The miscarriage of justice in Furguson, St. Louis this Summer and Fall has sparked a deep, pre-existing unrest across the United States. From where I sit on Vancouver Island, BC, Canada, it does not appear that the same systemic injustices that produced Ferguson exist here. But there are certainly different systemic injustices and different inequalities and different grievances in our society.
Last night my family and I were treated to an evening out to hear the Victoria Soul Gospel Choir and its irrepressible leader, Checo Tohomaso. Having grown up in Florida, Hawaii and Japan, and having performed with many of the greats of the American music industry, he injects into his music a rich heritage of Soul, R&B, Motown, Blues and Gospel. Lots of Gospel. He said last night that all the greatest singers (particularly referring, I think, to these genres) were preachers’ kids. He led us to sing and pray for peace. And he suggested that this music, and its cry for peace, came from the Church. It makes me contemplate why the same Church is short on real solutions or even answers to the questions Ferguson raises.
Whether we are praying for the “peace of Jerusalem” or the peace of Ferguson, our prayers for peace result from a far deeper systemic pain than racism. A friend of mine shared an article on FaceBook this week about a gay man who was banned from an online “Gay Dads’ Group” for posting reflections on Ferguson. The pain goes deeper than race. As an LGBTQ activist himself, this dad knows the frustration of injustice. As the white father to a black child he knows his son will face not less pain and frustration, but more.
Four Christian children in Iraq were beheaded this week for refusing to renounce faith in Jesus. The BC Government revoked an earlier decision to allow the private, Christian, Trinity Western University to launch a law school. Religion. Gender. Sexual orientation. Race. I’m not saying these kinds of discrimination are equally unfair, or trying to equate one with another. I’m just saying these are all symptoms of a deep problem. Our prayers for peace cannot find answers with the passing of some new legislation or charter of rights, or a march on the White House, or a movement on FaceBook. The problems go deeper than politics.
And certainly movements like “No Gender December”, while well-intentioned, miss the point. Eradication of distinctiveness, of gender differences, can not solve the pain felt by victims of discrimination due to sexual orientation any more than it can solve the evil of racism. For the same reason that colonialism—the assimilation of one culture into another—cannot erase racism. Monochromatic solutions might sound like a good way to bring the world together, until we wake up to the insanity of refusing to appreciate our differences as well as what we have in common. Healing lies in the direction not of homogenous, bland, same-ness, but in the hope that it is possible to really celebrate diversity and not fear it. To not just tolerate each other’s differences, but love those differences. We must not merely combat hatred with cries for justice and fairness. As long as hatred exists in the human heart, laws cannot make us equal. We must fight hatred with love. But how?
The problems not new. In the Bible, the first racial conflict in the Christian Church came about when Greek women felt they were being poorly treated in comparison with Jewish women. Poor people often felt unfairly treated in comparison with rich people (James 2). Christian leaders advocated to Christian slave-owners for the freedom of Christian slaves (Philemon). The Christian Scriptures in the New Testament are not unfamiliar with all kinds of oppression, mistreatment, discrimination and injustice. The thing is, most of the time it was the Christians who were on the receiving end of injustice—even from within the Christian community. But from the beginning to the end of the New Testament, the message is clear that injustice would be the normal experience for Christians. Because the world that hated our Lord, we are told, will also hate us.
Why? Because I don’t think anything is quite so offensive to the secular-minded thinker than the claim of Jesus that the heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart. That all of our division and discord is inherited from our spiritual condition—division and discord between each of us and our Creator. That the nature of the discord and division has to do with our sin. So pray for peace. But don’t think human effort or human legislation are going to change very much. These things are still worth pursuing, but know that the solutions achieved will only be partial and temporary.
The solution we are looking for is the Gospel, the Good News proclaimed by Jesus Christ, that through Him it is possible to be reconciled to God. Reconciliation at the most basic, deepest level of our human nature—reconciliation between the human individual and the Creator of humanity. Reconciliation that works itself out gradually through the affirmation of a new, reconciled identity and assurance of unconditional love, into new grace, tolerance, forgiveness and patience in our human relationships. This is the message of reconciliation announced in the Christian Scriptures of the New Testament. This is the message of reconciliation that confronted racism, slavery, sexism and poverty abuse. This is the message that offers a different and more permanent solution to the human problem. Not with a dream of homogeneity and so-called “equal” same-ness, but with a promise of everlasting celebration of reconciled diversity.
” There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28 ESV)