“To the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).
The horseshoe of privilege ringed the room, with white, privileged males inhabiting one end and minority females on the other end. Near the females stood a minority male, who carefully explained to the group that privilege resembled a baseball bat. Those who have the privilege often tote the bat with no thought of hitting someone, while those below see the bat as a threat. More conversation ensued. Suddenly, one of the white, privileged males broke rank, crossed over and embraced members of the other side, declaring to all that we were one in Christ. One of the thoughtful minority females demurred–not at the sentiment, but at the cross-over itself, which could not be done in real life. The horseshoe represented real experiences that could not be swapped. Her point stood, but the man of the bat took the man of the cross-over to the middle as a visible affirmation that indeed, we all were all one in Christ.
For me, this conversation was my first taste of a very common exercise done today in multicultural awareness. Educators use such exercises to make the privileged aware not only of the underprivileged and disadvantaged, but also of their own privileges–of aspects to their lives that cannot change, but must be handled with both gentleness and responsibility. As a Christian, I appreciate this reminder, for it is the responsibility of the strong to help the weak, and not to please themselves. Such is the example of Christ (see Romans 15:1-3). Moreover, in Christ, there is “neither Jew nor Greek,…bond nor free,…male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). To deny this unity by asserting a separate identity is wrong. We should rather affirm our oneness with all Christians.
Still, for all these healthy lessons, there was a disturbing, underlying tone in the room that left me uneasy.
First, the exercise left the impression that all inequality is wrong, as if inequality would not exist in an ideal world. Granted, some inequalities are wrong, and should be condemned as injustice; granted, some inequalities are unavoidable, and must be handled with grace and responsibility; however, is it the will of God to rid humanity of inequality? In this world, we see a huge variety in natural talents and abilities. Is this distribution an error? In the world to come, some will rule “ten cities” and others only “five cities” (Luke 19:17, 19). Will that be unfair?
With regard to justice, God is strictly equal: He will “render to every man according to his deeds…for there is no respect of persons with God” (Romans 2:6, 11). However, with regard to grace, God is free to bestow more on one than on another. If we should be envious, as if God wronged us, we may hear Him respond as the master in the parable, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?” (Matthew 20:15). Granted, grace is not often fair, in the sense of strict equality, but it is always right, in that God never wrongs us in withholding a gift we could never obligate Him to give (cf. Job 41:10; Romans 11:35). Ironically, in the parable, the full-time workers resented the master making the part-timer workers equal in pay. Wonderful “inequality”!
Second, the exercise lumped all inequalities together, as if there were no fundamental distinction between economic status, gender, and race. With regard to economics, God distributes His manna unequally to His people, so that we would freely distribute to anyone in need among us, thereby creating equality (2 Corinthians 8:13-15). With regard to gender, God established a fundamental inequality that is only partially erased by spiritual equality and soon fully erased in the world to come (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:7-9; 1 Timothy 2:11-14; Luke 20:34-36). Although both economic and gender inequalities are by design, only the former is to be fully erased now–and even then, only through voluntary means, rather than coercive redistribution of wealth.
Race falls in between economics and gender, sharing the inflexibility of gender but the flexibility of wealth, in that all races should be granted full equality now–all races, that is, but one: the Jews. Ironically, for all the hype in the room over equality among the races, even with the laudatory emphasis on missions, the very preoccupation itself proved our Gentile arrogance. We assumed that the final goal in history is the salvation of the nations, rather than the salvation of Israel. Three times, Paul warned Gentile Christians not to “boast,” or be “highminded,” or “wise” in our own estimation, as if we were the goal of God’s program (Romans 11:18, 20, 25). Missions ultimately promotes the glory of God by saving the Jews through the salvation of the Gentiles (see Romans 11:25-36). Ironically, the Jew is often not mentioned, let alone highlighted, in talks about East and West, colored and white. For this reason, we should revisit the apostolic principle: “To the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). This inequality may not be fair, but it is certainly right, for “salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22).