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Last week I taught on The Gospel Mandate of Reconciliation. The key is transformed identity through faith in Jesus and water baptism. We’re God’s Beloved Child in his ‘one new humanity’. This is found in the Early Church baptismal liturgy/confession of Gal 3:28 – what we call The Gospel Mandate of Reconciliation through transformed identity:
- “Neither Jew nor Gentile” – Racial/Cultural mandate: healing racism
- “Neither slave nor free” – Social/Economic mandate: healing classism
- “Neither male nor female – Gender/Sexual mandate: healing sexism
Jesus’ followers chose this confession to confront, reverse and transform, the dominant mindset of the day, seen in the daily prayer of Greek men: “Thanks God that I was born a human being and not a beast, a man and not a woman, a Greek and not a barbarian”, and the daily Berakot prayed by Jewish men: “Blessed be the Lord God that he did not make me a Gentile (dog), nor a boor (a slave/peasant), nor a woman.” Faith in Jesus transforms our identity, healing us of racist/class/sexist prejudice, making us reconcilers in society.
Both Personal and Structural
Prejudice is the power behind every societal barrier. Prejudice is emotional-based, closed-minded, false-fixed beliefs and attitudes (“don’t confuse me with the facts, my mind is already made up”). This leads to pain-filled words and actions against ‘the other’ who is different to us. Our perceptions about ‘the other’ (race, culture, class, age, gender, sexual orientation, education-level, political party, religion, denomination) are often unreasoned, irrational, untested half-truths and misbeliefs. We subconsciously imbibe them from birth via our parents. And from our peers and teachers, those like us, as we grow up. Unresolved hurt, painful life experiences, also leads to prejudicial beliefs and actions: we ‘blindly’ act out pain on others. Generalizations (“all women are…” “the poor are…”,”whites are…” “Gays are…”) reinforce social stereotypes and labels, damaging ‘the other’ and ourselves. Prejudice blinds us to new information, screening out objective truth. How blind are those who refuse to see… read John 9:13-34, 40-41.
Sin is not only personal but also structural. Prejudice can be institutionalized in social-political-economic structures, via both power relationships (official or unofficial) and public policy. Then racism, class-ism and sexism become structural sin. Prejudice + power = structural sin. Do not be naïve about power relationships. They can be very oppressive as under Apartheid. The principle and motivation behind Black Economic Empowerment and Affirmative Action was right – for an agreed period – to redress the inequalities of the past and ‘level the playing field’. But it’s corrupt implementation and practice of jobs for family & friends, ‘tender-trepreneurs’, naked greed, inflated salaries and rank incompetence – without an end date in sight – is becoming reverse racism. But equally, the slow transformation of some institutions to be genuinely inclusive of all languages, races and classes, fuels the fires of racism – currently seen in Stellenbosch University – see “Luister” at www.youtube.com/watch?v=sF3rTBQTQk4
Neither Jew nor Gentile: Racial/Cultural Mandate of Reconciliation (racism)
The concept/word ‘race’ is NOT in scripture. It originated with the European colonialists in the 1800s, who ‘carved up’ Africa, Asia and the Americas. They met ‘black’, ‘brown’, ‘red’, ‘yellow’ people, and introduced ‘race’ to differentiate from white (European-Caucasian). The Bible uses ‘languages’, ‘tribes’, ‘nations’ (ethnia), and thus cultures. The closest thing to ‘race’ in scripture is Paul’s reference to three kinds of humanity: Jews, Gentiles and God’s Church (Jew and Gentile “born-agains”, a new human species! 1Cor 10:32). Greco-Roman cities and towns in Paul’s day were ‘naturally’ segregated into ethnic ‘quarters’; e.g. ‘the Jewish quarter’. The Gospel, preached throughout the Mediterranean world, was incredibly subversive and transformative of local societies, reconciling Jews and Gentiles of all ethnicities into one local united church.
Neither Slave nor Free: Social/Economic Mandate of Reconciliation (classism)
More than half the population of the Roman Empire were slaves, the exploited and oppressed class. All who were not slaves were called ‘free’, the privileged, the masters. The Gospel taught: ALL are slaves to sin and evil, Jesus offers radical freedom to ALL. He “redeemed” us (bought our freedom) by the “ransom” (price) he paid. Thus slaves and masters were reconciled into the one local church, putting them on an equal footing. See Paul’s letter to Philemon, the Christian slave owner, asking him to receive Onesimus – his run-away slave, now a Christian – as a brother in Christ. Later Onesimus became the Bishop of the church. Jesus and Paul didn’t confront the institution of slavery per se, but the seeds of its demise were sown in the Gospel. In the early 1800s Finney, Wilberforce and other Christian leaders helped to end of the institution of slavery. Sadly, slavery is still practiced as in child labor, child soldiers, sex-slaves, people trafficking, etc. We must confront this evil in Jesus’ name! But the equivalent of “neither slave nor free” today is our socio-economic class-consciousness: “rich & poor, employer & employee, educated & uneducated.” How do we address this? Jesus is THE example: “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2Cor 8:9). The privileged ought to humble themselves as their Master did, to empower the underprivileged in his name.
Neither Jew nor Gentile: Gender/Sexual Mandate of Reconciliation (sexism)
If the language/culture mandate goes back to undo Babel and the nations, and the social mandate goes back to undo the first oppression of humans by fellow humans, then the gender mandate goes right back into The Garden to undo the curse! The Gospel brings an end to ‘the war of the sexes’! With the history of oppression of women and all the use and abuse, manipulation and control, between men and women – not least the pain and horror of endemic sexual violence – the need for gender reconciliation and healing is our greatest challenge. The Gospel brought radical freedom and equality for women. Paul’s letters must be read in this context, but I cannot unpack this here. In short, we need to “repent” (metanoia, change our thinking), confess our sin, and work for reconciliation and healing between the genders – including the new ‘gender-bender’ identities!
What must we do, what is our response?
- Repent of any racism, classism, sexism, in YOUR own heart & mind. Change your thinking, renew your mind (Rom 12:2). See people as those for whom Christ died, not via worldly lenses and labels (2 Cor 5:15-17). Demolish strongholds, misbeliefs, pride and prejudice in your mind – bring every thought to obey Jesus (2 Cor 10:4-5).
- Get healing from any unhealed wounds if you’ve been a victim/survivor of racism, classism and sexism. Such wounding runs deep, tending to define us for the rest of our lives. Refuse this! Jesus heals! HE defines you. In Christ no one is a victim!
- Be a reconciler and healer in society. To the extent you do 1 and 2 God’s authority and power will be on you to reconcile and heal of those around you. Followers of Jesus are called to cross barriers, tear down dividing walls, bringing “the message and ministry of reconciliation” as God’s Ambassadors (2 Cor 5:16-21).
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