In his famous speech Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said,
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
In a nation where a person’s color defined everything about him that was deemed important, Dr. King’s dream was certainly lofty. To be black in Dr. King’s America communicated much to those in the majority: inferiority. For hundreds of years in America, to be black was to be a lower form of human, not worthy of the dignity inherent in being created in God’s image. His dream was for his children not to be defined by their skin color but by their character.
This dream is often misunderstood as a dream for “color blindness,” where a person’s skin color remains unnoticed. Dr. King was not dreaming of a day when no one would notice his children’s skin color, but of a day when their skin color would not define their value and dignity. Instead of color blindness Dr. King dreamed of “color transparency.” That is, he knew his children were black and that they would remain black, and rightly so. They were as God created them. Rather than ignoring or overlooking their blackness, he longed for an America that could see through their skin color to the person they truly are.
While this may sound like color blindness—not noticing a person’s skin color—it is not. We are each shaped in part by our skin color, as well as by our experiences, by our cultural values, family dynamics, etc. Color transparency allows us to see one another through our skin color, rather than judge each other by it or discount one another because of it.
In Colossians 3:11 the apostle Paul wrote,
Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
Paul is speaking of life in the church as it should be. He lists several ways people were divided in the broader society. First, he says in the church there is not Greek and Jew. This was primarily an ethnic distinction. Second, there is not “circumcised and uncircumcised.” While circumcision had once defined God’s people in Christ this distinction was fulfilled and made irrelevant. However, circumcision still defined one’s religious upbringing. Those who were circumcised had grown up in “God-fearing homes” while those who were not circumcised had grown up in pagan homes. Third, there is not barbarian and Scythian. In ancient Rome, those outside the empire who did not conform to Roman ideals of culture were called barbarians. The Scythians were those who were so utterly barbaric (ie, “non-Roman”) they warranted their own category. A strong distinction in culture is in mind. Fourth, Paul says there is not slave or free. This is a socio-economic distinction.
What Paul is saying is that in the church the categories that normally divide people do not exist. Except they do. A Greek who became a Christian did not stop being a Greek. A slave who became a Christian was not automatically freed by his master. So what does Paul mean that these distinction do not exist in the church? These distinction do not define us. These distinctions do not determine our unity. Notice the final words of this verse: “but Christ is all, and is in all.” Our unity is in Christ, not in our skin color. Our unity is in Christ, not in our socio-economic status. Our unity is in Christ, not in our cultural understandings. Our unity is in Christ, not in our political parties. Our unity is in Christ and in Christ alone.
Our goal at New City must be integration, not assimilation. We must be able to see through the very real distinctions that do exist and embrace the dignity and worth inherent in being created in God’s image. We must also recognize and embrace differences the between us because they help us to better represent Jesus through our diversity. No single people group best represents Jesus. He is too great to be represented by so few.