My sixth-grade music teacher had a vision for that year’s annual Christmas pageant.
For the life of me, I cannot remember her name. But I remember her passion for the nations, her fervent prayers during chapel and music class for the Lord Jesus to come now as we were ready (me, not so much), and her wish for the Church of Jesus Christ to reflect the nations.
According to her, it was only then that Jesus would return.
And as someone who was shown the Left Behind movies at every end-of-year assembly, I was not ready to learn who would be left behind and who would leave.
That fall, she told us, the upperclassmen of the elementary section, about her Christmas pageant vision: An innocent child with golden ringlets goes to sleep and dreams of the nations coming together to worship at the manger where Jesus and his parents are staying.
Angels show up and sing, “Here I Am Lord.” Imagine The Nutcracker meets the nativity scene from Love Actually, only it’s predominantly Latinx children from San Antonio dressed in what we interpreted to be the traditional clothing of other countries.
Pageant night arrived, and it was a glorious mess.
The announcer, Brandon, was going too fast for the nations to keep up, the “sleeping girl” was no longer pretending to be asleep, and tensions rose with the soloists as we did not like having to share verses of “Here I Am Lord – send ME not THEM!”
Two hours later, it was over, and half the world was asleep in chairs throughout the chapel as the pageant went into overtime. Who could blame them?
Centering the world around one expression of divinity is not easy nor is gathering that many people around a barn.
I think about that pageant once a month, partly out of a retroactive cringe of my own behavior, but mostly because, to me, it is the quintessential message of a Western Christian faith: It is only when the nations have been conquered for Christ can he return.
It is unity without acceptance of diversity; it is whitewashing and erasure. And how often have churches claimed to yearn for diversity without ever thinking about what it means to create spaces for diversity?
This year, both before and after the Summer Olympics’ opening ceremonies took place, we watched athletes – the best in their sport – drop out, get kicked out or be fined. From Sha’carri Richardson to Simone Biles, we saw biases on full display, primarily targeted toward Black women and policing women’s uniforms.
Amid these friendly games, we witnessed blatant racism and sexism. This leaves me wondering if these policies are outdated or merely reinstating institutional racism that plagues institutions at large.
It is not lost on me that two women sprinters from Namibia were not allowed to compete for having too much testosterone and, at the same time, Norway’s women’s beach handball team were not allowed to wear less revealing bottoms.
Essentially banning and fining women for not being feminine enough for their standards while also demanding that women reveal more of themselves. Women who grew up in the purity culture, can I get a witness?
What can this year’s Olympic Games teach Christians about our own churches?
For starters, we must ask ourselves if we understand the bigger implications of a diverse body and ask if we are ready to reimagine a church accessible to all people and all bodies. We must examine our own policies and bylaws and ask if they serve an old way or a new space for all people.
Second, let’s consider how we have historically policed bodies in our churches. When we make statements claiming that alI bodies are welcome, do we mean it? From the pulpit to the parking lot, have we created spaces that are truly accessible?
And third, are we ready to relinquish the power white supremacy has had on us and allow it to be transformed by those who have historically been kicked out and taxed by our Western Christian church?
This week, Biles announced that she would be taking a step back from gymnastics because her mental health was more important to her than the Summer Games.
It is important to note that the world’s greatest gymnast has been judged at a different level than the others, as she was too talented in her field.
Many have noted that her scores are lower than they should be, with explanations ranging from a desire to keep scores closer to a desire to discourage others from attempting more difficult, and dangerous, skills.
I commend her for her courage to recognize the harmful policies to quite literally judge her differently than others and applaud her actions to care for self. Women like Biles and Naomi Osaka have borne witness to how we ought to respond to the toxicity of an unwelcome space.
I am reminded of my friend Lauren Zehyoue’s words: “White supremacy is a hell of a drug.” And it is time for the church of Jesus Christ to sober up.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct a reference to Norway’s women’s beach handball team that had been identified incorrectly as Denmark’s women’s beach volleyball team.