The Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow: Why It's Not Easy to Be "One in Christ"

This Lent I have the privilege of being part of a group of bloggers who are offering reflections for the Lenten Blog Tour 2011, sponsored by the good folks behind the new Common English Bible...

The passages assigned to me: Galatians 2:20-21, 3:26-29 (CEB).

20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And the life that I now live in my body, I live by faith in God's Son, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I don't ignore the grace of God, because if we become righteous through the Law, then Christ died for no purpose.

26 For you are all God's children through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 Now if you are Christ's, then indeed you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to the promise.

Whenever I read Galatians 3 I am reminded of many a passionate debate about the "'isms" of the world: racism, classism, sexism, ageism, etc.  When pushed on these realities in the church, well-intentioned people of faith often point to this passage and say that we should not talk about this stuff or "get over" these things, because after all aren't we are all "one in Christ Jesus" anyway? As if we just stopped pointing out that we do not always act as if we are "one in Christ Jesus," then all would be okay.

Now how do you argue when someone pulls the, "We are all one in Christ Jesus" card? Pushing back against this for even a moment is simply absurd. You might as well broadcast that you don't like bunnies, rainbows and babies dressed as vegetables either.

What kind of Christian are you?

Okay, that might be a bit dramatic, but it seems that to try and probe deeper into passages such as this must mean than one does not agree.  Actually nope, it just means that, like most of scripture, we cannot just stop at the words on the paper.  This is a classic, "Yes, but . . ." passage, in this case calling us to be so filled with Christ that, not only should we transcend the ways in which we naturally divide ourselves, but we must get beyond the easy answers that would make us stop moving towards real transformation.

It is far too easy - I might actually say lazy - to look at the divisions in the world and say, "If we could just live as if we were one in Christ Jesus, then everyone would get along."  Galatians was all about who is in and who is out based on outward signs of faith, in this case circumcision.  This was not just about getting along, but about the divisions that we created to preserve power and privilege.

These words were written in the face of institutions and individuals being pushed to examine how they approach issues power: ethnicity, Jew over Gentile, economics, master over slave, and gender/social status, male over female.  Tiday, far too often, the "one in Christ Jesus" argument  is used to send a message that we need to forget those elements of our humanity and simply be "one."  Theologically and intellectually this makes so much sense, but too often what we are asking of people is to buy into a "oneness" that actually perpetuates the very divisions that we are being challenged to reject. The "one" being the dominate group, those who get to define what is the normative existence of the day.

The three relationships are raised: culture, economics and social standing in gender are all about how power and social structures are used to marginalize and oppress the "other" in our midst. The real "poke in the eye" of this passage is not about calling those who are of the non-dominant culture to get with the program, but for those with power and authority to see that their privilege directly contributes to the divisions in the world and thus the divisions of the church. The "one" that the world wants us to be is that of the power and dominance, where as the "one" that I believe Christ is calling us to be is one who gives up power and dominance in order to seek justice and wholeness.

If I am to allow Christ to live in me and be sure that I don't forsake the grace of God that has been extended, I must repent of the ways in which I contribute to the brokenness of the Body of Christ. Healing will not come from leaving behind those things that make us uniquely created by God, but rather from leaving behind the cultural and institutional divisions that our sinfulness has built and perpetuates.

Every one of us plays a role in perpetuating a culture that marginalizes and oppresses and each of us sits in a place where we feel the burdensome weight that each can bring.  We each live as both/and rather than either/or, so in this season of Lent, we must repent of those ideas and practices that create division, brokenness and death of the body of Christ and embrace those that truly make us one.  Only then will we truly know what it means to be filled with the grace of God and only then are we truly being one is Christ Jesus.

Peace be with you.

[Taken with permission from the blog of the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow, originally posted 3/24/2011. Follow Bruce on Twitter @breyeschow.]