This week many Americans are basking in the glow of the Super Bowl, discussing multi-million dollar commercials and replaying the toughest moments of the game.
But I am struck by how race and ethnicity remain at the forefront of the discussion. Beyonce and her troupe took a stand for #blacklivesmatter, and social media buzzes around racist comments made both by and against players. These situations expose the raw wound of racial divide in our country.
Inherent in the conversation is the reality that sin wrecks our ability to see beauty in the diversity and tempts us to reject our differences. We ridicule and diminish one another, and our differences ultimately divide and destroy. Evidence of this sin, graphically displayed in Twitter feeds and on city streets, reminds us of our need for the gospel.
Sin wrecks our ability to see beauty in the diversity and tempts us to reject our differences.
As you navigate this conversation, consider these three reflections:
1. Remember your church paints a picture of the King and his kingdom.
Your church is not merely a group of people with similar interests. It offers the world a preview of Christ’s kingdom. Lesslie Newbigin challenges, “How is it possible that the gospel should be credible, that people should come to believe that the power which has the last word in human affairs is represented by a man hanging on a cross? I am suggesting that the only answer, the only hermeneutic of the gospel, is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it.”
The Apostle Paul describes the kind of church that believes and lives by the gospel in his letter to the Colossians. He commends this fledgling congregation for their faith, love and hope, reorients their lives under the kingdom of the Son, and reaches the pinnacle of his letter with a beautiful description, a triumphant hymn, proclaiming the preeminence of Christ.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:15-20)
This is the Good News! Through the blood of the cross we find freedom from sin through forgiveness and fullness of life that springs forth from Christ’s death. We are now sons and daughters of the King, wholly surrendered and gathered together in Christ as a brand new family. Together “being renewed in knowledge after the image of the Creator…here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all and in all” (Colossians 3:10-11).
2. Our similarities and differences reflect Imago Dei.
Paul describes a new way of looking at family and belonging. He calls us to reorient our identity and recognizes our diversity – “but Christ is all and in all.” Each one of us individually, and all of us collectively, reflect something of the image of God. He is ever-present in the faces of our brothers and sisters. In all of our differences – skin color, multi-shaped and colored eyes, countless variations of noses – we find a reflection of Imago Dei. His astounding creativity, his very image, passes us by every single day.
Each one of us individually, and all of us collectively, reflect something of the image of God.
So, when I sit across a table from my co-worker Faye and look intently at her Japanese face, there’s something in and behind her deep brown eyes, the shape and contour of her face that reflects, mysteriously, the image of God.
Or, when I collaborate with my Hispanic friend Erica, she enables me to see a side of the kingdom I cannot comprehend without her distinctly Latina flair.
My colleague Milton’s depth of character and breadth of experience provides me, and our organization, with an African American perspective on building cultural bridges and shepherding the church in an urban context.
And, although I am “boringly white” as I was recently described, I hope I add some texture to their lives as well – because we all reflect Imago Dei.
3. Humility, forgiveness, and love are hallmarks of the gospel.
The ethnic diversity conversation is not an abstract notion about an important concept. No, it is a profound family matter integral to Imago Dei and located at the heart of the gospel: Christ is all and in all.
Since we’re dealing with an important matter at the heart of the gospel, let’s discuss it with the humility, forgiveness and love that flow from the gospel. Paul calls the Colossians to a new way of life:
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience, bearing with one another if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so also must you. And, above all these, put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful (Colossians 3:12-15).
Addressing the question of diversity is difficult, painful and slow. Nevertheless, the church must keep the conversation going – because we now live under the rule and reign of Christ, together we provide a living portrait of Imago Dei, and our lives have been transformed by the gospel.
 Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989), 227.