We belong to each other

On Nov. 9, 2016, the day after the presidential election, Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, issued a challenge to the church for the new political age. 

He said, “No matter what the racial and ethnic divisions in America, we can be churches that demonstrate and embody the reconciliation of the Kingdom of God.  After all, we are not just part of a coalition but part of a Body—a Body that is white and black and Latino and Asian, male and female, rich and poor.  We are part of a Body joined to a head who is an Aramaic-speaking Middle-Easterner.  What affects black and Hispanic and Asian Christians ought to affect white Christians.  And the sorts of poverty and social unraveling among the white working class ought to affect black and Hispanic and Asian Christians.  We belong to each other because we belong to Christ.” As I’ve engaged in discussion on issues of racial injustice over the past weeks and months at John Brown University, I’ve felt a sense of disappointment as we on our campus have failed to recognize these issues as our issues, and those who suffer from racial injustice as our people.  Too often the voice of the marginalized is identified as the voice of “the other side” and the “outsider,” only leading to the further alienation of those on our campus who already feel like guests and not family in our JBU community.  More than ever, we need to hear Russell Moore’s words, which are based on scripture.  1 Corinthians 12:24-26 tells us, “God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.  If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” 

I’m afraid that we have failed to recognize the very real suffering of those nationally, and those on our campus, who have been directly affected by racial discrimination. I know there is suffering in these areas because I’ve seen it in the tears of students recounting the pain of being called “wetbacks” in hateful Yik Yak posts.  I know because I’ve seen the frustration of many second-generation immigrant students who are constantly asked “where they’re really from.”  I know because I’ve seen dispirited students who want to worship in a way that makes sense to them, but who are afraid they’ll be seen as “weird” if they do.  I’ve been on the giving end of hurt as I’ve issued assignments and readings that have brought up painful personal experiences for students without providing any support for them.  I’ve used the phrase “we” in my class when talking about the United States, even when international students have been sitting in the front row looking right at me.  The tears of students over my own actions have helped me realize that I have a long way to go in helping students of color feel welcome and safe in my class and on this campus.

As a follower of Christ, I can’t simply ignore this pain.  Doing so denies that these students are part of the Body.  As our fellow Christians suffer, we suffer too.  It’s time that we recognize the suffering of our brothers and sisters on this campus and that we reject any notion that they are unwelcome in our spaces, at our events, and in our conversations.  If we truly want to be the body of Christ, we must stop saying, “I have no need of you” (1 Corinthians 12:21). Instead, we must “bestow greater honor” on those who are suffering.  Now that we have heard their cries, it’s up to us to respond.