Sunday, August 20, 2017

Charlottesville Reflections: Ancient Thoughts about Equality, Relationship and Community

Add An officer patrols in front of a recent KKK rally in Charlottesville, Va. Jill Mumie 

There’s an uncomfortable verse in the Bible that says,

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.”—Luke 14:26

The literal meaning of this verse is “If you want to follow Jesus, you must hate people, especially your own family (not to mention yourself)."

But the original meaning was probably more like, “If you want to follow Jesus, your love for Jesus should be so great all other ‘loves’ diminish to hatred in comparison.”

A verse in the biblical book of Galatians deserves the same treatment.

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” –Galatians 3:28

Taken literally, this verse sounds like “All distinctions totally disappear ‘in Christ Jesus.’ We can’t tell men from women; we can’t see ethnic differences, and we can’t discern the difference between a worker and their supervisor. Everyone is exactly the same.”

But the original meaning was probably more along the lines of “Equality, relationship and community ‘in Christ’ diminish the distinctions among those groups.” The differences don’t disappear, they simply hold different meaning.

In the aftermath of Charlottesville, two stances concern me. The first is the one that disturbs many Americans: that stance that says some Americans are inherently superior to others. That view flies directly in the face of this Galatians passage.

The second disturbing stance is the one that says, “There is only one race: the human race.” Semantics around the word “race” aside, this view is unhelpful in the current conversation. It is supported by that misguided, literal reading of Galatians 3:28.

In my TEDxAntioch talk, I make the statement “Race is not real, but race does matter.” I support my assertion about race’s non-existence with scientific discoveries about the nature of “race.” We could substitute misreadings of biblical passages to make the same case. But in either situation, the non-existence of race is irrelevant because “race” continues to exist in our lived realities. Charlottesville proves as much.

Race continues to matter in American society. And we continue to have opportunities to enter into the discomfort to address the difficulties. We need only the will.

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