How to Build a Wall, How to Tear Down a Wall

We live in a divided world. You don’t have to watch the news for more than two headlines to hear of one group attacking another, such as the bombs that killed 95 people and wounded 246 others during an antiwar protest in the capital of Turkey a few weeks ago.

But you don’t even have to watch the news to see this division. Facebook announced last month that in addition to their “like” button, they plan to add a “dislike” option: now ticking people off by expressing your disapproval is as simple as a mouse-click.

Of course, that won’t be the beginning of division on social media. People have long been running to Facebook, Twitter, and comment sections to scream to the world in bold font and all caps that we don’t get along.

And even though your kindergarten teacher tried to sit your class in one big happy circle and had you bring valentines for everyone in the class, even then you gathered up your “us-es.” You found the people who were like you: who thought like you, looked like you, valued what you valued.

And with your “us-es,” you talked about the “thems.” Look at them; I don’t understand them. How could they think like that? I can’t believe they just said that. How could they act like that? They are what’s wrong with this world, and If we could just get away from them, life would be a whole lot better.

Now, here is the dirty little secret of all our hearts: Though we’ve all been too inundated with political correctness to admit this (or maybe even to believe it is true), we still regularly create “them” divisions down lines of ethnicity.

We like to think racism is an issue of the past in our country and churches. This simply isn’t so. Racial tensions in Ferguson, New York, and Baltimore last year made painfully evident what many people have been saying for years: that even though we live in a day where races have equal rights and are no longer segregated by law, dominant cultures still subjugate subdominant cultures in our country. This concept is controversially referred to as “white privilege.”

I’m not saying every white person in America is a hardcore racist, nor am I saying that whites have a corner on the market on racism in our culture; but piles of sociological studies show that African Americans still receive lower wages, their job applications are treated differently, they see slower response times when calling the police, and they receive radically different punishments for similar crimes committed by a white person. The studies also tell us that these acts of racism are not necessarily conscious choices.

Racism, like all sin, is deceptive and difficult to kill. When someone is fighting an addiction like pornography or alcoholism, they never get to a point where they are cured from falling back into the addiction. You can be a recovering addict or an active addict. There isn’t a third category. And if that’s true of individual sins, why would corporate sins of our culture be different? As Americans, our history has ensured that racism will likely be rooted in our cultural DNA for generations to come. We will continue to build walls by nature.

But Ephesians 2 reminds us that God’s work through Jesus – the Christian gospel – actually addresses racism at its roots. God didn’t just save individual sinful people and adopt us into his family; in Jesus, God also destroyed the “dividing wall of hostility” between people groups. God is in the business of taking all groups, all races and creating one giant “us.”

How does the gospel do this? It doesn’t erase a person’s race or culture; but it does relativize it.

One common attempt to solve problems of racial tension is to promote “colorblindness,” the willful ignorance of people's ethnicity. This is a terrible idea. Not only is it impossible to divorce a person’s identity from their ethnicity; but the Bible tells us that all ethnicities and cultures reflect a piece of God’s image. There are parts of God that can only be seen by looking at Latinos, African Americans, white Americans, etc. No race can image all of God’s beauty by itself. Therefore to eliminate ethnic distinctions is, in a way, to block out the glory of God.

Accentuating our differences, however, doesn’t seem to give better results. Hostility arises between people groups because the more we idolize our “us,” the more we demonize the “them.” We take our race, our culture, our personal preference and elevate it in our minds to the standard of goodness. Consequently, we take all other races, cultures and personal preferences and condemn them as falling short of our standard.

But the Bible says each ethnicity and culture is equally sinful. No ethnic group is holy or more loved by God. Every person in every culture falls short of God’s standard. Every culture needs to be redeemed.

When Jesus rose from the dead and was seated in the heavens at God’s right hand, he invited all people to join him in God’s family. This invitation wasn’t based on their personal record of holiness, or their culture’s deep-seeded goodness; it’s based on receiving the reward of Jesus’ own perfect life and the redemption of his death.

So now God brings together whites, blacks, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, Republicans, Democrats, rich people, poor people, football players, gothic kids, prostitutes, nuns, Peyton Manning fans and Tom Brady fans and forms them into an “us.” Those things are no long our foundational identity; at the core, we become sinners saved by grace and adopted as children of the King of the universe.

Just like fans of a sports team who put aside their differences to cheer, commiserate, and rejoice together over their common object of affection, so now people of every race, culture, ideology and background find that as we turn our focus from our divisions to Jesus, we move from being enemies to being a family. Our differences don’t disappear; but they pale under our common salvation and our common savior.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” - Revelation 7:9-10

Image: "The Magi," by He Qi. Courtesy of www.heqiart.com