Race & the Imago Dei

February 28, 2019

by Erin Bird

Last week, I kicked off an email-only series on the topic of the Imago Dei, because I believe this ancient theological idea that God created humans to bear His image speaks into many contemporary issues. And today, I want to dive into the issue of race.

So let me just get this out of the way - I am the son of white, middle-aged, educated, midwestern parents. This means, my racial experience has been vastly different than someone born to poor immigrant parents in inner-city New York, or someone born to black wealthy parents in Kenya, or someone born to white parents living as minorities in a different nation and culture.

It also means that, although I lived in Venezuela for two years in the '90s (where I was a recipient of racism a couple of times), and have visited other countries, and have even had friends of different races, I am far from an expert on racial issues, especially based on experience.

So what I share with you is more from a theological perspective than a personal one.

A Biblical View of Race

Here is what I know from the Scripture: the book of Revelation gives us a sneak peak at the future, and we see that at the end of time, Heaven will be populated with people "from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages." (Revelation 7:9) This is because Jesus was slain on the cross, and "by [his] blood [he] ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation." (Revelation 5:9)

This tells me Jesus has no racial favorites because no ethnicity is better than another. White skin is not superior to black skin. Asian lives are not more important than Hispanic lives. Jews are not more valuable to God than Gentiles.

If you study the Bible, you learn this idea of racial equality was a hard concept for many ancient Jews to realize. They thought that because God chose to create them from Abraham and select them as His people that it made them better than all the other races (and part of the reason other races thought they were better than the Jews). This is why you see racial discrimination being addressed in the book of Acts (like chapters 11& 15) or in Paul's letters (like Galatians 2& 3). God wanted the Jewish people to realize they weren't betterthan Gentiles, they were just called for a purpose. And their purpose was to be the people from whom God brought His Messiah, who was not just for the Jewish people, but was God's gift to ALL people.

This is why white supremacy is not just misguided, it is sinful. Black lives DO matter because they matter to God. But I would also say the reverse if those of African descent were in the majority in our country with primary political power - black supremacy is also sinful, because white lives also matter. And so do Asian lives. And Hispanic lives. And Hindi lives. And Arabian lives. And on and on and on.

Riverwood and Race

Riverwood is a majority white church, because we live in a majority white area of Iowa. But that doesn't mean we don't have the opportunity to love those of a different race:

Jesus chose to come to earth in the body of a Jewish man, to be the perfect sacrifice for every ethnicity, tribe, tongue, language, and nation. And because of His willingly sacrifice as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, Heaven will explode with multicultural, multiracial worship. And so at Riverwood, we will do what we can to welcome, love, and disciple anyone regardless of the skin color they were born with or culture they grew up within.

Please realize I have only scratched the surface of what the theological concept of the Imago Dei says about race. But I look forward to the day when Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream comes true "when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character," (which we hope will be shaped and molded by God's Holy Spirit into the image of Jesus).

May you love those of different ethnicity because the same image that God placed in you lies within them too.

Erin Bird Lead Pastor - Riverwood Church

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Riverwood Church, Waverly Iowa

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