Racism and Jesus Christ
New incidents of white police officers shooting and killing a black motorist and another black man outside a convenience store. We then see a black former serviceman responding to his own anger and hatred by committing his own tragedy – randomly killing five police officers at a peaceful protest against racism and violence. And the response by too many people is simply to continue to portray the “other” in stereotypical caricatures – highlighting the other, the one who is different from ourselves, as the evil one.
The temptation to fall into racism - the belief that all members of another race possess characteristics specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races (Webster dictionary) – has always existed as a temptation to judge others, to create distorted images of the one different from ourselves, and thus to mistreat others. Such attitudes somehow make people feel better when we think of the other in derogatory ways.
Yet the essence of our Orthodox Christian faith clearly addresses this issue of those who are different than ourselves, of the other. The Apostle Paul wrote something quite astounding to the Christians in Galatia back in the first century, which in affect addresses how followers of Jesus should look at those who are different from themselves. He writes, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
Imagine, in ways that far exceed our own time, St. Paul and the first Christians lived in communities that were strictly separate from one another. In the first century, people often saw themselves as a part of closed societies. Yet, Jesus Christ came along and demanded a radical change in perspective from his followers. Jesus was a Jew, and Jews were the chosen people of God who felt little desire to interact with the Gentile, or non-Jewish world, outside of what was totally necessary. Jews were even ritually forbidden to go into the homes of non-Jews.
Along with the separation of the Jewish and Gentile world, you had another category which separated countless people from one another. Slaves made up 30-40% of the Roman Empire, and were considered simply the possession of others. A free man would rarely ever consider a slave as his equal. Here was another clear separation between classes of people. The haves and the have-nots.
A third major distinction between peoples throughout history has been based on one’s sex. The patriarchal attitude of not only the time of Christ, but throughout much of history, has been one where men have viewed women as inferior beings, clearly not equal to their male counterparts.
Attitudes and perspectives that separate people from one another, that create ideas where the other is inferior, and thus, not treated with the respect and dignity that God expects us to have for one another. Whether it is racism, sexism, social class warfare, or another other –isms which lumps an entire group of people into a simplified image, we can see this evil temptation and failure throughout history.
This past week, terrible images of racism are on the minds of everyone. Yet, look through the media and you will daily see other biased images and horrible caricatures of people based on their religion, their political views, or some other perspective.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we have to seriously pause and re-evaluate our own worldview. Are we giving in to the perspective of judging others simply by their race, their color, their religious beliefs, their political party, or some other label? If we are serious in our Christian faith, we need to align the way we view others with how Jesus saw others!
Christ came along, and brought about a radically different perspective. He proclaimed that all people are created in God’s image and likeness, and thus, every individual should be treated with proper dignity and respect. He would see the beauty in a foreigner, in a sinner, in a broken individual. He identified with the lowly and despised of society, and taught his followers that the way we treat the least, the most marginalized of our brothers and sisters in society, that is how we treat Christ Himself.
God’s love is unconditional, and thus, showered upon all people. Jesus Christ challenged his followers to imitate such love - to love the other, whoever the other may be, with the same unconditional divine love as Jesus Himself.
This is the radical nature of Christianity and the shock of Jesus Christ’s message. It is from here that the Apostle Paul wrote the words to the Christians in Galatia – “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free; there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
At a time when the Roman empire was surely separated by the Jewish and Gentile world, by the free and slave world, by the male and female separation, Jesus comes along and shatters these distinctions. He calls his followers to create a new society called the Church, and in this Church, his followers will treat the one who is different from themselves with respect and love and dignity.
For a follower of Jesus Christ, when we see the “other” we see the face of God. As a white person seeing a person of color, we need to see this person in the image of God. As a Christian seeing a Muslim, we need to see this person in the image of God. As a conservative seeing a liberal, or a Democrat seeing a Republican, we need to see the other in the image of God. Christ calls us to treat each member of the human race with dignity and respect and love!
I just attended our biennial Greek Orthodox Clergy-Laity congress, which had as its theme: “You Are the Voice of Christ in a Changing World.” Our world is truly changing in exponential ways. Yet, certain challenges, such as racism and judging the other, have been a centuries old temptation. May each of us who call ourselves Christian strive to truly become the voice of Jesus Christ, the presence of Jesus Christ, and adjust our own attitudes and perspectives to be in line with what He taught us.
Let us see the image of God in each person. Let us see the beauty of God that is within every individual, even if it is covered over with many layers of brokenness. Let us treat one another, especially those who are different than ourselves, with the love and dignity and respect we would like to others to treat us with. Let each of us become the voice of Christ in our changing world!
Daniel the Stylite of Constantinople; Luke the New Stylite of Chalcedon; Holy Martyrs Ascepsia and Aethal; Holy Martyrs Miracus and Barsabas; Leontios the Righteous of Monemvasia; The Glorious King Nikephoros Phokas
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