Before Christianity became a part of American industry, before persons had to assemble in a building to be identified as Christian and mass produced as members, Jesus’ followers were a body of believers.
Members of each other, too many North American Christians aren’t clear or consistent on what that means.
Identified with, in and through Christ’s body, his followers continue to be divided along party lines and tow what W.E.B. DuBois calls “the color line.” Disinterested in being the answer to Jesus’ prayer for unity, Christians continue to incorporate new bodies based on disagreements they share (John 17:21-23).
A movement that re-created its believers by the Holy Spirit hovering over baptismal water, North American Christianity defines itself by the mainstream. Its leaders have flipped and flopped on moral issues and core values like fish out of water. It also takes way too long for them to come clean about their own sins.
Turn with me in your Bible. Some would argue that we just need to get back to the Bible, that the cause is biblical illiteracy.
The American Bible Society released its annual survey and found less people are turning to the Bible for answers. Described as “an unprecedented drop in the percentage of Bible Users,” the surveyors noted a 10% decrease from 49% to 39%, resulting in 26 million fewer readers. I wonder how many of them are Christian leaders.
“One Lord, one faith, one baptism,” Paul’s words make for a good liturgy. But the legacy of Christianity is one of division and splitting on differences of opinion on all three (Ephesians 4:5-6).
We call lots of business meetings, but who is calling for a checkup for the body of Christ? Because it’s not looking too good.
“Take me to the water,” the choir sings. The exit strategy has always been a body of water.
Baptism offers new converts a way out of this false binary reality of either/or human being and belonging. Paul said to the Philippians, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death” (3:10).
We don’t get in this water to simply rinse and repeat but to submerge all other identities. Forgetting who we were as categorized and capitalized on human being, we share his body and are given a new body language.
My guests and I talked about it on the third season of The Raceless Gospel podcast.
It requires that we be receptive to the feelings and respectful of the functions of everyone we are attached to through this shared faith. But too often fear gets in the way, and we never get to say who we really are.
Professor and poet Audre Lorde teaches us, “For we have been socialized to respect fear more than our own needs for language and definition and while we wait in silence for that final luxury of fearlessness, the weight of that silence will choke us.”
Because when we find our voice, we find that there are hands around it. The scales will fall from our eyes when we see whose hands are around it.
This is why speaking up is so dangerous. Because there is a vested interest in our deception, in the belief that Jesus’ words are smooth like jazz and that the Gospels are easy listening. This is why Jesus qualified his messages with: “You who have ears to hear.”
“Here is the challenge, I believe, for the Christian artist, in whatever space: to tell the story of the new world so that people can taste it and want it, even while acknowledging the reality of the desert in which we presently live,” writes N.T. Wright in Surprised by Scripture.
The North American church is in a time capsule. Stuck in time past, it continues to gaze starry-eyed at a generation of traditions, treated as synonymous with what Jesus would do.
But I am telling you that I see different. Through the lens of baptism, I see a new world off in the distance.
Not a color-blind lens or a post-racial vision, The Raceless Gospel Initiative aims to take the North American church back to the water, to go down deep until we reflect the image of Jesus and come up as a unified body of believers. If we knew what we were dying to, then none of this would go down easy.
“If you wait to be unafraid, you will die waiting. The terrors of this world do not sleep. Liberation is for those who tremble,” Cole Arthur Riley, creator of Black Liturgy and author of This Here Flesh, shared on her social media platform last week.
Her words are calling you and me to embody a new and uncategorical reality. Either assembly-line faith or a baptismal identity — if you choose the latter, we go together with fear and trembling.