Galatians 3:27-29 Baptism of the Absurd


Consider binding the baptismal hymn of Galatians 3:27-29 to your foreheads and forearms during every formal prayer. Post it above your mantle on on your door post. For every one of you that has been baptized, there can no longer be distinctions between you and the “other.” Taking the Galatians hymn seriously; I mean, the really plain meaning of the text so to speak, should be the first step in our discussions of how Christians should be prepared to discuss matters of race, sexism and feminism, immigration, language and borders, and or course, culture.

It is the nature of politics that contemporary discussions of race, class and gender are topics of division, and not only according to red state and blue state, but according to red congregation and blue congregation. I have written before about the church's responsibility to respond biblically to the questions of race or immigration, and oppose the adversarial nature of the ongoing debates concerning these political issues, but I'd like to nuance my thinking a little, and address these issues with the Galatians hymn in mind.

It is true, I believe, that Sunday hosts the “most segregated hour in America,” yet I am not sure that we should be, as Christians, too concerned about integrating a few hours on Sunday. The gospel is not about white Chrisitans finding more black friends. In fact, if we do not integrate worship with integrity, we may do a little more damage to our witness than we might imagine. While Galatians calls upon us to erase distinctions between one another, the New Testament makes it pretty clear that cultural differences are not to be obliterated. What the Galatians text is not calling for is an obliteration of differences, but rather the elimination of class and social hierarchies, pride and privilege.

It should not be the church's aim to live in a color-blind society, nor should it be the church's aim to follow the promises of modernity and attempt to liberate individuals from their mythological baggage and unreasoned beliefs. Diversity is a blessing, the original blessing of God's decision to confuse languages at Babel. Diversity serves a creative divine purpose, and diversity is not a goal of human endeavors, it is a fact of human being. Diversity cannot reasonably be avoided, and even when individuals or groups move further away from the “other” they must realize that diversity still exists even in homogenous communities. The very fact of sex and gender makes differences unavoidable if we wish to be fully human.

I believe the baptismal hymn indicates that the church should be egalitarian and embrace the diversity of God's creation, and that means legitimizing differences within the church itself. With Christ at our center, dogma should be eliminated as the establishment of false-distinctions, while a defacto pluralist society goes about the business of worshiping according to the gifts accorded each community of Christ. There is only one baptism, one God, and one messiah, but as the Gospel record clearly shows, early messianic communities experienced, embraced, and remembered the life of Christ, and the risen Christ, differently from one another. Differences existed in the early church, and in Judaism, and it is through such differences that we see just how creative the One True God is.

If a color-blind society is a democratic or utilitarian value, it should not be the value of the church. We need to embrace the differences that others bring to worship, and to our understanding of God's desire for creation. I've heard it said, that without differences, there can be no unity – for without disagreement, there is nothing to agree upon. And Galatians calls upon Christians to embrace those who have traditionally been different to the point of exclusion. However, embracing the Other does not mean we change them to be like us. It means we trust that the Holy Spirit clothes them in Christ so they are a new beginning in Christ. The Other is a witness to us, and to our understanding of our own faith and faithfulness to God. New, different people are welcomed into the community of Christ that we might better know ourselves in the way the Other reflects our witness to us.

While integrating worship and our communities in general is undoubtedly a good thing, it is not the goal of Galatians, or of Christian baptism. The Holy Spirit may facilitate friendships, but it does not call us to make friends. The Holy Spirit does not call us to gather with the Other on Sundays for worship and then return unchanged to a week of accommodating institutionalized racism. We are not called to go out and win friends and be happy, we are called to do justice and eliminate distinctions that oppress others. The fact that I do not like someone does not mean that they do not deserve justice, and it does not mean that I should not worship with them, or accept them as a disciple of Christ. Jesus calls us to love one another and serve one another. However, nowhere does the gospel indicate we are to like one another.

Friendships may evolve from the elimination of distinctions, but not necessarily from the maintenance of differences, which is vitally important if we are to understand the desire of the Creator God in any real sense. If we want to better observe the nuances of God's desire, we had better pay close attention to the differences that are undeniably a part of creation. Differences that, if we accept the blessing of Babel, vitally important to our survival as a species, let alone our understanding of the varied glory of God.

Yet, if we maintain differences, how can we eliminate distinctions? Perhaps we start by binding the baptismal hymn of Galatians our hearts and minds, and recognizing our prejudices are exactly that, prejudices. Our prejudices are not “isms,” or at least, not fully institutionalized isms. While prejudices may keep us safe in some real sense, they can be overcome if we allow ourselves to take healthy spiritual and relational risks. Those are exactly the kinds of risks that we agree to accept with baptism, and it is exactly these kinds of risks that occur during messianic celebrations.

Table fellowship with the other, baptism in the Holy Spirit, and the purposeful integration of the Body of Christ are solid New Testament fundamental, and it is through the practice of these relationship-building mandates that we can begin, not only to overcome distinctions, but reconcile the pain and injustice that has fertilized injustice that grows from the soil of such distinctions. One we obliterate distinctions, the fact of differences become all the more valuable to the full realization of the Kingdom of God.

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