The United States, along with the rest of the world, is struggling bitterly over issues of race, history, caste, identity, and power politics. “Globalization” means that these problems once thought local are now global issues.
Before the global outrage over these issues, the Gospel already provided both the theory and the action plan that unites humans rather than sowing hatred, violence, wars, or the disintegration of society.
I write as a sufferer of prejudice and blind racism in many forms. I am a brown person, a citizen of a formerly colonized nation, a part of India’s caste system, a Christian who ministers to peoples of all ethnicities worldwide, a cultural observer, and a frequent member of organizations and meetings in which I am the only brown person present. I’ve spent my life standing up for the rights of India’s Dalits. Even beggars are separated from each other by castes in India.
The dehumanization of individuals and groups has a long history. It is easy to slip into anger, hatred, and the safety of a particular identity when confronted with the systemic issue of human oppression, racism, or even colonialism. We’re having to deal with the psychosociological damage of generations. Many treat these complex issues with hate, anger, and violence.
But I wonder if we, as Christians, have missed the point by embracing the world’s solutions to problems of the soul?
Does not our salvation include reconciling human relationships, along with being reconciled to God? Certainly, our Bible speaks at length about this. Have we been deceived into thinking the only answer for systemic racism and blind discrimination is political? Do we take sides and argue, believing our duty is now done and, by so doing, nullify the greatness and power of our own Gospel?
As humans, the strong often oppress the weak in many ways. Even in the church, people nonchalantly let this oppression continue, neglecting the church’s special ministry of reconciliation.
Christians must become aware that social structural sins are as grievous to our Father as personal, moral sins. Christians must be aware that certain models of church often exacerbate these problems. Here are three things that can be done about it.
1. We need to hold a deeply self-critical posture regarding our own race, caste, and gender identity, especially if we were born and placed within a dominant group in society.
Any hint of belief that our group or we as individuals are superior to others must be confronted and challenged. We are all imperfect humans and must be continually searching our own hearts.
Deep self-criticism must come from within ourselves as individuals, from within our group as community, and from those outside our society as well. Perception acts like reality even if it isn’t.
2. We need to learn to look in awe at what makes us all unique and valuable and recognize how it can be perverted to oppress.
We are created in the image of God. We each have a fundamental dignity given by God. This cannot be taken away by any dominant group or even by our own failures and sins.
If we fail to assert the intrinsic dignity and equality of all humans, we will continue on a path that leads to anger, hatred, violence, and division. For example, lack of emotional appreciation of our own self-worth and dignity is at the root of suicide as well as most violence.
We are each unique humans, but we live in a community. We are born into a family, an ethnic group, a nation, and a gender. All of these communities create structures for proper functioning and protection of the social group. However, without proper values, these very structures can be loaded with the oppression of others and the weak. History has shown that the victim-oppressor and powerful-powerless roles can be interchangeable.
3. The “new humanity” that comes through Christ’s provision to reconcile us to God and mankind requires confession.
By “confession,” I don’t refer to the types of public apologies endemic in the cancel culture. This pageantry may make people feel better about themselves, but it’s more akin to the struggle sessions of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution than the reconciling work of justice.
One doesn’t have to be a Christian to recognize the tremendous importance of the great Christian idea: Man is hopeless if he isn’t forgiven by God.
We must learn, in our common humanity, to embrace a “critical forgiveness theory” that doesn’t ignore the grievances of the past but ensures that the work of hard and substantive reconciliation can be conducted in good faith apart from the power of emotion and grievance alone.
It’s a theory of healing through shared pain toward a new humanity rather than continuing to bind the wounds of ages past among humans we didn’t know in times we couldn’t control.
To find a common humanity that does not destroy each other, the victim cannot remain a victim or the oppressor an oppressor. This takes confession. Confession is the start of the process, and forgiveness is the continuation of the process.
The key is the principle of mutual forgiveness. Jesus dying on the cross let loose a spiritual force and principle that compels humans to fight for victims of any oppression in a way that leads ultimately to reconciliation.
In developing a “new humanity” as individuals and communities, we must be able to receive both forgiveness and offer forgiveness. Reconciliation in human relations and in society can take generations to occur and even longer to fix the damage. In our technological generation, we need to remember not to be impatient but to use time as an asset.
Our idea that one experience or event will solve a complex problem is unrealistic. These events in themselves are not necessarily harmful but must be followed by what is often a long process of reconciliation, which I, as a bishop, believe can become supernatural through the power of faith in God.
Change among humans only really happens when people are willing to change. Change cannot be mandated by society, by institutions of higher education, and certainly not by politicians.
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