Thursday, January 18, 2007

race matters

in a recent poll, 59% of quebecers (and 47% of canadians nationwide) self-identified as at least somewhat racist. 36% of quebecers have a bad opinion of jewish people, while 27% have a poor opinion of blacks, and a whopping 50% have a bad opinion of muslims.

you can imagine the reaction to that, especially in a multi-ethnic family like ours. critics are already challenging the results of the poll as skewed and unfair. they're at least partly right. i'd particularly be interested in knowing how 'racism' was defined in the poll or was understood by those who responded. only 16% of those who responded said they were moderately or strongly racist — closer to previous polls in quebec. of course, that's still one in six.

whether one takes the higher or lower estimate of the percentage of racists, the results are provocative in a nation that prides itself on being in the vanguard of tolerance and multiculturalism and which has the highest per capita immigration rate in the world. perhaps even more revealing than the poll itself was the response of public figures here in canada; to date, only the premier of quebec has responded publicly and he essentially dismissed the poll out of hand. there also seem to be remarkably few responses in the canadian media, other than critiques of the polling methods. some of the most thoughtful analysis that i've found has been published overseas, in korea and india (though apparently by a canadian)— both of which apparently send substantial numbers of people to canada.

racism is a subject that is often avoided in polite conversations. but whether or not we confront it, race matters. it's mattered for a long time, no matter how often some have tried to maintain otherwise. the bible has more than one thing to say about race, but here is a sampling:

there is neither jew nor greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in christ Jesus (galatians 3:28). this is what i think well-meaning christians mean when they say that race doesn't matter. no matter what our race, our ethnicity, our gender, our social status — all of us are equal before God and equally loved by him. but race and ethnicity continue to exist, just as male and female still exist as real categories that shape who we are. it's just that in Jesus, the differences don't matter as much as what we have in common.

for Jesus himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in his flesh the enmity, which is the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in himself he might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity (ephesians 2:14-16). this tells us that race and ethnicity should no longer divide us in Jesus and explains why: Jesus has broken down the dividing walls of hostility and made peace between the two in himself. that is, he has united people from different and previously hostile races and cultures (in this case, jew and gentile) in his own body, the church. it's one of the reasons why the church, in its various local forms, must demonstrate this oneness of heart, mind, and mission in a transnational, multi-ethnic way.

after these things i looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (revelation 7:9-10). here, we find that not only will people of every tongue and tribe and nation worship God together in eternity, they will apparently do so with ethnic and cultural distinctives that are still recognizable (though healed and transformed, no doubt). it's an amazing thought that something like race or ethnicity will be more valued and enduring than empires!

ultimately, race matters because God built racial diversity into our original human parents, and he isn't planning on eliminating ethnicity and culture, but will redeem them for all eternity. in a unity that is manifest in incredible diversity, God will reveal his creativity, his wisdom, and his amazing grace. and the beginnings of that are supposed to be happening now.

your kingdom come
your will be done on earth

as it is in heaven

(matthew 6:10)

No comments: