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Race and The Kingdom of God

How should Christians treat people of different skin colors?

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“I don’t think it’s a football movie,” said Denzel Washington in an interview about his film Remember the Titans. And he’s right. We recently watched the film at my church and (big surprise) I found myself choked up at one specific scene toward the end, though possibly not the one you’d expect.

The high schooler Gary starts off about as white and racist as they come. He hates rooming with his black teammate Julius, but over the course of football camp and the intense team bonding sessions pushed by his black coach (Washington), he flips and ends up becoming best friends with Julius, even at the cost of losing his girlfriend.

The two friends become even closer throughout the film, until one night after a football victory, Gary gets into a car accident. He’s rushed to the hospital and soon the whole team is in the waiting room. When Julius arrives, he discovers that he’s the only one Gary wants to see.

Julius rushes back to the room where Gary lies battered and bloody on the bed.

“Out!” the nurse shoos Julius out, “only kin’s allowed in here!”

“Alice, are you blind?” Gary yells from the bed. “Don’t you see the family resemblance? That’s my brother.”

A deep south white boy scolds his nurse for missing the ‘family resemblance’ between him and a dark black teammate.

And that’s exactly what family looks like in the kingdom of God.

Throughout the gospels and into the rest of the New Testament, Jesus emphasizes the value of spiritual family over biological family. For instance, in Matthew 12, his mother and brothers come to see Him while He’s surrounded by crowds teaching. Rather than rush out and embrace them, He says, “‘Who is My mother, and who are My brothers?’ Pointing to His disciples, He said, ‘Here are My mother and My brothers. For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.'”

He puts so much emphasis on His spiritual family over His biological one that He postponed seeing them in order to drive home this point.

Later, while He hangs from the cross,

Jesus saw His mother and the disciple whom He loved [John] standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then He said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” So from that hour, this disciple took her into his home. (John 19)

Bringing Mary the mother of God into his home may seem like an extreme move on John’s part, but it’s heightened further by the fact that this is a tribal, family-driven culture. Your family was your family. Nothing is thicker than blood, etc.

Except, says the Bible, there is something thicker than blood.

In 1 Corinthians 6, hidden in a discourse on sexuality, Paul uncovers a key truth about biological families. In essence, He writes that a man and woman may become one flesh via marriage and sexual intercourse.

But according to Paul, there is a deeper level, which we are all invited into as the body of Christ. “Whoever is united with the Lord is one with Him in spirit.”

Your biological family may unite you to your relatives by flesh, but even deeper than that is this mysterious union with Christ by which we are all united by spirit.

This means two things, the first of which may be hard for some of us to swallow, though the other is incredibly beautiful:

  1. If you are a Christian and a (biological) family member is not, you are more closely related to all other Christians in the world than you are to that member, according to the Bible. After all, you’ll be spending all of eternity with them, but only this short life with that member.
  2. You are spiritually connected to them through our union with Christ at such a deep level that it surpasses that of family bloodlines. You can find Christians of every color, ethnicity, language, age and gender and automatically have a rich connection with them through your shared union with Christ.

Have you ever wondered why Paul ends so many of his letters with some kind of exhortation to not disrupt the bond of peace, or to be at peace with one another, and so on? I think this is why. As believers, we must recognize the example we set, not just as members of our own families or churches or groups, but as members of the family of God. We are adopted into His family in such a deep and mysterious way that we can’t even understand it!

It means that an elderly black man and a young Asian girl are brother and sister. Same with my widowed grandmother and the young Hispanic family in her church. That’s the beauty of the church which is found nowhere else on earth: the unity we have in Christ is greater than our differences in age, race, gender, personality, and whatever else would normally divide us.

Paul writes in Galatians 3, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Our position as sons and daughters of God exceeds all other attributes or identities we may ascribe to.

That which unites us is greater than that which segregates us.

Like Gary in Remember the Titans, we can look at every other believer in the world and say, “That there is my brother (or sister)…don’t you see the resemblance?”

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