Don’t Be Color-Blind at Church
When it comes to race and ethnicity, should Christians seek to be “color-blind”? As with most things: yes and no.
But I suggest that Christians especially should be both colorblind and color-conscious. Why? Because that’s what God is like, and Christians like all people are made in his image and made to image him (Gen. 1:26-28). Unlike all people, Christians conform to his image more and more (2 Cor. 3:18). Thus, more and more Christians should—as they mature—grow in replicating God’s colorblindness and color-consciousness. The local church provides the best home for this growth because that’s where we should be meeting those who are different from us—our local “Greeks, Barbarians, Scythians, slaves, frees,” etc. Here’s what I mean.
GOD DOES NOT SEE COLOR
God does not see people’s color. God does not see color in that all men find their genesis in him (Acts 17:22-27). God does not see color in that he does not hold men to different moral standards; all people of all colors stand condemned before his judgment bar (Rom. 3:23). God does not see color in that he equally loves all shades of people. Christ at Calvary preeminently displayed this impartial love in that he died for all without distinction of color. The most important color to God, if any, is red—the red that flowed from Christ’s veins and now covers his redeemed people; we are a new, supernatural “race” being renewed (1 Peter 2:9; also, Eph. 2:15).
Likewise, in the church, Christians should strive to love and think of all humans as equal image bearers created by God. If Michael Jackson somewhat grasps this concept in his song, “Black or White,” how much more should Christians be colorblind in their dying to themselves for the betterment of others? The myriad of “one another” commands in the Scriptures do not come with an asterisk that reads, “love one another . . .* if the other person is the same color.” Rather, the very act of loving someone who appears different than us speaks of a supernatural transformation and glorifies God to the world (John 13:35). Angels must love to look into such a salvation lived out among diverse but unified people (1 Pet. 1:12).
But as with most good things turned bad, we Christians take colorblindness to the extreme. We tend to erase people’s color altogether, like when we see brother “so-and-so” not as our Asian friend but just as our “friend.” When we do this, we begin to erase the person altogether. Tragically, we image the world more than God in this erasure. It’s the world that sees even the most basic things, like gender, as permeable constructs up for erasing, bending, changing. Some parts of ethnicity are indeed permeable, but we often use this as grounds for dismissing the world and experiences of someone altogether. That is the natural, though often unintended, effect of complete colorblindness. It leads toward a dominating, unloving ethnocentrism that consumes its victims through the teeth of acculturation and assimilation. In other words, we love people less when we ignore how God made them. And we are nothing without love (1 Cor. 13).
To be fair, many well-meaning brothers and sisters in the Lord see “colorblindness” as progress, as a more excellent way toward their kin in Christ who appear different. One elderly white brother told me, an African-American, “When I grew up, the problem was that the culture was so cognizant, so hateful of blacks, that we white Christians saw it as love to simply see blacks as people, not black people.” He helped me understand that erasing color is not always intended to destroy the person but to love them. Colorblindness, for some people, is a good step toward love.
GOD LOVES COLOR
But complete colorblindness cannot be the final step in our love because it requires ignoring God-ordained realities about people—realities that shape our joys, fears, experiences, and make us who we are. We love when people share themselves with us, and their experiences enable them to do so. Thus, Christians do need some balance of color-consciousness in the church because God does see and value the worlds he’s made us to live in. He created our colors. He loves them! They bring him great glory in all the earth, and his glorification is what he wants. His Church is his means to that end (Eph. 3:10). The math is simple: what brings God more glory—one color of folk praising him in one way, or a glorious cacophony of diverse tongues coming from peoples of all nations, of all colors, praising him together around the throne in diverse ways (Rev. 5)? And so, God unashamedly maintains color-consciousness. As one brother said, “Heaven is diversity united around God’s throne.”
Brothers and sisters, even after Christ—our supreme identity—saves us and saves us into his Church, we must retain consciousness of people’s identifiers. Imagine if all the fellas in the church did not think of their sisters in their local congregation as “sisters.” Instead, these brothers treated them not as female friends but just as “friends”—we’ve all seen what messes occur from that mentality. God in his wisdom honors basic specifics about how he has made us, and we should image him by doing the same. That’s partly why Paul told Timothy: “Encourage [older men] as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity” (1 Timothy 5:2). God, through Paul, honored the identifiers of age and gender and showed how they mattered in the church’s witness and love for one another. The same goes for our melatonin and all that it represents—the worlds and cultures we embody in varying degrees and expressions. God, through Paul, makes clear how good diversity is in the church (1 Cor. 12:13, 21-23). So we must honor diversity as well. We must not prefer, idolize, demonize, or reject the appearance and worlds of the person in the mirror or across the pew. To do such, history testifies, is the natural human proclivity.
Such a wicked proclivity is partly why Paul so spoke so fervently of treasuring Christ in all above all (Col. 3:11). As one brother has said, “It’s only as we cling to Christ that we find other men and women clinging to Christ!” We must cling to him with some color-blindness and some color-consciousness. This balanced clinging will be hard, messy work; the easier thing is to be completely colorblind or completely color-conscious.
Yet this more excellent way—colorblindness combined with color-consciousness—requires forgiveness, patience, maturity, and love. Colorblindness combined with color-consciousness shows off God to watching worlds and angels. Brother and sisters, will you love others toward such a glorious display of God’s image? We can’t excuse ourselves from this labor simply because we can’t love perfectly until heaven. And God will get all the glory for having us do so—in all our fumbling ways—until then.
HOW DO WE DO THIS?
In the meantime, how do we practically live with color-blindness and color-conscience? I offer a few ideas in the context of a majority-ethnic church here. For starters, pray about it, and pray about it regularly. Are you willing for God to open your eyes to see things you cannot presently see?
Second, ask someone who is different than you what they wished other people understood about them.
Third, use your spiritual gifts. If you have the gift of encouragement, write a card to someone. If you have the gift of teaching, study and teach on it. If you have the gift of service, set up chairs and provide snacks for a discussion group. If you have the gift of hospitality, host a meal and invite someone you might otherwise neglect.
Whatever you do, just start.