When it comes to talking about race, I hear a lot of white folks proudly mention that they are colorblind. Not in the since that they are vision impaired but that they do not notice the color of one’s skin, or at least that it does not matter. I’ve even heard some Christians quote some good ol’ Galatians…
For we are all Children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. (3:26-28)
What would it look like if we were to take this passage literally? I guess we could do away with all gender specific bathrooms. That’s right, there is no male or female, we are all the same, so let’s share bathrooms! There are probably some fellas in the house saying amen to that, but there is not a female in her right mind who would want to share a bathroom with guys who tend to either leave the seat up, or if they do put it down, they pee all over it. It seems to me that for the most part people are not gender blind. People are fine with seeing the difference between males and females and respecting the differences.
For some, when they talk about being colorblind they are referring to the dream of Martin Luther King of a nation where people are not judged on the color of their skin but by the content of their character. It would be nice if this were the case of us white folks, but the reality in our society is that being colorblind simply means that we have no problem with people of color as long as they act like us.
Recently I visited an overwhelmingly white campus and struck up a conversation with one of the few African American students about her time at the university. She told me that overall it was a good experience as long as she assimilated into the white culture! In other words as long as she ‘acted white,” tolerated white music (Lord help her), and didn’t talk about issues of race she was fine.
I find it interesting in the Church that it is mostly white folks that talk about the need for a multicultural (or multiethnic) church. I do not know a lot of African American preachers trying to recruit white folks to their congregations so that they can reflect the multiethnic worship experience we find in Revelations 7. Why is that? After some reflection I think it comes back to the colorblind problem.
Multiethnic churches started by white people are often very white in their power structure (white folks calling the shots), in the way they worship, etc. Being a diverse church or university does not mean that you simply add people of color into the mix, but that you carve out a space for them, in all of their gifts and inadequacies so that they can truly be a part of the larger community.
Too often white folks are in a rush to “use their gifts” which often translates into being in charge. If you truly desire being a part of a multicultural church attend a predominantly African American or Hispanic congregation and just show up. Do not worry about using your gifts, but rather show up and just be. Learn the songs, get to know the people, and most importantly… eat the food. As you build relationships and earn the right to be heard allow them to invite you to use your gifts. This will take longer but taking the role of a learner and taking the time to really grow roots will set the stage for real reconciliation.
Unity does not mean uniformity. The goal of reconciliation is not colorblindness, and sameness. Rather the goal of reconciliation is gaining an appreciation of that which is different and allowing those differences to speak life to us. We are all created in the image of God and we all have gifts and we all have inadequacies in and of ourselves. We are made for community but not just the homogeneous gathering of people we find every Sunday at 11am. We are made to be with and learn from people of every race and background.
Chris Lahr is a Recruiter and the Academic Director for Mission Year. He is also a part of the Simple Way in Philadelphia. He is a writer and a speaker. For information about having Chris speak, email Jen Casselberry.