It is often suggested (usually by white brothers and sisters in Christ) that the good news of Jesus Christ drives the Christian to no longer "see color". The stated rationale for this comes from a certain interpretation of Galatians 3:28: We are all one in Christ! Apparently, union with Christ destroys distinctions to the point that those distinctions disappear. If that were the case, the virtue of a Gospel-shaped community would be conformity rather than true unity. Such conformity wrongly sidesteps a robust reckoning with the violent history of race in America.
The Scriptures give us a different understanding of how to address ethnic conciliation: active peacemaking. Malcolm X said that progress is found in healing the knife wound of racism in the backs of Black people. The issue is that while some refuse to pull the knife out, many deny the knife even exists. You must “see color” for true ethnic conciliation and racial healing to happen. To insist on colorblindness ignores the beauty of God's creation and shields one's eyes from the historic subjugation and demeaning of His image-bearers. As a Black man, to see me means to understand that I navigate the world in a different way from my non-Black brothers, sisters and neighbors. Due to the racialization of American society, I must navigate differently to survive. If you are blind to my Blackness, you are blind to me.
Our ethic as Christians is guided not by self-interest and the normalization of our own blinders, but by sympathy and empathy. We must “feel with” one another, as well as “feel in” one another. We place our trust in a Savior who did not pluck us out of our own fallenness in a fallen world, but assumed our human nature, became Jewish flesh, “felt in” that flesh and dwelt among us in a profound and unrepeatable act of covenant faithfulness and divine sympathy. He commands us to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves.
Do we understand the Gospel we proclaim and obey? Do we follow the Lord in his example? The Bible calls for active peacemaking, which in America essentially includes ethnic conciliation and resistance to white supremacy. Ethnic conciliation has been integral to the Gospel from the beginning. Jews and Gentiles were ethnically distinct, but the gospel neither distinguished nor dissolved the differences but brought together with the differences intact. Neither was compelled to become the other, only to love the other as each loved themselves. Colorblindness resists this. Space permits me a few examples.
In the book of Acts, when Christ ascended, the community of the Way consisted of about 120 Jewish women and men. By the end of the book, the narrative focus shifts to a Jewish man who vigorously persecuted Christians, but who now ministered particularly to Gentiles. How did this happen? The unifying work of the Spirit tangibly manifested in the Church by refusing to ignore or paper over Jew/Gentile differences. The early church was characterized by equity and power-sharing, with the added recognition that perhaps Gentile deacons knew what is best for Gentile widows (Acts 6:1-6). The Jerusalem Council, Paul’s rebuke of Peter in Galatians 2:11-14, and Peter’s visions and interactions with Cornelius in Acts 10 each reveal that ethnic boundaries provided an occasion to experience God’s grace.
The book of Ephesians overflows with Paul’s amazement at this reality. Racial reconciliation in Christ is among the “mysteries” he reveals (Ephesians 3:4-6). In “the mystery of Christ,” ethnic categories find meaning in God who emphatically drained Jew and Gentile of any hierarchical distinction. Affirmed instead are that “Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Ephesians 3:6). With racial categories of Jew and Gentile stripped of any hierarchical distinction in Christ, how dare we erect categories of race and ethnicity to rebuild walls of hostility! Having created such walls, the onus falls on us to dismantle them. Colorblindness only reinforces the walls.
Brothers and sisters, let us not be blind. Our Savior died, got up, ascended, sent the Holy Spirit, and will come back and we will see clearly. Therefore let us look as clearly as possible now and see one another with all the glories and tragedies of our histories. Advocating for colorblindness, however well-intentioned, not only runs counter to the gospel, but like white supremacy more broadly, exploits the gospel. Energy that could be spent loving our neighbors is spent rationalizing why we won’t love them in particular ways. Love must be manifested in the wise and constant struggle for racial justice, especially once one becomes more aware of the profound levels of injustice our neighbors, brothers and sisters endure. Insofar as we have the personal and systemic influence to alleviate one another’s suffering, we ought to do it.
White supremacy is not merely an ideological threat. It is an existential and bodily threat that snuffs out lives with long, constricting tendrils and sharp, ripping talons. I have argued for racial justice as a Christian imperative. The two most important things for us to do going forward are to repent and repair in order for healing to happen. For those within the body of Christ, judgment must begin with the household of God. May we not be found wanting, but found truly in union with Christ, with His mind and with His heart. When our Savior returns, we will be examined as to whether we fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, and visited the sick and imprisoned. Our ability to do so includes care for individuals but it is not limited to that. Our capacity to care for the suffering extends much further than giving a meal to the hungry man we meet on the street. It includes battling, in every lawful way, for the lives, well-being, and protection of the marginalized. As our social power increases, so also does our social responsibility.
“Did you feed the hungry?” becomes “Did you, insofar as you were able, reduce the conditions that make hunger the reality for so many?” “Did you visit the prisoner?” becomes “did you consider and resist a system that tends to target racialized minorities for incarceration?” As with all of the Lord’s commandments, whereas it may be comfortable to focus entirely on action, His desire is to reveal and interrogate impact and intention. Sin is personal, communal and cosmic and our resistance to and confession of sin must be as well. After all, it is this Gospel and this comprehensive Savior who separates the sheep from the goats.
Malcolm Foley is Special Advisor to the President for Equity and Campus Engagement, Baylor University and Director, Black Church Studies Program, Truett Seminary.