Bowling for Jesus

I used to bowl, sort of.  Not very well or very often. I was a 4-step right-hand bowler. I knew the pattern of approach and release. The goal was to execute that pattern repeatedly and faultlessly, or at least frequently and approximately. But sometimes I got "off." I started the approach on the left foot, or got the backswing out of sync with the forward slide. That was when "bad things" happened. You can create a lot of mayhem with a 12 lb ball gone wild.

This is true in taking a "Biblical approach" to race relations too -- if you mess up the beginning, it only gets worse afterwards. What does a Biblical approach to race mean, anyway? Just because a minister leads a street march or a politician quotes a Bible verse -- is that being Biblical? If we survey the long history of American religious attitudes to race, we can count far more gutterballs than strikes. After all, the Bible Belt and the Slave Belt (and its successor, the Jim Crow Belt) were (roughly) co-extensive. But it is not only religious conservatives who have hijacked the Bible to justify their own prejudices. The last 40 years have provided some examples of liberals who have likewise married secular political goals to religious principles -- everything from supporting Robert Mugabe's violent activism against the Rhodesian government in the 1970's, to uncritical support for and adulation of the Obama candidacy and presidency.

But whether liberal or conservative, white, black or "other," these religious activists make the same error -- they start off on the wrong foot. They flub the approach. They all begin from the standpoint of "sociological reality"-- statistics of inequality found among various groups of people who have been sorted by some demographic filter according to skin color, age, gender, zipcode of residence, etc. "Social justice" consists of either justifying the differences (conservative) or leveling them (liberal) among these groups along some ad hoc axis of significance -- education, income, employment, incarceration, and so on. Once you start with sociology, your outcome is pre-determined -- a political "solution," i.e. the exercise of state power on behalf of some segment of the community against other segments. Then add a dab of religious rhetoric -- this is obligatory if religious people are affected. But that doesn't change the fact that it is not a Biblical solution at all. Instead, it is a secular one seeking a pseudo-spiritual authority.

In contrast to this, I would like to outline the foundation of a more truly Biblical consideration of racial diversity. First -- two warnings: 1. this is only a sketch of the basic steps, not an exposition. 2. understanding even this sketch would require a re-adjustment of thinking, especially for anyone with a college background in the humanities. One must jettison the primacy of sociology as a window on humanity.

That said, the central social fact for 90% of the Old Testament and 1300 years of Bible history is that there was a color line down the middle of the human race. So far so good -- that fits our own American history. But wait, the Bible's color line wasn't between black and white, Hispanic and Indian, but between Jew and everybody else. It is in the context of this racial chasm that the plan of salvation for the entire world was worked out. And the accomplishment of God's reconciliation to man, when it was revealed in Jesus Christ, at the same time addressed the millennial-old rift in mankind. This resolution, the revelation of the one New Man (see below), did not merely deal with the past, the separation of Jew from Gentile, but it became decisive and determinative for all future racial conflict. To ignore what God has done or overtly reject it, in the manner of modern politicians and judges, is not merely to court failure in achieving social peace, but to magnify conflict: wrong solutions breed more chaos.

In contrast to the sociological emphasis on the innate antagonism among social classes, their rivalry and mutual hostility, the Christian revelation asserts a three-fold commonality:

1. first, in creation or origin, all human beings are united:

           And he made from one every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth (Acts 17:26).

This unity predates the establishment of the color line between Jew and Gentile.

2. second, humanity is united in sin against God:

            all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Ro 3:23).

For Paul, this was not a cliche, one of the "4 Spiritual Laws."  Paul, in his upbringing as Saul, would never have admitted that "all" had sinned. The Jews, though capable of and liable to sin, had the remedy for guilt in the Temple cult and in the Torah. God's favor was uniquely upon them. The Gentiles had no such remedy, and therefore no such hope. They were intrinsically unclean. It was only as a consequence of Jesus's Self-revelation to Paul that he could cross the bridge into the camp of the rebels and declare: "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost of sinners" (1 Tim 1:15).

3. third, humanity is united in redemption.

It is fascinating that God's resolution of the divide among mankind did not consist in the conversion of the Gentiles to the religion of a Master Race, but instead the fulfilment (and cessation) of the Old Covenant of racial superiority, and the inauguration of the one New Man:

          "by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace" (Eph 2:15).

Jew and Gentile, black and white, male and female, find their reconciliation to God and to one another through incorporation in the spiritualized body of the Resurrected Christ, the one New Man. They are then considered "fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God" (Eph 2:19).

These 3 principles are the hallmark of a Biblical approach to race relations. The New Testament resolution of the racial chasm of the OT is the special contribution that Christians bring to bear on social disorder. It is God's answer to prejudice and discrimination.

As for nonChristians, it is true that they are on the other side of God's "color line" -- since they are not reconciled to God in Christ, they are likewise bound by ethnic and class rivalries. That this leaves them subject to endless and fruitless competitive striving with other social groups is regrettable, but it is their choice, the exercise of their free will to reject reconciliation. One cannot force the Christian view of human unity on anyone, any more than one can force them to believe on Christ's atonement for sin.

But the saddest situation is of the many Christian leaders who collaborate with the secularists in foisting "identity politics" on the rest of us -- classifying us by skin color, income, family tree, and so on. Let's be clear -- the Holy Spirit's main purpose on the earth today is the establishment and nurture of the one New Man. He is the source of our identity, and our mission. When Christians abandon this priority and enmesh themselves in political activism, and even worse use the Bible to sanction their policies, they prove themselves ministers not of reconciliation, but of the Old Covenant, a covenant of racial preferences, divisiveness and futility.

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