From my experience, I have found that many disagreements around racial issues revolve around differences between the participants’ definition of what counts as racism and what does not. Hence, I have found George Yancey’s book, Beyond Racial Gridlock: Embracing Mutual Responsibility (IVP 2006), helpful in this regard. Yancey, a Christian sociologist at the University of North Texas, describes in the first part of his book two different definitions of racism and four basic models of racial reconciliation that flows out of them. In this blog, I want to briefly outline them for you. Continue reading “Four Models of Racial Reconciliation”
Last week, news broke all through the Canadian media of a religious accommodation request at York University, where I serve as a campus minister, which violates women’s rights.
Here’s the story: In an online sociology course, a student requested to be exempted from a group assignment, the only in person assignment, because his religious beliefs prevent him from interacting with women, who make up the majority of the course students. The professor, Dr. Grayson, after consulting with religious scholars, and his own department, denied the student’s request with a written explanation. The student accepted the decision and complied.
I have been alerted to an interesting article: Jesus Was Not Colorblind: Racial Slurs and the Syrophoenician Woman. It’s a reflection based on Mark 7:24-37. The author, David R. Henson, suggests that “Jesus uttered a racial slur” towards the Gentile woman – the “giving crumbs to the dogs” reference. Henson then re-imagines this story in the racial context of the American Deep South:
Perhaps we can put this story in better context, my current context, the Deep South. Imagine the Syrophoenician woman as an African-American woman who comes to Jesus, a white male, seeking to be healed. In response, Jesus dehumanizes her, calls her an animal, a female dog, a bitch, even! Maybe he goes further, criticizes her for seeking a medical handout and labels her a welfare queen. He asks her why the good things meant for whites only should be given to the sweet little n*****s.
If those slurs are too harsh, choose a different one: a House Negro, an Uncle Tom, an Oreo. Boy. Dominant, oppressive cultures have a long history of assuaging their own latent guilt with terms of endearment for those they are abusing.
Do these diminutive forms, even when they have been used affectionately by whites, soften the sting of raw racism in the words? Clearly not, and I don’t think Jesus’ diminutive case of “dog” in this text softens the bite of his own racism either.
So what are we to make of this exchange? … This, I think, is the great lesson of the Syrophoenician woman. It teaches us the dynamics of racism, of how even the best of humanity — the Incarnation himself — can get caught up in systems of oppression, in a culture of supremacy. As a good Jew, Jesus would have been reared to give thanks daily that he was born a Jew, not a Gentile, a man and not a woman. Jesus could not help but become entangled by such a sexist and racist snare.
Jesus, given his embedded culture, could not be colorblind. And neither can we.
This created a little stir among my Facebook friends, which was how I was alerted to the article in the first place. Was Jesus racist? My position is that, YES, Jesus was not colorblind (in the way that most people use the term in North America in relation to racism) – Jesus would acknowledge and affirm everyone’s ethnic and cultural backgrounds – God created them as such! BUT Jesus (and God) shows no partiality to any persons or groups or peoples (Deuteronomy 10:17; Luke 20:21).
This is an edited excerpt from my previously published article, “Racism, Revelation and Recipes: Towards Christian Inter-Cultural Communities” (Christian Educator’s Journal, April 2008). It lays out a biblical-theological perspective on ethnic diversity and racism. I regard this as still a work-in-progress.
A Biblical-Theological Perspective on Diversity & Racism
1. Diversity, in and of itself, is a God-created good that reflects the unity (oneness) and diversity (three-ness) of the Triune God.
This post is the basis for a shorter edited version written for World Vision Canada’s Beyond the Welcome tool kit, a project designed to help Canadian churches open themselves up to new immigrants in their communities.
Here’s the question I want to answer in this post: Why is integrating new immigrants into the local church community biblically and theologically important? For the sake of brevity, I will focus on lessons we can learn from the early Christian church as recorded in the New Testament, especially in the book of Acts, in answering this question.
Cultural anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson once wrote, “There are few things as toxic as a bad metaphor. You can’t think without metaphors.” (A World of Ideas, 1989) Cognitive research shows that she is right. A whole network of conceptual metaphors operates mostly at a subconscious level to support all our abstract and theoretical thinking. So, if we can’t think without metaphors, then it reasons that bad metaphors could lead to bad thinking with bad consequences.
When it comes to debates about multiculturalism and diversity, have our underlying metaphors been helpful or problematic for us? What are the underlying key metaphors that shape our understanding and approach to these matters? In Canada and the US, two major metaphors have commonly been used to convey each country’s different approaches to cultural diversity: the mosaic for Canada and the melting pot for the US. Each metaphor has its strengths and weaknesses for engaging the reality of diversity.
As a church, you have been going through a series of sermons based on the theme of a Healthy Church Walks in the Steps of Jesus. Although Jesus himself did not do a lot of cross-cultural ministry (he did some, like the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4), in Matthew 28 he did commission his Jewish disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations” (v. 19). In fact, the word “nations” in the original Greek is “ethnos” where we get the word “ethnic”. And “all nations” is often Jewish shorthand to mean the Gentiles. So, the Great Commission was originally a cross-cultural commission – go and make disciples of all ethnicities. And this vision of all nations is echoed by the apostle John’s vision in Revelation 7:9, where he sees “a great multitude from every nation, tribe, people and language, worshipping before the Lamb,” which is Jesus Christ our Lord. Continue reading “God’s Inter-Cultural Vision”