My wife, Julie, and I have been attending an intentionally diverse church for over a year. We’ve noticed a compelling dynamic in a multiethnic community. Yes, we affirm as a church that we all want to be a preview of the new creation vision seen in Revelation 5:9 “…members of every tribe and language and people and nation.” Our church is named Tribes Church. In our often racially-tense culture, within a country with a history of racially-charged atrocities, and pontificating politically-diverse solutions, simply quoting Revelation 5:9 and singing together, growing in Christ together, and eating together does not create the ecclesia community for which the Apostle Paul fought and taught. Factions, grounded in whatever differences there are among us, are cancerous tumors in the body of Christ. I’m learning that a vital, healing component is to sit and listen well to one another’s stories. Listen well to the other’s story.
With the election of the current President I had good-hearted, Christ-loving brothers and sisters of color tell me that they were genuinely frightened. One brother told me that this year his daughter for the first time ever was called a n** at school. This in Grand Rapids, MI, the Christian publishing mecca. When I hear things like this, and many other things as well, I have to, as a white male, get out of my story and enter the story best as I know how of my Black friends, Asian friends, and Hispanic friends. Because I consider myself a nice, white male, I may assume that’s how others view all white males. Bad, very bad assumption. You might say, “Well, duh,” to this, but it is a more challenging move than it sounds to enter someone else’s story. Thank God we have a role model for this in Jesus.
Jesus was schooled in the story of Israel, the nation that was to be the gateway of God’s blessing upon nations. Jesus was born into a very distorted, damaging version of Israel’s story. A story in his time that meant vicious rejection of the other, even among segments of the Jewish people themselves. I imagine some Jewish children coming home and saying, “I was called ‘scum’ by Rabbi Snooty Mouth today.” You, a male Jew, thanked God everyday you weren’t born a Gentile, a Samaritan, a woman, a Scythian, a slave, a barbarian, or a hick Galilean if you lived in Judea.
Jesus lived Israel’s story the way it was intended. He got crucified for it, too. Jesus didn’t die only to get me saved. Jesus died (and rose again) to create mosaic communities who live under the blessing of God the Father. Ecclesiology was on Jesus’s mind when he gave his life on the cross. Unless the gospel rewires all us socially, then you can spout all the soteriology you want and you will still miss Jesus’s mark. Paul was adamant that diverse people living in social unity around Jesus was the new birth, the new people, the gospel creates. The death, burial, resurrection, and reign of Jesus the Messiah birthed a multiethnic body called the church.
We must help one another to bring our broken, fearful stories to Jesus and offer them up into his redeeming story. I can’t help my brothers and sisters to do that if I don’t know and accept their stories. We enrich each other and our appreciation for the unifying power of Jesus increases when we see how Jesus takes “the many” and makes them “one in Christ.”