Race is the issue — not human beings. It is a bad social prescription; it is the lens not the image. The sociopolitical construct, which fluctuates in meaning, will never produce relational stability

Instead, baptism, the waters that trouble all othering and power- based identities and from which the raceless gospel can be drawn, offers an ontology, that is a way of being, that draws us together as next of kin for an undivided “kin-dom” that is coming. 

The sociopolitical construct of race continues to influence and inform every American institution and faith tradition. Race is ubiquitous. It seems impossible to get it out of our minds and off our bodies. For many persons, there is a sense that we will never rid ourselves of it. Hearing no prophetic objections to the contrary, it seems the North American church would agree.  

Still, there is a growing restlessness, a dis-ease for many who have grown tired of the personal, social, and spiritual assumptions, restrictions and even privileges of race. 

Debra Dickerson captures this reality in her book The End of Blackness. She wrote, “[B]lackness, as it has come to be understood, is rapidly losing its ability to describe, let alone to predict or manipulate, the political and social behavior of African Americans. Given its strictures and the limitations it places upon the growth and free will of those to whom it refers, it diminishes their sovereignty as rational and moral actors.” 

While Dickerson was arguing for a new revised version of blackness, the global church must question its continued use of racialized identities and theologies.  

I believe in the water and its witness, its ability to draw out all our impurities, to drown out all the competing voices so that we can be our true selves, our new selves, as members of Christ’s body. 

Some of us may be familiar with the expression, “They called me everything but a child of God.” In baptism, the believer is exactly that, able to claim God as next of kin. How then did some Christians think that race would be able to deny this divine parentage? The hymnist sang, “Take me to the water to be baptized.” The answer is there.  

Baptism, the witness of water and the Holy Spirit, is not a good scrub but “the cleansing flood.” Water rising above our heads, this ritual of baptism renders us dead to one life and alive to the next. Citizens of an undivided “kin-dom” that is coming, we are taken to the water. The portal of new life in Jesus the Christ, our Savior, we take from the waters an uncategorical way of being and only faint memories of who we once were, never to be heard from again. 

We are called by a new name and are identified by, in and through Christ’s body only. 

Baptism was of primary importance to Jesus’ ministry and is the universal sign of a Christian. It is subversion by immersion, undermining the systems and structures that once held power over the new believer as one goes under. 

This is not a religious habit, merely our obedience to the way Jesus did it. But it is the way of Jesus, evidence that we are following in his footsteps. Consequently, a certificate of baptism is not evidence of a finished work and should not be treated as a blue ribbon for righteousness. No, we, Christians, die daily (First Corinthians 15:31). Our former selves were not meant to survive. 

This truth need be coupled with a mystical spirituality of “somebodiness.” Not to be confused with celebrity status or self-righteousness, there is a need for a deep sense of knowing who we are as human beings. 

This is not a new idea but a renewed call for an ontology – the nature of being and becoming – that we don’t have to buy into. It is the unequivocal self-awareness that I am somebody. Not a packaged deal, it is not a sermon series with three points and neat alliterations, or seven steps to becoming a better version of yourself. 

Instead, it is an embodied practice of faith that is aligned with who we have always been — children of God.  

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles commemorating African American History Month. It was excerpted from “Take Me to the Water: The Raceless Gospel as Baptismal Pedagogy for a Desegraged Church.” Copies of the book can be purchased in the Nurturing Faith Bookstore

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