From the desk of Mark J. Webb: Embracing diversity
January 31, 2017 / By Bishop Mark J. Webb
You are all God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus. All of you who were baptized in Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek: there is neither slave nor free; there is neither male nor female, fall you all are one in Christ Jesus. Now if you belong to Christ, then indeed you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise.
– Galatians 3.26-29
Our culture and society too often and too easily place individuals into categories. Frequently, we seek our identity and are tempted to identify others based on things like appearance, abilities, culture of origin, educational status, socioeconomic position, race, gender, and theological or political leanings. This way of seeing one another and relating to one another continues to cause great harm to one another within our communities and within the Body of Christ!
The grace of God promises us a new reality – a better reality! Through our faith in Jesus Christ, we are clothed in Christ and our identity is found in nothing but Christ! The intent of God through Jesus is for all people, regardless of race, class, gender, language, citizenship, education, or abilities, to live together as sisters and brothers. The words of the Apostle Paul to the church of Galatia, give us a glimpse of this promise and reality.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. echoed these words in his call for “the creation of the beloved community,” where love transforms the relationship between oppressors and the oppressed, insiders and outsiders, and haves and have nots, restoring justice and creating peace.
I believe the vision of Jesus for a diverse people with varied gifts yet one in love and purpose is the deepest longing of our hearts. We have much progress to make in celebrating the rich diversity among us and living the truth that each person is valuable and significant. Most notable, the scourge of racism, along with other divisive and sinful “isms,” has erected barriers on the path to becoming the beloved community mandated by the Gospel.
We know Jesus has little toleration for the way of division. “With his body, he broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us” (Ephesians 2:14c). As his Body, the Church, we are called and equipped to continue this dismantling work. Last July, the College of Bishops of the Northeast Jurisdiction and the delegates of the Northeast Jurisdictional Conference of the United Methodist Church issued a “Call to Action” to actively address and confront the reality of our culture and church, specifically the racism present in our hearts, our local congregations, and our communities (Learn more about the Call to Action at http://bit.ly/NEJfightingracism).
As part of our response to this call, I will appoint a Bishop’s Task Force on Racism to develop strategies and resources to equip local congregations to specifically combat racism in their contexts, but also discover principles that will equip us to deal with all forms of “isms.” It is my prayer that this work will move us closer to the vision God has for us to live together, to recognize each other through the eyes and heart of God and invite all to truly live the identity they were created for.
As Dr. King said, “We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now…” Though spoken years ago, his words remain relevant in this moment. Now is the time for us to act. With God’s help, let us work together to challenge hate, remove barriers, and build communities where we boldly defend and offer the promise and reality of identity found in and through Jesus the Christ!