Expressions of ethnic nationalism, pretensions to racial superiority have no place in Christ’s church
By Curtis Ramsey-Lucas
In an article in response to the violent and deadly demonstration led by a host of white supremacists organizations and individuals in Charlottesville, Va., Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, asks, “White supremacy angers Jesus, but does it anger his church?”
Moore notes, “This sort of ethnic nationalism and racial superiority ought to matter to every Christian, regardless of national, ethnic or racial background. After all, we are not our own but are part of a church — a church made up of all nations, all ethnicities, united not by blood and soil but by the shed blood and broken body of Jesus Christ.”
Moore’s response reminds me of the early church Letter to Diognetus, written sometime during the first or second centuries as a defense of Christianity against its accusers. In perhaps its most famous passage, the author of that letter writes:
“For Christians cannot be distinguished from the rest of the human race by country or language or customs. They do not live in cities of their own; they do not use a peculiar form of speech; they do not follow an eccentric manner of life. This doctrine of theirs has not been discovered by the ingenuity or deep thought of inquisitive men, nor do they put forward a merely human teaching, as some people do. Yet, although they live in Greek and barbarian cities alike, as each man’s lot has been cast, and follow the customs of the country in clothing and food and other matters of daily living, at the same time they give proof of the remarkable and extraordinary constitution of their own commonwealth. They live in their own countries, but only as aliens. They have a share in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign land is their fatherland, and yet for them every fatherland is a foreign land. They marry, like everyone else, and they beget children, but they do not cast out their offspring. They share their board with each other, but not their marriage bed. It is true that they are ‘in the flesh,’ but they do not live ‘according to the flesh.’ They busy themselves on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey the established laws, but in their own lives they go far beyond what the laws require” (Cyril C. Richardson, ed., and trans., Early Christian Fathers [New York: Touchstone, 1996]).
Christians cannot be distinguished from the rest of humanity by country, language or custom. In fact, according to First Peter 2:9, we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation,” a people for God’s own possession. We do not live set apart or speak a single, distinct language. Dispersed throughout the nations of the world, we are intermixed, sharing in all things as citizens and enduring everything as foreigners.
Just as the church is not limited to a particular country, language or custom, so it is not bound by time. Surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, remembering and following in the footsteps of those who have come before us in the faith, the church in its pilgrimage on earth aspires to a better country — that is, a heavenly one (Hebrews 11:16).
This concept has profound implications for how we relate to one another and to our neighbors. Sharing in everything as citizens and enduring everything as foreigners tempers and orders our love of self, family, community and country. Busying ourselves on earth while recognizing that our citizenship of paramount and lasting significance is in heaven tempers and orders how we exercise our temporal, or temporary, citizenship.
Those who claim Jesus as Lord have pledged their allegiance to him and can hold nothing else in higher esteem — not race, not country, not community, not family. Those who are members of a church of all nations and ethnicities, united by the shed blood and broken body of Jesus Christ, can claim no superiority over other members of that fellowship whom they call brother and sister. Expressions of ethnic nationalism contradict this broader solidarity, while pretensions to racial superiority deny this fundamental equality. They have no place in the church of Jesus Christ.
Curtis Ramsey-Lucas is editor of The Christian Citizen, a publication of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.
The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.