Overcoming Racism: Reaching Up
Updated: Aug 28, 2020
Then God said, "Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground." Then God said, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground-everything that has the breath of life in it-I give every green plant for food." And it was so. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning-the sixth day. -Genesis 1:26-31 Read the whole chapter.
Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. -Galatians 3:23-29 Read the whole chapter.
Last Sunday, I began the series "Overcoming Racism". Last week we looked at and spent a little time thinking about what are those things within us that may prompt us to think and feel a certain way about people that are different from us. I mentioned implicit bias being one of those things. That there are thoughts and ideas that often we don't even know that we have. They're learned through experience. They're taught by example from the people around us. They become a part of who we are. They contribute to the problems that we face with racism, sexism, or any type of attitude that favors one person over the other or that lifts one group up as better and by virtue than the other as being worse. Whether it's right or wrong, unfortunately, those things happen. So part of overcoming that is our need to recognize and be honest with ourselves about it.
If we have those thoughts that are in our minds, where do we go to find new or different ones to maybe help us begin that process of chaning? Well, I think that this morning, where we go is reaching up. How does God shape and inform our thoughts about other people? That's where we are today. So I invited you as we begin this time to pray with me.
God, We've jumped into this conversation that isn't always a comfortable or an easy one. But sometimes, the conversations that aren't easy or comfortable are the ones that we most need to have. So help us to be honest with ourselves. Help us to be open to listening. Help us to be open and honest with ourselves. Help us to see and hear others a little more as you do. So as we have reflected and heard your words of Scripture, we pray that your spirit would stir and move in our midst. That the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts would be pleasing and acceptable to you. For you, o Lord, are our rock and our redeemer. Amen
In 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick submitted and published an article outlining their idea of what the model was for DNA: deoxyribose nucleic acid. The stuff that is the blueprint for all life, plant life, animal life, human life. It's the little pieces of information that carry all of the instructions that make you, you. That makes me, me. That makes a tree, a tree; a fish, a fish; a bird, a bird. All of that information is contained in these strands. The model they proposed is called a double helix. Imagine a step ladder with the sides going up and the rungs that go across. There are what are called base pairs of protein or nitrogen that are attached together and form this structure that looks like a ladder. Then imagine you took the top of the ladder and twisted it so that those ladders spiraled against one another. That's how DNA is composed. But it's very tiny. There are a lot of pieces to it.
Fast forward from 1953 to 2003 and it was announced that the project titled "The Human Genome Project" that had been underway for 13 years had completed mapping out the entire sequence of this human genetic genome. It had taken them 13 years because there are approximately 3 billion of those little ladder rung pairs that make up all of the information of who we are. That DNA then is bundled into chromosomes. If any of you have ever taken a chromosome test that does your family genetic history, there's the one called 23 and Me. Well, 23 is not a random number. That's how many chromosomes a human being has. Those chromosomes are those packets of that DNA that are those building blocks that carry all of that information of who you are. They estimate that the amount of information in that cellular microscopic DNA that we have would be the equivalent of 750 megabytes of computer data. So that information contains all the information that makes you, you. Your hair color, your height, your skin color, your preference for foods, your ability to tolerate lactose or not. Any of you think that cilantro tastes like soap? Your genes have made it so. There's a mutation that some people have that they cannot stand the taste of cilantro. Likewise, there are some people when they say they don't like broccoli, they have taste receptors that are sensitive to a chemical compound in broccoli that other people can't taste. All of these things that make us up that we don't even think about are contained within our DNA.
And yet, 3 billion paired combinations of all of that information, you think there's got to be some variability in there. Indeed there is. Because when you look around, we all look different. But the difference between my DNA and yours or any other human being on the planet is estimated to be about one point one percent. One percent difference separating any human being that has ever lived from any other human being that ever has or ever will live. Now, what's more, of all of those pieces and all that information in that DNA, those small differences, there's not a whole lot of difference between us and other living things either. But there's a ton of information there.
So why bring this up? Why bring up this biology lesson on DNA and genetics? What does it have to do with us? Well, it has everything to do with us. Because our genes, our DNA is what makes us who we are. Often we hear conversations about race and particularly racism, where we tribute characteristics of one race as being better than attributes or characteristics of another race. But the thing is race is a human construct. Race is something that people have created that identify differences based on physical characteristics: blue eyes, blond hair. Well, that's got to be the best, said a notorious person from our history. Others would say that lighter skin tones, others would say taller people are better. You could go down the list of all of the ways in which people are separated and categorized. Now during the colonial expansion of our globe, for the conquerors, it was a good way to control people. To be able to say, you know what your darker skin, your facial features, your differences, whatever they are, you're a lesser person, and we are justified in right in treating you this way because we're better. So these things that were called the differences of race were tools of oppression and control.
Yet there are differences between us. We need to think of those differences not in terms of race but in terms of ethnicity. That there are cultural differences that exist. That there are people who based on religion, based on geography of where they came from, based on language, art, and music, based on food, there are differences that set cultures apart. Even regionally within the United States, most of us can probably recognize the accent of someone from Texas or Minnesota. That's a language difference. Yet it's not a genetic one. So we have ethnic and cultural differences that are very real and very present but really should not be deciding or separating factors. The problem is that often these outward appearances are the ones that we use to group people. Those are the ones that are in our history in this country and globally have been used to oppress minorities or people who are different.
In China, there is a group of people called the Uyghur. They are ethnically different. They're being severely persecuted right now because they want to hold on to their culture. But because of language, because of all these differences, the Chinese government is oppressing them. Likewise, as a result of tribalism, you may remember about 25 years ago, there were two indigenous groups in Rwanda: the Tutsis and the Hutus. Many of them really could not tell the difference from one to the other, other than I believe the Hutus were a little bit taller. But two indigenous populations, one committed genocide against the other. An estimated million people died simply because of the difference that really shouldn't have mattered.
So we turn to what God has to say about these differences. In Psalm 139 it says, "I am fearfully and wonderfully made." It's appraising God. God you have made me. Fearfully and wonderfully made. Part of what I think that we need to begin to embrace is that not only am I fearfully and wonderfully made, but each and every one of us is fearfully and wonderfully made. Each and every human being who lives on the face of this planet is fearfully and wonderfully made. What's more, we turn to Genesis where we have this creation story. There are people who would have long and lengthy debates about what this story has to say to us. There are some who would ascribe to what's referred to as a new or young-earth model. That human life was miraculously brought into existence by God 6 to 10 thousand years ago. There's another theory that would be the older theory that would say that yes, as scientists tell us, this universe is 13 billion years old. And life on this planet has existed in the last few million years.
Now, we don't necessarily need to get down stuck in the weeds about which one is right. What I see in this story is that there was an intentional, orderly, and systematic creator behind what happened. So if it happened 5 to 10 thousand years or 13 billion years ago, this world that we live in is intentional, systematic, and orderly. That there's a creator that's behind it. It's this creator that we hear say, let's make humankind in our image according to our likeness. So God created humankind in his image. In the image of God, he created them male and female. Now if you're not familiar with the story of Genesis, you really want to know what that image is, don't bother going and scouring through the pages of the rest of Genesis because it's not there. There's no clear-cut answer of what is this image of God. Is it a birthmark? Is it a mole? Is it the color of my hair? Because this image and likeness of God isn't in the sense and the way that we think of an image but yet there is something. There is something about us, each and every one of us that bears the indelible image of God. Maybe it's our capacity for love. Maybe it's our creative spirit. Maybe it's something else. And yet we take it on faith and believe that there is indeed something unique and special about us that God has created within us. 7.8 billion people on the planet earth right now, or thereabouts, every one of them unique. Every one of them different. And yet every one of them still created in the image of God.
In this short passage I read, it talked about how humanity is to have this role over all of creation and the things that jumped out at me here are that he talks about the things that God has done. It mentions every thing that has the breath of life. We, with all other living things, have in common the breath of life that is within us. Yet, we as human beings are the only ones that bear the image of God. We have a special place in God's heart. God cared deeply about us. So much so that we would be the ones to bear the image of God in this world. God didn't say, let us create just certain people in my image, let's make a certain group of people special and better than others because of how tall they are or how strong they are or what color their eyes are, or any specific characteristic. It's very much an open statement. Human beings are created in the image of God.
Now Paul, speaking to us through his faith and his understanding of who God is, offered this passage in Galatians where he is saying that we have this faith. That we are justified. We are set right with God through faith. We have put on Christ through our baptism and having done so, he tells us that there is no longer Jew or Greek. There is no longer slave or free. There is no longer male and female for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. I have to think that Paul would have pretty well known that story in Genesis of humanity being created in God's image. I think that Paul understood very clearly why it was that Jesus came. Jesus came to offer hope. And it's through faith that we receive that justification that we are set right with God because of Jesus. Now Jesus tears down those walls of separation and distinction, those human constructs. Paul says there's no longer Jew or Greek. There's no longer those who are in and out based on their religious, political, or social status. They are no longer slave nor free. There are no longer people that have the power to lord over those and control them.
Paul goes even further than that because in Genesis we heard those words, God created them in His image male and female he created them. An acknowledgment and understanding that yes there are male and females. And yet, Paul says before God and through Jesus Christ, even male and female distinctions no longer exist because all are one in Christ Jesus. How different would our world be when we started thinking about those who are different from us, those that we misunderstand, those that we know little about...how different would every conversation or interaction you have with friends, family, and strangers be if the first thought through your mind was this person is fearfully and wonderfully made? This person was created in the image of God. Just like me. Suddenly, we're all on the same playing field. Suddenly, it's not a battle or a tension between the have's and the have not's or the ones that have been labeled good because of racial characteristics or those who have been labeled as less because of characteristics.
Race is not a part of the conversation that God has. God looks upon each and every one of us as his children. God cared enough to impart each and every one of us with his image. Friends, if we're going to make a difference in this world, letting that image shine is what can begin to make a difference. Letting God's thoughts fill our thoughts and replace that implicit bias and replace it with a new bias or a new thought that all people are God's people. All people are created in God's image. We have the opportunity to be the people God has called us to be through Jesus Christ. We have an opportunity to begin seeing some of those things that have held us back as a people. Held us back as a nation, as a community. To begin seeing those unravel as we treat others the way that God sees them. So may we have the eyes that God has to look at each and every person as someone that God has created. Someone that God has blessed. Someone that is no different than you and I. Because even that point one percent difference in our DNA isn't enough for God to think any differently of us than any other person. So neither should we.
God has given us the answers. God has shown us the way. May we continue to look up that God might show and reveal to us the way that we should live and love and treat one another.