to distract them from their intended target of critique. This is an old tactic of the worldliest persuasion that in no way reflects the responsibility of Christ-followers to measure oneself against the gospel. Other ways the Western, white culture resembles the world, more than Christ is in their understanding of who their neighbor is and how to treat them. We as the body of Christ are still divided over issues of immigration reform and allegiance to the empire. Yet, how many ways does the word of God, both First Testament and Second Testament explain how we are to embrace our neighbor and reject the empire. Somehow in the nature of sinful humanity, there is a flat out rejection of what God has called Christians to stand for.
Finally, as a single woman, I can’t help but bring up dating and how the Western, white church has some growing to do around this issue of interracial dating. Whether it’s their inability to be honest with themselves about the stereotypes about people of color they perceive as “undesirable” or the underlying fetishism and exotification of people of color they do find desirable, interracial dating is the area that the Western, white church should actually look more like the world. It is my contention that people specifically men “in the world” are much more apt to admit their fetishes towards women of more “exotic” backgrounds. Yet, a “good Christian man” would never admit that he had an unhealthy sexual predilection-whether or not he actually did. Denying a fetish doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist-it just makes that person a liar.
Speaking of truth-telling in the face of lies, there are plenty of single African-American Christian women looking to be coupled with a God-fearing, Christian man, yet informal surveys of Christian men have shown that the least desirable female group to couple with is African-Americans. I wonder if these same surveyed groups have ever checked their feelings against their faith and examined the stereotypes or misguided beliefs they held and tested them against the power of the word of God. By the looks of it, my guess is no. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not purposing that the answer is for white men to come and rescue African-American women from singlehood. That pathology doesn’t interest me. My point is, is that if the Western, white church is honest with themselves they would realize that before they see a Christian woman and potential life partner, they do a check down racial lines to include those who are acceptable and exclude those who are not. This practice, however deeply ingrained is in direct conflict with our faith tradition and Paul’s words in Galatians 3:28.
In the end, we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and there is none righteous. Each cultural group is guilty of committing similar sins as the Western, white church. But, as the dominant culture, it is the responsibility of the Western, white church to be more diligent about their quest to reflect Christ as a whole and on a personal level. They are the most recognized symbol of Christianity for this society. In order to reflect the whole body of Christ in the West well, they must continue to dig deep and be willing to examine their deep-seeded issues with race, class and power. May God bless them on that difficult journey.