There is an impetus today to reject color-blindness and the reasons are quite valid. If someone says, “I don’t see color” or worse, “God doesn’t see color” rebuke is the natural impulse since God himself created a beautiful array of shades. So when we look at our brothers and sisters in Christ and the broader world, we should see this sovereign creativity at work that lends to the picture in Rev. 7:9-a conglomeration of people from every tribe, tongue and nation the Lord calls to himself.
But there exist an even deeper concern to reject it. Color-blindness has typically meant that the concerns of non-white people are diminished or dismissed. Because in reality there has been an racial and ethnic primacy at work in the church, and particularly the American church, for a long time. That is when a person is considered first because of their skin color and second by their Christian status. One would have to have their head buried in the sand or be in complete and utter denial to not recognize this is precisely what happened with black and brown people in America. To distorted minds, the melanin determined the human value, casting those with darker shades into a dehumanizing existence. Even worse, that such views were egregiously supported by myopic renderings of Scripture and harsh development of theories like curse of Ham and that relegated melanin richness to an inferior and sub-human status.
In this reality, we see the ways in which melanin richness has met with inconsistent and disparate treatment and the church was not exempt. Consequently, segregated enclaves became a harbor of spiritual comfort. So it naturally concerns many today, particularly people of color, that persistent marginalization occurs and there is a natural rejection towards the concept of color-blindness because of it. No, we don’t want to deny or dismiss these concerns of partiality that have plagued, not only in the larger society, but particularly the church for so long.
Black and brown Christians feel this angst, particularly being in spaces where they are acutely aware of being the minority. It’s natural to walk into a predominantly white church or other white spaces and see white people first. Prejudicial attitudes exist to varying degrees among some white Christians where the presence of minorities create a heightened sense of dread because they first see a minority first. The temptation to evaluate the other first on the basis of skin tone remains. Skin tone is just a manifestation of a deeper cultural crisis, historic infractions and sinful inclinations. Where black and brown people have been rejected in various forms from consideration of church life, where prejudicial attitudes have and do exist among white Christians, we are tempted to filter another’s presence first through this reality, and then second as Christians.
But Scripture reveals a different story. It is one where those of all hues, ethnicity and cultural backgrounds come together as co-heirs of promises found in Jesus Christ. God has no respect to persons (Rom. 2:11). He shows no partiality based on race or ethnicity when it comes to gathering a people to himself. Just look at the 2nd chapter of Acts and the origins of the people present there.
Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at the sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians–we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God. (Acts 2:5-11)
In his infinite wisdom, God ordained that people from various tongues and tribes would come together for the express purpose of the eventual unification into one body of the resurrected Lord by the Spirit and experience life together in his name.
Though we don’t see any specific references to racism in the Bible, we do get a good dose of ethnic hostilities. No greater hostility existed than that of Jew and Gentile. The Jew experiencing privilege as the chosen sect to inherit the promises of Abraham that Christ would fulfill, the Gentile being alienated from God and deemed outsiders in the Jewish mind. But God, through Paul’s pen, crushes this ethnic supremacy in Ephesians 2. The promises laid out in the opening of Paul’s letter (1:3-14) belong to both Jew and Gentile as one “new man.” (see Eph 2:11-22). He then goes on to say in chapter 3, this mystery revealed in Christ is what will demonstrate to the world his wisdom and supremacy.
To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches in Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and autorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Eph 3:8-13)
We must consider the far reaching implications of this mystery with respect to those are inclined towards racial and ethnic hostilities. Despite our natural tendencies, I see a command in Scripture to receive those who are equal heirs to the promise according to what God has purposed in Christ first and foremost primarily through that lens. The Jew was not to first see the Gentile as a Gentile but as an equal heir. The Gentile was not to see the Jew as a privileged hierarchal emblem but as brother or sister in Christ. That means whatever racial, ethnic or class identity another believer has, if they professed faith in Christ, the first thing we must see is that they are in Christ…just like us.
In this sense, there is a sort of color-blindness that I think Scripture itself compels us to employ. It’s where we don’t ignore race or ethnicity but also where we don’t determine how we will relate to that other brother or sister in Christ because of it. We don’t see a white Christian or a black Christian or an Asian Christian but a Christian first and foremost. Whatever disparities in cultural experience have existed should be according first to the love of the brethren. We don’t care about the discriminatory infractions that African-American brother or Latino sister have experienced because we see race or ethnicity but because they are purchased with the same blood that provides all of us who trust in Christ, whose command is to let the world know we are his because of the love we have for one another. In this vein, Phil. 2:3 urges us to consider the concerns of others as more important than ourselves. That’s how it’s supposed to work.
The fact that history has demonstrated a woeful transgression of this lens is no excuse not to employ it. Because if anything, history of race relations have shown that by filtering relations first through race and ethnicity typically ends up in segregation and hostility. It is an hostility where fear and suspicion rule that works at odds of the Lord’s intended purposes. Because God calls his people to model a different paradigm, one in which I personally believe will become more necessary particularly as the world’s separatist factions continue to clash and rear their ugly heads.