Monday, May 19, 2008

T4G Musings, Part 3

The San Francisco Chronicle reported today on a heralding from UCC president, John Thomas, to a congregation and the world, "Friends, we need a sacred conversation on race." They were led in a corporate prayer acknowledging to God, "You created us in divine likeness, diverse and beautiful, but too often, we have failed to see every race and every person as a reflection of your image." From the UCC's website, it appears that the goal in mind is to "have a conversation on race" that will lead to "develop processes that will lead to productive dialogue and action."

While I'm sure that you find this very interesting, you're probably wondering what in the world this has to do with the "Together for the Gospel" conference! Bear with me...

On the church's website, you'll find a document designed to spell out the presuppositions undergirding this new campaign on fighting racism. In "Principles and Assumptions Underlying a Conversation on Race", assumption #6 states,

People who understand that racism is rooted in a 400 year old system of economic exploitation, and that it was constructed, rationalized, and legitimized for economic gain, are less likely to see it as innate to humans and, therefore, inevitable. Racism was socially constructed, therefore, not given in “nature”. “nature”.[i]

Here is where I want to bring in the third conference session from T4G: Thabiti Anyabwile woke nearly everyone up at the conference by beginning his session saying that "We all have the wrong assumptions about race." He delivered on his premise. Everyone I've talked to about this session agreed that he brought us into a paradigm shift. The liberal UCC denomination on the surface appears to be starting to say the same thing that caused my mind to start changing: "Racism was socially constructed, therefore, not given in 'nature.'" Posited this way as "racism" I think many people could understand what they are saying. However, Thabiti took us much further than simple racism--he said the what we call "race" does not even exist! I'll say it again so that you don't skim over it: Race does not exist.

So if you're not mind-boggled yet, hang on! How can he say that what we call "race" does not exist? It comes down to unbiblical thinking. We have missed the boat entirely. How is this unbiblical? He argues that we are all genealogical descendants of Adam and as as sons of Adam, we are all made in the image of god (the imago dei). Check it out from Genesis:

  • 1:26-28 says that we are made in God's likeness.
  • 3:20 brings out the biological unity of all mankind.
  • 5:1-3 shows that in the genealogy of Adam Seth is a man in "the image of Adam" and Adam is in "the image of God."
  • 9:5-6 shows the value in mankind because we are still made in imago dei!
  • 10:1, 32 demonstrate the continuity from Noah in all three of his children. Races have often been pointed towards specific sons of Noah, but here we see that they all are in the image of Noah who was in the image of his father and so on.

In the 17th and 18th centuries Genesis 10 was used to develop a theology of race attempting to answer where races come from, where the apparent biological discontinuity is coming from. However, Thabiti pointed out that Genesis 10 is about "ethnicities." The term race commonly argues that there are essential biological differences whereas ethnicities is a fluid construct that includes language, nationalities, citizenship, cultural patterns, and is not rooted in biology. Race is a myth.

Our continuity with each other and Adam is the emphasis of Scripture. Our basis for identity is in Adam and hence the imago dei.

Thabiti then challenged us with 6 reasons for abandoning race. Race ...

  1. ... encourages abuse of people and Scripture
  2. ... is a short step from race to racism (It's a matter of degree, not kind.)
  3. ... prevents/hinders meaningful engagement with others
  4. ... denies the authority/sufficiency of Scripture (i.e. You won't find race in Scripture)
  5. ... leads to resisting the conviction of the Holy Spirit
  6. ... undermines the Gospel itself in the work of missions (if not all people are descended from Adam, then not all are in need of salvation)
So the next time you see someone who looks different than you, remember that person is a son or daughter of Adam and in need of grace as much as you are. Extend the mercy and grace you've received...

For those of us who really wanted to dig into this topic more, Thabiti recommended two books (which I plan to purchase and read eventually!) that can help us think carefully, biblically along these lines:
  1. From Every People and Nation, by Hays and Carson
  2. The Forging of Races, by Colin Kidd

[i] The reference to a "400 year old system" is likely to the arrival of African slaves in St. Augustine, Florida delivered by Spanish conquistador Pedro Menéndez in 1565.


Bradley said...

I have posted my own musings about T4G, and about Thabiti's thoughts.

I'm afraid what we (the common people) call "race" does exist, even though the spirit of Thabiti's message was on point.

Rachel said...

This is interesting. I don't mean to sound uppity or a know-it-all, but I've known this for awhile now. I figured it out after watching a program on TV about mitochondrial DNA. What I learned is that skin color and hair texture, etc., is just a small part of the human genetic code. We are all very much alike, especially under the skin. And our DNA shows we are all more closely related than we think. People have migrated and intermarried so much over the centuries and millennia that it is meaningless to think of race as a means to classify people. So, yes, race is just a political and historical construct. We are all one people--because we are all the same species. Thanks for sharing this.

Paul Fuller said...

Thank you, Rachel! You don't sound uppity, but further supported what the Bible is saying: that we are all one race, one kind--beings made in the image of God!